By Chelsi Peter and Jasmyne Ricard
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Even though young people have the highest pot smoking rates, a surprising range of customers frequent dispensaries, with sales remaining consistent among all age groups.
Among the reasons for the diverse age demographic are changing attitudes toward marijuana use. With the legalization of cannabis in nearly half of the states, including those that are majority red, the social stigma surrounding marijuana has been declining.
The “stigma around recreational cannabis use is changing as legalization changes throughout the country,” said Matthew Garner, a 29-year-old supervisor at Shangri-La Dispensary who has been working there since October.
As a supervisor, Garner is required to watch over other employees and provide additional assistance to customers. He said the dispensary has made intentional choices to remove the stigma.
“I’m typically making sure everyone is following legal guidelines and if any issues come up, we take care of that,” Garner said.
Approved licenses for dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana became available Feb. 3, and since then, Shangri-La has seen consistent increases in sales.
“We got busier and pretty much doubled and tripled our flow of patients,” Garner said.
Part of the acceptance is a deliberate attempt to mitigate the previous negative undertones of marijuana consumption.
“We are really big on trying to get away from the slang and say, ‘cannabis’ instead of ’weed,’” Garner said. “We try to get rid of that stigma and want everyone to feel welcome to come here.”
While it was once believed that most cannabis users were young adults, recent research shows that people of all ages are using marijuana for both recreational and medicinal purposes.
According to a National Institute on Drug Abuse study, the proportion of reported past-year marijuana use among young adults reached 43% in 2021. However, Garner says the customers the dispensary sees are a wide range of ages above 21.
“There are patients from 21 all the way up to their 70s and 80s,” Garner said.
With the legalization of recreational marijuana still relatively new in Missouri, many dispensaries are also dealing with underage customers attempting to purchase cannabis.
To combat this, Shangri-La uses an ID scanner the moment customers walk up to the front desk.
“You can get in a little more trouble here if someone uses a fake because this is a federally regulated building,” Garner said. “There are very strict legal guidelines we have to follow.”
Yet, sales have remained consistent among all groups legally able to purchase 3 ounces of marijuana during a single sale.
“People come through here from every walk of life. It isn’t just one demographic,” Garner said. “You have everyone from every part of town. It’s pretty cool.”
Another study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence in 2019 indicates the diversity in ages among marijuana users has changed.
The study examined data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2006 to 2016 to determine trends in cannabis use among different age groups.
Researchers found that cannabis use had increased among all age groups, with the largest increase among adults over the age of 50.
The medicinal benefits of cannabis are widely recognized, which has led more people across different age groups to use it as an alternative treatment for various conditions. As research continues to uncover the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis, more treatments are likely to be included in health care routines.
The increased availability of different cannabis products, such as edibles, gummies and oils, also prompts more people of different ages to try cannabis as a possible alternative to smoking.
Some older adults also may may prefer these types of consumption because of health concerns or discomfort associated with smoking.