When Seniors Visit a Cannabis Store, There Are Questions Aplenty
Bruce Barcott and Gage Peake
March 16, 2017
Barbara Krause makes a purchase at Vela Cannabis in Seattle, Washington on March 16, 2017. Krause was part of a group from Sound Vista Village, an assisted living facility in Gig Harbor, that visited Vela Cannabis. (David Ryder for Leafly)
On Thursday afternoon at Vela, the chic Seattle cannabis retailer, customer Maria Scott had a question for the nice young man doing all the talking about the terpenes.
“What do you have for Parkinson's?” one customer asked.
Scott’s friend, whose walker clanged against Scott’s own, chimed in. “What about arthritis?” she demanded.
Those were some of the many questions that came up during a first trip to the cannabis store for Scott and about a dozen fellow senior citizens from the Sound Vista Village assisted living center in Gig Harbor, Washington.
The outing, part of the center’s Village Concepts University program, aimed to introduce residents to the brave new world of legal cannabis. “We want [our residents] to stay on top of current events, pop culture, what’s going on in the world,” explained Tracy Willis, head of business development for Village Concepts.
So the seniors decamped at Vela’s sleekly designed storefront on First Avenue South, between Safeco Field and the global headquarters of Starbucks.
For Vela staff members, it was a chance to get to know some great potential customers: seniors 65 and older. A recent study in the journal Addiction found that overall cannabis use by baby boomers increased 58% from 2006 to 2013. Researchers found that cannabis use among boomers peaked between ages 50 to 64. Adults 65 and older had a significantly lower prevalence of cannabis use than those in the younger group, but consumption by those in that older age cohort increased by 250% during that same time period. So adults in late middle age tended to consume more cannabis than those of retirement age–but that seems to be quickly changing.
After a box lunch of sandwiches, chips, grapes and cookies, Vela general manager Erin Green told the group “I know cannabis can be intimidating, so we’re very honored that you chose to be here with us.” She briefed the seniors on the short history of legalization in Washington state, and drew a number of wide-eyed “wows” at the $400 million in cannabis tax revenue brought in since 2014.
John Ulrey, head grower for Field Day, a licensed cannabis grower that shares building space with Vela, talked them through the indica-sativa split and plant growth stages. Heads nodded among the seniors when he mentioned nutrients and flowering (there may have been some ardent gardeners in the group).
Strains and strain names seemed to puzzle a few of the luncheon guests. One woman offered a stern eyebrow raise at the name Green Crack. Another was surprised to hear that there was a product called Lemon Cheese Cake. “You have something that’s lemon cheese cake?” she wondered aloud.
Down the hall, where the producer/processor company Suncliff houses its extraction lab, lab director Anthony Dalton passed around tubes containing different terpenes. (Suncliff is not affiliated with Vela, but its lab is housed in the same building.) Myrcene, linalool, limonene, the seniors sniffed them all. “Interesting,” Maria Scott said, handing a tube of limonene to a friend. “That is not so bad.”
Ilene Cohn took a whiff of New York Diesel terpenes. “They smell good,” she said, with her face registering surprise.
Topicals Were Very Popular
As the visiting seniors were all over the age of 21, they were free to shop after their tour. “Before we set you loose on your shopping spree,” Vela general manager Erin Green told them, they’d probably want to know “what the heck these things are.”
“Most of you probably won't get to dabbing.”
Vela staff member, to visiting seniors
After a brief lesson on flower, tinctures, vape pens, Vela staff member Elena Mishko touched briefly on dabbing. “Dabbing is a really high level of vaporizing,” she said. “Most of you probably won’t get to that.”
Also: “If anyone’s sharing a cannabis-infused cookie with you, you need to take small bites.” Sound advice for everyone, that.
Then it was on to the sales floor. Scott and Cohn made a beeline for the topicals section. Others lingered over the selection of high-CBD products. As she perused the selection of balms and creams, Scott had a final question. “What’s the best one?” she asked. Spoken like a discerning consumer.
About the authors: Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott is a Guggenheim Fellow and an award-winning science writer whose work can be read in National Geographic, TIME, and the New York Times Magazine. His book Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America was published by Time Books in 2015. Gage Peake is a Leafly staff writer and a recent journalism graduate of the University of Nebraska.