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US baby-boomers pave way for marijuana legalisation

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 US baby-boomers pave way for marijuana legalisation

The number of Americans in their late 50s and 60s who have admitted using marijuana has more than tripled in six years.

The growth in popularity of the drug among older Americans has polarised debate on the subject, with political analysts saying that the demographic shift in its use is likely to hasten the legalisation of marijuana across the United States.

Meanwhile, in the UK a similar debate continues to rumble on as some experts persistently criticise the government’s stance on classing marijuana as a class B substance, alongside amphetamines.

Here, the debate centres on the recently sacked ministerial drugs advisor, Professor David Nutt, who has repeatedly spoken against government policy and called for more research into the possibility of decriminalising the drug in Britain.

The US study found that in 2008 5.1 per cent of people aged between 55 and 59 admitted using the drug. In 2002 the figure was only 1.6 per cent, according to surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The number of people aged 50 and older reporting marijuana use went up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 per cent over the same period.

For many boomers the drug never held the stigma it did for previous generations and they tried it decades ago. Some are now revisiting the drug, while other reported they are beginning to use it for the first time in their lives.

On top of this, Americans approaching the age of 60 were teenagers during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, when smoking marijuana became an integral part of the hippie movement.

Users of marijuana have long claimed that it works as a treatment for the aches and pains of ageing, particularly arthritis, and that it is also an effective sleeping medication.

However, doctors stateside have greeted news about the growth in marijuana use with caution.

William Dale, chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Centre said that while marijuana use can help to alleviate pain in some people, it can also have a number of negative side effects and can heighten confusion in older people who may already be experiencing some cognitive impairment from early-stage dementia.

“There are other, better, ways to achieve the same effects,” he said.

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