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Weedbirds: How Conflicts in Colorado and Federal Marijuana Laws Turn Cannabis Consuming Seniors Into Rule Breakers

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Penelope carefully peers into the glass containers, examining the contents, while her husband, Dale, stands beside her. “This is what I use for the pain in my feet,” she said, as she shows off the sealed green plastic container holding her newly purchased Kandy Kush. “It’s better than the Hydrocodone and Percocet they had me on, which wouldn’t even allow me to play with my grandkids,” says the semi-regular Starbuds dispensary customer. She’s 67-years old.

Marijuna Seniors Mar 161 After the passing of Amendment 64 in 2012, the effect of recreational weed has been focused on youth, yet overlooked is the anxiety of many older Coloradans who still consume marijuana in secret–both for recreational and medical purposes.

According to the latest numbers from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of people aged 50 and older reporting marijuana use in the prior year,  went up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent from 2002 to 2008.

“The rise was most dramatic among 55- to 59-year-olds, whose reported marijuana use more than tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent,” the report said.

As Americans age, use of cannabis has increased among those categorized as baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1964). Today, 10,000 Americans turned 65, and 10,000 will turn 65 tomorrow according to Pew Research–a trend that will happen every day for the next 19 years.

“We are most definitely seeing an increase in older customers,” said Starbuds Pueblo General Manager, Peter Mutty. “Especially with those who have never been in a dispensary before; we usually see them come in with a relative or someone they trust to help guide them.”

“They have lots of questions, and we are here to help,” said Peter’s daughter and Starbuds manager, Sarah Mutty. “We see a lot of seniors with arthritis, sleep issues, menopause concerns, and of course, cancer patients.”

The average age of those who hold a medical marijuana card is gradually going up—from 40-years old in 2009, to 42.5-years old last year, with 37,791 consumers, age 51 and older, flashing a purple card, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Medical Marijuana Registry,
“There are 43 million senior citizens in this country–there will be 80 million by 2040,” said Marcie Cooper, American Cannabis Nurses Association director.

The topic of senior citizen cannabis use has become so prevalent that earlier this year scientists, academics, journalists and consumers took part in a daylong seminar entitled Seniors and Cannabis, held in Denver.

“Nursing facilities will increase from 15 to 20 million by 2050.”  According to Cooper, the average 65-69-year old is on 14 legal FDA-approved prescriptions. The average 80-84-year old takes 18 prescriptions–most commonly opiates, and those which treat depression, with side effects that include constipation, confusion, insomnia, anxiety . . . and depression. “We owe it to our elders to give them another option to improve their quality of life.”

Marijuna Seniors Mar 162Audrey, a vivacious 68-year old with a megawatt smile, is one of those seniors in a marijuana limbo who feels it improves the quality of life but is scared of the consequences of using it.

“I’ve always had a relationship with pot,” says Audrey. “I have a lot of struggles with chemical issues in my body.  Low serotonin. It (marijuana) helps me manage my serotonin levels  and helps me relax.  I don’t want to get a medical card because the whole marijuana issue hasn’t been figured out yet with the feds. Our country is in such unrest right now, with so many political challenges, I didn’t want my name in a system.”

Her husband Max, 67, agrees.

“Legalization in Colorado has allowed older consumers to come back to it, so that’s good, but it’s cheap enough on the recreational side, so that’s how we buy it.”

Max, Audrey and others spark a new debate for Pueblo–just how many seniors in the county consume and how that impacts Pueblo, which is generally considered an older, retirement home community.

Pueblo consistently ranks in the top 10 of affordable places to retire. In 2013, AARP called Pueblo “A Desert Gem,” and touted its sloppers, Thunderwolves, and low housing prices, while CNN Money hyped Pueblo with “its rich history and plenty of cultural offerings, as well as a dry climate that rarely falls below 30 degrees Fahrenheit or goes higher than 80 F.”

How many move to Pueblo for cannabis is unclear.

The Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce doesn’t keep numbers on how many seniors are relocating and retiring to the area because of cannabis.

“We don’t break down those demographics,” said Tourism Director, Donielle Gonzales. “We don’t supply seniors, or anyone else, with specific information about marijuana in Pueblo, and we don’t provide them a blueprint on where to visit about that.”

Roger, a 56-year old California transplant came to Pueblo well-before Colorado legalized recreational marijuana. For him, and many other others, marijuana at a golden age reflects a golden sensibility.

“I enjoy consuming marijuana,” he said, as he showed off his pencil thin vaporizer. “It’s a way to unwind, like anything else.  When you are a teenager it’s like ‘Oh wow I’m gonna get stoned,’ but now that I’m older, I take a hit and change the cat’s water bowl.”

This enjoyment felt by other seniors is posing unforeseen conflicts in this new frontier of weed–consuming cannabis can be at odds with receiving elder-care services such as retirement home living, Medicare and other senior services.

While Pueblo encourages visitors and newcomers, looking for a new zip code, with an almost  “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality on why they come, the city, along with federal laws, makes it nearly impossible for retirees who partake to spend their remaining years in Pueblo.

“Pueblo is my home; I want to die here,” said 77-year old Clark, brushing his thick salt and pepper hair away from his eyes. “But I worry that the older I get, I won’t be able to take my medicine if I need to go into a home,” he said as he pointed to his red and black glass pipe containing his favorite strain, Grape Ape.

Clark isn’t alone with his concerns. As more and more Pueblo cannabis consumers age, the services needed to care for them are still non-existent.  “I don’t want to be forced to go back to the pills I was taking, just because the government still thinks my weed is bad for me,” he said.

Marijuna Seniors Mar 163Pueblo elders often find themselves seeking assistance from the Joseph Edwards Senior Center, a city-owned facility managed and operated by Senior Resource Development Agency of Pueblo. But while you will find information on Meals on Wheels, nutrition services, and foster grandparents, the center has no intention of adding cannabis-related programs or services to the roster.

Evie Densford, the controller at SRDA, shows how senior services and marijuana don’t quite mix. The SRDA currently has a zero-tolerance policy inside its two housing units, Union Plaza and Richmond Senior Housing.

“We have people who come in and need their electricity turned on, or need help with dental work,” said Controller Evie Densford. “All of our programs are federally funded, so we won’t be including that [cannabis-related programs and services] with what we do.”

Those Pueblo seniors, who can afford private assistance in their later years, often find themselves in one of the nearly one dozen assisted living and nursing home facilities in town. However, the door remains shut to any resident who partakes.  Primrose, Brookside El Camino, Villa Pueblo, North Point, Chateau at Sharmar, Heatherwood, and Oakshire retirement homes all have a zero tolerance policy where they would dismiss a resident from their facilities if one is caught with marijuana.

Bonaventure representatives, who did not want to be identified, admit that while their facility is a cannabis-free environment, they have tabled any revision of that policy until there is a need to do so.

In this new West, seniors are facing unforeseen restrictions due to conflicts between federal law and funding and Colorado legalization. For many seniors, who want to consume marijuana, the law and elder-care services leave them in a state of rulebreakers, but hasn’t stopped them.

“I sneak cannabis oil capsules and salves in to my father,” said 64-year old, Cheryl, whose 87-year old father is housed in a one of the zero tolerance Pueblo retirement homes.  “I’ve seen how marijuana has helped him,” and I’m not going to take that away from him.”

Not all senior living facilities have a strict zero-tolerance policy, or these facilities are willing to bend rules for seniors who want to partake.

Representatives at Pueblo Regent were reluctant to openly publicize their cannabis policy, but admitted, “What residents do in their own private apartments is their own thing. They are allowed to smoke in general, in the privacy of their apartment; what they smoke is their own business.”

Those Pueblo seniors who need to look beyond assisted living, with end of life care, are also denied use of legal substances, beyond FDA-approved drugs, for a palliative transition.

“It’s not legal, federally, and since we get paid by Medicare . . . ” said Aluren Smith, medical director at the Sangre De Cristo Hospice and Joni Fair Hospice House. “We can’t recommend it, but we never make recommendations for treatment.”

Smith admits that while there are no clinical guidelines supporting the use of marijuana for seniors, she countered that patients are free to use whatever they need to—as long as it doesn’t interfere with a doctor’s recommended care.

As John leaves Maggie’s Farm in Pueblo West, he laughs in his enjoyment of lasting past his doctor’s “sell-by” date.

“Guess my age,” the lanky, animated customer teases.  “I’m in my 70s, but the doctor said I wouldn’t live last past 68.” John, who admitted to being a cancer patient, credits his longevity to  “A good diet, exercise, and a daily bowl.”

Editor’s Note: The names of the customers and patients in this article have been changed, at their request.

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1 Comment
  • MikeParent

    Let’s hear what the government experts, the DEA said; In 1988, DEA Administrative Judge Francis Young wrote in his ruling;
    “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”
    Judge Francis Young rules marijuana is safe, 1988, DEA, USA
    http://www.ccguide.org › young88

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Middle schoolers have a plan to stop rock art tagging in Western Colorado

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Courtesy gjhikes.com

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — Arron Buehler’s day in a western Colorado canyon might not have had the Hollywood panache of Ferris Bueller’s day off, but something about seeing Buehler’s name scrawled on the sandstone escarpment gave Chris Joyner pause.

Joyner, spokesman for the Grand Junction Office of the Bureau of Land Management, looked at Buehler’s name — and those of many others emblazoned on rock in a canyon south of Grand Junction — and said that, paradoxically, there might be a reason for hope.

It was just last year that Buehler posted his name, next to Elizabeth, who left her mark in 2017.

Few of the names appeared to be more than a year or two old, and, “That tells me there’s opportunity here,” Joyner said.

The more recent the markings, the more likely the vandals are to be found, and the more likely it is that other methods might discourage younger people from following Arron Buehler’s lead, Joyner said.

Joyner and BLM archaeologist Alissa Leavitt-Reynolds are working in Grand Junction to deal with vandalism on federal lands, whether it be by graffiti artists such as Charley Humpy (who helpfully added, “Remember me” next to his name and yes, the BLM is doing all it can to achieve total recall), drug users ditching evidence in the desert, mayhem by “marksmen” and plain old dumping.

As much as Arron Buehler and a multitude of companions — Brian, Charley, Dizz, Dominique, Kay, Megan, Elizabeth, Jon, Sam and Tosha all seem to be begging for court dates (and Tosha, did you know your name covered an ancient petroglyph?) — Joyner said prosecution ought not be the only response to a growing trend of vandalism and worse on western Colorado’s rocky outcrops and arid landscapes.

Citations for vandalism aren’t tracked by the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes offenses on federal land, so no precise numbers are available.

An Army veteran, Joyner is using his post 9/11 GI Bill funds at Johns-Hopkins University to study ways to divert people from what he terms “dysfunctional visitor behavior.”

“Dysfunctional visitor behavior” has a more authoritative ring than “vandalism” and “littering” and Joyner said he hopes that a scholarly approach can help agencies fend off some of the destructive activity on federal lands before it takes place.

Some of his research suggests that “informed participation in nearby historic and cultural sites” can influence the way many residents perceive those sites, Joyner said.

The students in Ginger DeCavitch’s social studies classes at Mount Garfield Middle School experienced “informed participation” last summer.

DeCavitch took her students into Bangs Canyon to see the mica mine and found the defaced escarpment “as we were stepping over broken beer bottles and charcoal” from fires.

Vandals had used charcoal to scratch names and slogans on the rock, DeCavitch said.

“They call it tagging” and few participants see any issue with defacing the rock, taking selfies and posting them on social media, DeCavitch said.

She contacted the BLM soon afterward to see if her class could help clean up the mess they found.

“They all wanted to go back,” enough that some students hauled 40-pound containers of water down an occasionally difficult trail to help clean the site, DeCavitch said.

Her middle school students sat silent as members of the Southern Ute tribe described how they perceived the canyon and the ancient markings, many of which had been defaced, DeCavitch said.

Far from being discouraged, her students were enthused about tackling the enormity of the defacement, DeCavitch said.

“We have a plan that we’ll be back,” she said.

Introducing young people properly to wild lands is one way to discourage future vandals and dysfunctional visitors.

It’s one “foot-in-the-door” tactic that Joyner hopes land managers take up.

Visitors also can be endowed with a sense of ownership by agreeing with a simple proposition — the idea that one ought not litter on public lands, for instance — and then be brought along to agree with how to visit them appropriately, Joyner said.

It’s part of a human tendency to want to be consistent, he said. People who agree not to litter tend to want to build on that as opposed to act in contradictory fashion, he said.

Even providing a small gift or trinket can engender a sense of responsibility among potential vandals, Joyner said.

Other techniques include the “broken-window” approach — the idea that replacing broken glass as soon as it’s found and thus denying miscreants their moment of victory — isn’t as easy as it might be in other environments, Joyner said.

DeCavitch’s class, for instance, learned that while cleaning up a mess might eliminate an eyesore, it also could erase history.

Her eager middle-schoolers couldn’t go forward with the cleanup until members of the Southern Ute Tribe, headquartered in Duchesne, Utah, approved the plan, DeCavitch said.

While Joyner’s studies have suggested that males 16 to 25 who live within 60 miles of Grand Junction are the likely offenders, one look at the escarpment suggests that young women are more active participants than crime statistics might suggest, Joyner said.

One study suggests that younger people prefer non-coercive approaches, but Joyner said that doesn’t mean the BLM is losing interest in prosecuting vandals and others.

Far from it.

BLM officials routinely contact school officials and consult high school yearbooks to match the names they come across with people who could be prosecuted.

Some miscreants make it easier, posting selfies of themselves with their works. Some even lower the level of difficulty by including hashtags.

The criminal exposure can reach felony levels because of the difficulty and expense of dealing with cleaning up or restoring the markings that date back hundreds of years.

If the malefactors are found, Joyner said, “We don’t write warning tickets.”

___

Information from: The Daily Sentinel, http://www.gjsentinel.com

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The #WhatNow of #MeToo for the #COLeg

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AP Photo/David Zalubowski

When several lawmakers, lobbyists and staff at the state Legislature came forward this fall to allege they were victims of sexual harassment by lawmakers, two big questions followed: how often does this happen? What can be done to prevent more cases?

Reporters have asked state officials the first question repeatedly, returning to readers with little response from the state. The latter prompted a conversation from leadership, but as for what’s next—how the allegations, formal complaints, and legislature’s response—will impact politics under the gold dome and whether women will feel any safer is to be determined.

So far, top state lawmakers have decided to hire a human resources officer—who would be independent from the legislature—to be a contact person when incidents involving sexual harassment are brought forward. Now, leadership is tasked with handling and investigating such claims.

The group also decided to hire an independent consultant to review the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, and lawmakers, staff, and aides will undergo another round of sexual harassment training this year. Typically, those working at the Legislature are only required to go through training every two years.

Those changes are a good start, said Erin Hottenstein, executive director of Colorado 50/50, an organization that aims to get more women in public office. But the legislature stopped short of changing any current policies. And Colorado 50/50 called for an entire overhaul.

“I’m very pleased that there was a recognition that the policy needs to be improved,” Hottenstein said.

But there weren’t any specific recommendations regarding transparency, which Hottenstein said is significant in looking at what happens next.

Lawmakers and staff said they couldn’t disclose how many sexual harassment claims that leadership in each chamber have received because they were personnel issues.

“I think there’s a way to be transparent and safe,” Hottenstein said. “There should be a high- level summary document that shows on a certain date a sexual harassment complaint was made and who it was against and a date of a deposition and what the result was.”

Hottenstein said transparency becomes crucial in these cases because it leads to accountability and the public’s right to know what actions the people elected to office are taking.

In October, Pueblo Rep. Daneya Esgar broke her silence posting on Facebook that she was no stranger to sexual harassment and experienced it just a week earlier with a colleague she works with regularly as a lawmaker. The post was part of the #MeToo movement after a New York Times expose highlighted the stories of several women who said they’d been sexually harassed or assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Then, a flood of other allegations were brought to the surface in Colorado politics. Rep. Faith Winter said fellow House member Steve Lebsock had harassed her at a legislative party in 2016. Winter and a lobbyist say they filed formal complaints against Lebsock.

An intern said Sen. Randy Baumgardner harassed her with sexually suggestive comments. The same went for Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial, who was accused of telling an intern that if she wanted to get ahead in her career, he could help.

Rep. Paul Rosenthal, who is openly gay, allegedly groped a man and used his seat to try and get a date with another.

But the case between Lebsock and Winter gained the most attention, even prompting Lebsock to take a polygraph test, which the administrator says he passed, to prove his innocence. Lebsock has hinted that the entire incident may be a case of dirty politics, alleging that Winter is the one lying.

When several lawmakers were asked if the case would mean a splintered Democratic party in the House, they were unsure, but optimistic about the session.

Still, there haven’t been any resignations over the allegations, though several, including leadership and editorial boards from across the state, said these legislators should step down from their seat. Some even called for House Speaker Crisanta Duran to step down from her position because she promoted Lebsock to a chairmanship despite knowing there was an incident between him and Winter.

The transparency piece has yet to be addressed by state lawmakers, and it’s unclear whether any policy or legislative changes will address that in the coming months. But for what it’s worth, the women who have broken their silence about sexual harassment in the Legislature are supportive of the changes leadership has discussed.

“I’m encouraged to see the direction leadership is taking when it comes to developing new and independent methods of dealing with complaints of sexual harassment at the Capitol,” said Esgar, who still hasn’t named the colleague she said grabbed her thigh at a legislative event earlier this year. “I’m hopeful that new ideas are still being formulated and considered, when it comes to ways to change the culture itself.”

The lawmaker added that a new session will certainly mean new ideas will come to light, “it’s our responsibility to lead the state in changing cultures to help make work environments safe and productive for all employees on every level.”

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20 cities primed on the Amazon wishlist to be its next HQ

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NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon’s second home could be in an already tech-heavy city, such as Boston, New York or Austin, Texas. Or it could be in the Midwest, say, Indianapolis or Columbus, Ohio. Or the company could go outside the U.S. altogether and set up shop in Toronto.

Those six locations, as well as 14 others, made it onto Amazon’s not-so-short shortlist Thursday of places under consideration for the online retailing giant’s second headquarters.

The 20 picks, narrowed down from 238 proposals, are concentrated mostly in the East and the Midwest and include several of the biggest metro areas in the country, such as Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles, the only West Coast city on the list.

The Seattle-based company set off fierce competition last fall when it announced that it was looking for a second home, promising 50,000 jobs and construction spending of more than $5 billion. Many cities drew up elaborate presentations that included rich financial incentives.

The list of finalists highlights a key challenge facing the U.S. economy: Jobs and economic growth are increasingly concentrated in a few large metro areas, mostly on the East and West Coasts and a few places in between, such as Texas.

Nearly all the cities on Amazon’s list already have growing economies, low unemployment and highly educated populations.

“Amazon has picked a bunch of winners,” said Richard Florida, an economic development expert and professor at the University of Toronto who helped develop that city’s bid. “It really reflects winner-take-all urbanism.”

Among those that didn’t make the cut were Detroit, a disappointment for those excited about progress since the city came out of bankruptcy, and Memphis, Tennessee, where the mayor said the city gave it its “best shot.” San Diego also failed to advance.

“Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough,” said Holly Sullivan, who oversees Amazon’s public policy. “All the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.”

Amazon said it will make a final selection sometime this year.

Besides Austin, another Texas city made the cut: Dallas. In the South, Miami and Atlanta are being considered.

Officials in cities that made the shortlist took the opportunity to further tout their locations, with Philadelphia’s mayor noting “all that Philadelphia has to offer” and officials in and around Pittsburgh citing the region’s “world-class talent pool” and other advantages.

Other contenders among the 20 include Denver; Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; Northern Virginia; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

“It’s a long list for a shortlist,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at job site Indeed.

He said Amazon may use the list to pit the locations against each other and get better tax breaks or other incentives. Two metro areas, New York and Washington, have more than one location on the list, increasing the competition there, he said.

“It’s hard to say whether all these places are in play or Amazon wanted to encourage continued competition,” Kolko said.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether locations would be able to change their proposals or offer better incentives, but said in a statement that it will “work with each of the candidate locations to dive deeper into their proposals.”

State and local governments played up the amenities they think make their locations the best choice. Some pulled off stunts to stand out, such as New York, which lit the Empire State Building in Amazon orange.

Some gimmicks didn’t work: Tucson, Arizona, which sent a 21-foot cactus to Seattle, did not make the list. Neither did Birmingham, Alabama, which installed giant replicas of Amazon’s Dash buttons.

The company had stipulated that it wanted to be near a metropolitan area with more than 1 million people, and nearly all of those on the shortlist have a metro population of at least double that.

Amazon also wanted to be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand the headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.

But Amazon also made it very clear it wanted tax breaks, grants and any other incentives.

Boston’s offer includes $75 million for affordable housing for Amazon employees and others. Before leaving office Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie approved a measure to allow New Jersey to offer up to $5 billion to Amazon. Newark is also proposing $2 billion in tax breaks.

But many of the state and local governments competing for the headquarters have refused to disclose the financial incentives they offered. Of the 20 finalists, 13, including New York, Chicago and Miami, declined requests from The Associated Press to release their applications. Toronto’s mayor said Thursday that the city offered no financial incentives to woo Amazon.

Several said they don’t want their competitors to know what they’re offering, a stance that open-government advocates criticized.

Amazon plans to remain in its sprawling Seattle headquarters, and the second home base will be “a full equal” to it, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has said.

The extra space will give the rapidly growing company room to spread out. It had nearly 542,000 employees at the end of September, a 77 percent jump from the year before. Some of that growth came from Amazon’s nearly $14 billion acquisition last year of the Whole Foods grocery chain and its 89,000 employees.

____

Associated Press writers Josh Cornfield in Philadelphia, Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report. Rugaber contributed from Washington.

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