Lonnie Painter, 65, who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes and is the director of… (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
LAGUNA WOODS, Calif. (AP) — Joe Schwartz is a 90-year-old great-grandfather of three who enjoys a few puffs of pot each night before he crawls into bed in the Southern California retirement community he calls home.
The World War II veteran smokes the drug to alleviate debilitating nausea and is one of about 150 senior citizens on this sprawling, 18,000-person gated campus who belongs to a thriving — and controversial — medical marijuana collective operating here, in the middle of one of the largest retirement communities in the United States.
The fledgling collective mirrors a nationwide trend as more and more senior citizens turn to marijuana, legal or not, to ease the aches and pains of aging. But in Laguna Woods Village, tucked in the heart of one of the most conservative and wealthiest counties in California, these ganja-smoking grandparents have stirred up a heated debate with their collective, attracting a crackdown from within the self-governed community.
Many members of the 2-year-old collective keep a low profile, but others grow seedlings on their patios and set up workshops to show other seniors how to turn the marijuana leaves into tea, milk and a vapor that can be inhaled for relief from everything from chemotherapy-related nausea to multiple sclerosis to arthritis.
The most recent project involves getting collective members to plant 40 seeds from experimental varieties of marijuana that are high in a compound said to have anti-inflammatory properties best suited for elderly ailments. The tiny plastic vials, each containing 10 seeds, are stamped with names like “Sour Tsunami.”
Under California law, people with a variety of conditions, from migraines to cancer, can get a written doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana and join a pot collective to get what they need or grow their own supply. All the members of Laguna Woods Village’s collective are legal users under state law, but the drug is still banned under federal law.
Lonnie Painter, the collective’s president and perhaps most activist member, worries daily about his high-profile position within the tiny community of pot users. The 65-year-old grandfather supplements regular painkillers with marijuana tea for osteoarthritis and keeps stacks of marijuana collective applications on a desk in the living room, just a few feet from the Lego bricks his 7-year-old grandson plays with on his frequent visits.
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