January 22, 2011|By BRITTANY LEVINE
Laguna Woods – Wearing a powder-blue cardigan and orthopedic shoes, 86-year-old Dorothy Davidson learned how to make a marijuana smoothie as well as the difference between consuming baked weed and the raw plant at a Saturday conference aiming to teach seniors about medical cannabis.
"You hear so many negative things about it," said Davidson. "Now I know how it works."
The Brea woman has suffered from back pain for years after falling down a flight of stairs. Two metal rods in her back support her spine, and Vicodin no longer works well as a pain killer. Her son suggested she try medical marijuana, and with the approval of her doctor, she used it for the first time in December and noticed a difference in her pain level.
Still wary, she attended the Medical Cannabis Conference in Laguna Woods, the first of its kind in Orange County.
Conference organizers point to the aging baby boomer generation as possible beneficiaries of medical marijuana, and their goal was to encourage seniors to incorporate it into their health care routines.
Opponents of medical marijuana downplay its medicinal effects and say those with pain have the option to use several legal drugs.
Despite a 1996 California law legalizing the use of pot for medicinal purposes, several cities have tried to keep out medical marijuana dispensaries. The County of Orange adopted a ban for unincorporated areas, as did cities such as San Clemente and Huntington Beach. Officials have said banning dispensaries is better for public safety and welfare.
Other cities do not have laws that allow or disallow the sale of medical marijuana, creating a gray area that sometimes leads to the courtroom. Dana Point is suing several dispensaries for a peek at their financial records to ensure they are operating legally.
Laguna Woods allows dispensaries, but does not have one. However, some groups run nonprofit collectives in the retirement community located in town.
At the conference, speakers from doctors to lab researchers talked about the benefits of cannabis. They also described attempts at quality control and self-regulation, such as proper labeling. Some said ingesting the raw plant delivers medicinal properties without psychoactive effects.
Several of the about 100 attendees said they voted against Proposition 19, a 2010 ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. They were using the plant to feel better, not to get high. Opponents have said medical marijuana is a pathway to recreational use.
Letitia Pepper, a 56-year-old suffering from multiple sclerosis, a disease involving the central nervous system, said she concentrates marijuana extract with vegetable glycerin to make a liquid. When in pain, she squeezes a few drops under her tongue.
"People come up to me and say 'Oh, you look great,' " said Pepper of Riverside, wearing a T-shirt that said "Pills Kill." She said friends are surprised when she credits medical marijuana for the change.
Shari Horne, a member of the Village Cannabis Club in Laguna Woods, said the only way to change that is to create a new image for marijuana users.
"We can do it by being the kind of people they're not expecting. Get rid of that 'Cheech and Chong' attitude," she said, referring to stand-up comedians famous for drug-focused routines.
"People our age — there's no reason we shouldn't be able to feel better," she said.
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