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I have always spent time around older people. My father was a geriatric physician for many years who practiced in Sun City, Arizona, a sprawling retirement community in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Recently retired at seventy-five, he is now experimenting with how to fill his less regimented schedule. On a recent visit, he showed me his portraits—he has taken up the paintbrush—as well as his weed stash. He explained that cannabis gives him inspiration while painting. The day after, my father’s best friend, Chaim, showed me his own stash. A retired plumber, Chaim is a stoic man whose severe stare pierces through my father’s oil pastel rendition of him; I was shocked when he told me that his preference is weed with 29 percent THC content, which is far too strong for me. After smoking, Chaim cracked the first smile I’ve seen from him and showed me his poster of Moses. My father, a one-hit wonder, fell asleep on the couch with his mouth open.

Recent surveys reveal a sizable increase in medical-marijuana use among people over sixty-five. This trend is generally ascribed to reduced stigma around drug use; lifted restrictions on possession and sale of marijuana in many states; and the medical benefits for conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, and insomnia. My experiences in Sun City led me to think about my father’s newfound curiosity post-retirement, a departure from his life in medicine. Cannabis had become the gateway drug to a freedom from routine and conventionality. I decided to explore the world of recreational use by retirees spanning from Arizona to Southern California.


A portrait of a bald man sitting on a leather couch.


A zoom in of the bald man’s face obscured by smoke emanating from his mouth.



That same older man wearing steampunk sunglasses.


An older man sleeping on a leather couch.





Next, I met Leslie, a seventy-three-year-old film stylist in Sherman Oaks. A lover of Neil Young, Leslie had her retirement plans and hip replacement delayed due to the pandemic. While weed helps her manage the pain from her hip, Leslie emphasized how much she loves taking edibles at concerts, claiming to attend at least seventy a year. She proudly showed me a Beach Boys setlist she got while in the front row at one of their shows. Before I knew it, we were dancing through her apartment in ball gowns, eating chocolate Whoppers she found in her weed drawer. “No one has CDs anymore!” she exclaimed as she put on her readers to look through her stack of classics for the next hit.


A zoomed in photo of an older, sunned white woman smoking a pipe with a flame on top.



A set list with names of Beach Boys songs.



A photo collage of the same woman zoomed out in two photos, wearing a glittery spaghetti-strapped gown.




In Culver City, I met Judy, a white-haired seventy-five-year-old woman whose voicemail reminded me to “have a blessed and magical day.” When I arrived at her house, she greeted me in a sleeveless Under Armour tank, holding a boogie board. In the few hours I spent with her, Judy managed to deadlift weights, get a haircut, gossip about her love life, host a card game, and donate food to the homeless. Rifling through her favorite pipes, Judy emphasized the ethos of collective responsibility, explaining to me that in this stage of life, caring for each other is paramount. (Judy keeps her paraphernalia in a floral box, something you would expect to contain family photos or craft supplies.) When I left, Judy showed me the rock garden where she had spread her late animals’ ashes. Next to the rocks was a tile with the inscription, “Youth is a gift, age is an art.”


A portrait of a woman sitting in a blue armchair, holding two pipes on either side of her mouth.


An older white woman with white hair getting her hair cut.



A series of photos depicting the same woman lifting weights.






My last visit was with Ron, who lives in a modest apartment with his American bulldog, Deebo, the best-trained dog I’ve ever met. Ron is a beloved neighbor, and emanated an extremely mellow energy—useful, after the nonstop fun with Judy and Leslie. “Finally, a retired person who is relaxing,” I thought to myself, as Ron microwaved his blunt to firm up the wrapper. When asked what he likes to do while smoking, Ron said he enjoys walking Deebo, doing push-ups, and hanging out on his yacht. Barely fourteen hours later, Captain Ron was outsmoking me and my friends by a landslide on said yacht in Marina del Rey. The next day, I slept in so late that I almost missed a call from Judy. “Checking in to see if you still want to take pictures of me boogie boarding. I am going with my friend Edna,” Judy said, with an audible smile. “She’s eighty-five!”


A portrait of an older Black gentleman, whose lips are puckered around a joint with an ashy tip.


The same man inside a large boat with a young woman in a bikini top and a young man putting on a floatation vest.





A triptych of the older Black man sitting on a couch next to a brown and white pitbull.