| | By Lisa Fernandez
The group gathers regularly on Telegraph Avenue to learn how to tend to their own marijuana plants, make cannabis-infused butter, and hold potlucks where they gab, giggle, and smoke a lot of weed. They even trade tips on which tinctures and oils work best to get the blood flow going in the genital regions and how to keep the libido up during sex.
And it's more than likely your grandma might be one of its flagship members.
Welcome to T'Oakland Senior Canna Club.
"I'm 62 and been an advocate of cannabis for a long time," said T'Oakland (pronounced: Toke-land) co-founder Melodye Montgomery. "But when I go to cannabis events, they're mostly geared toward youth. The music. The whole environment. I know people my age who are interested in cannabis but don't want to go to those events. So, we put together a space for seniors."
When the seniors formed a group about three years ago, it was originally named the East Bay Senior Cannabis Social Club. But the membership and political direction transformed a bit and within the last year, and the name was changed to the more hip-sounding T'Oakland. Roughly 40 to 50 group members meet on the third Friday of each month from 4 to 7 p.m. for a potluck and educational talk at the EVB Building at 1470 Telegraph Ave., which donated the space. "We might discuss what the difference is between indica vs. sativa," Montgomery said. "Or teach people how to make cannabutter."
Some members come to learn about the healing powers of cannabis. Others simply come to get high. "All I want for Christmas is a large amount of good weed and some good friends to share it with!!," wrote a member on the group's Facebook page. Many seniors come for both.
"It's all of the above," said Montgomery, whose nickname is Mama Bear. The type of seniors who come range from ex-hippies to retired businessmen and women. The group's mission is to be an "inclusive community of seniors, adult children of seniors, caregivers, and future seniors, who gather in an educational and social setting to learn about how cannabis helps fight disease and controls pain."
T'Oakland also hopes to raise awareness about cannabis as medicine for seniors, teach about various methods of cannabis application and ingestion, and reduce isolation in the senior community "with a monthly networking meeting offering consumption on site and full of laughter and learning."
With each invite, the group also puts this disclaimer on every Facebook post: "You are entirely responsible for your personal safety while attending all T'Oakland Senior Canna Club events. T'Oakland Senior Canna Club is not responsible for any personal injuries, legal action taken against you, loss or damage of property while attending these events. You attend at your own risk. You are in a public space and your photo may be taken with or without your permission. By attending these events, you consent to assuming full responsibility for your safety, agree to abide by the laws of the state of California, and release T'Oakland Senior Canna Club of any liability."
Seniors are America's fastest-growing population of new cannabis users: 10,000 people turn 65 each day, according to the Pew Research Center, and more and more are trying the drug for their health and well-being.
In February 2018, a peer-reviewed study of almost 3,000 patients in Israel, the first of its kind, showed that cannabis can be safe and effective for seniors and lead to decreased use of pharmaceuticals, including opioids. In the study, published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, almost 94 percent of patients reported improvement in their condition, with their pain level reduced by half.
"There is increasing evidence that cannabis is helpful in the management of certain kinds of pain," said Dr. Igor Grant, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.
According to an April 2018 article in The New Yorker, "How Seniors Joined the Cannabis Craze," two major groups of seniors are turning to cannabis. There are boomers who "smoked dope" in the 1960s and 1970s, giving it up when they became focused on careers or raising kids. And then there are those who have never tried marijuana and are drawn for its medicinal purposes.
Barbara Blaser, 73, was drawn to cannabis for the latter reason. Three years ago, she had surgery. She was in a lot of pain and she didn't want to go on opioids. Her daughter, Debby Goldsberry, is a longtime cannabis advocate; she's now the executive director of Magnolia Oakland dispensary, and she co-founded the Berkeley Patients Group. And so Blaser decided to try pot. "I felt human again," she said. She's now the hired nurse at Magnolia, helping all customers, but especially seniors who come in seeking medical advice and guide them through the wonders of cannabis. Blaser is really hot on what cannabis can do for someone's sex life. Recently, she helped a couple in their 80s find the right products to help them in their romantic pursuits. There are lotions and salves to rub on that can increase the blood flow. She said there are tinctures to help people relax in five minutes.
"Cannabis can make a huge difference in enjoyment for seniors," she said. "Like with the fear of underperforming, with disappointment, with pain. There's cannabis product for all of that. It's like Viagra without the side effects."
While Blaser and Montgomery are both well-aware of the benefits of cannabis for seniors, both know that the image of an elderly person chewing edibles or vaping might be funny to some. But it shouldn't be, they say.
"There's a stigma to it," Blaser acknowledged. "I know people think that Grandma belongs in a rocking chair, watching Oprah. But we need to get rid of that image."
For more information on T'Oakland, click on the group's Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/TOaklandSeniorCannaClub. Also, go to learn more about the National Council for Aging Care's take on seniors and marijuana: www.Aging.com/the-complete-guide-to-medical-marijuana-for-seniors.