OAKLAND, Calif. - Marijuana may be seen as young person's pastime, but in California, where medical cannabis has been legal for nearly two decades, it has became a salvation for an army of aging and ailing boomers.
"The cannabis allows you to get up. You're not sedated. It allows you to be alive," says Sue Taylor a 66-year-old grandmother and retired Catholic school principal.
Taylor speaks to seniors at assisted living facilities and retirement communities on behalf of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif. It's the largest medical marijuana dispenser in the country. She believes marijuana is safe and effective in treating insomnia, loss of appetite, chronic pain and much more.
"They don't want to get high. They just want to get well. They want a quality of life where they'll be happy. And they don't even have to smoke it," said Taylor, referring to the wide variety of oils and edibles dosed with marijuana extract.
Seniors like Taylor grew up with anti-drug messages in films and TV that cast marijuana as highly addictive and even deadly. But after 18 years of legalization, medical marijuana in California has gotten an image makeover.
"Almost all of my life I've been told that marijuana is a bad drug. And how can something be bad if it helps so many people?" said 67-year-old Larry Edillo who suffers from diabetes and chronic pain.
Yet the American Medical Association considers marijuana a dangerous drug. Smoking marijuana has been linked to respiratory problems and changes in the brain.
It also remains a class-one narcotic under federal law along with heroin and LSD.
Despite that, a recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that 84 percent of Floridians over 65 years old approved of medical marijuana, an issue Florida voters will decide in November.
USF's Jay Wolfson, a doctor and lawyer, believes medical marijuana will inevitably become more acceptable and mainstream, but only if it's held to the same standard as other modern medicine.
"We want it to be pure and we want some guarantee that it meets certain guidelines for purity and quality. That's reasonable and we should demand it," said Wolfson.