CDC (Center for Disease Control) research says there are over 58,000 paid and regulated long-term care providers in America, and around one million people live in some form of senior living community. This figure is set to increase dramatically in the next 20-25 years, as the Social Security Administration (SSA) says a male aged 65 today can expect to live another 19 years on average, while females aged 65 can expect to live an average of 21 years. As a result, there will be an estimated 14 million Americans aged 85+ by 2040; this means booming business for assisted living facilities.
While it’s great that people are living longer, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are enjoying a better quality of life. Millions of seniors are hooked on dangerous and addictive opioids as painkillers, but an increasing number of people are experiencing the benefits of marijuana for medicinal purposes. There has been a recent surge in the number of seniors using weed, but a question that a lot of people are wondering is, are you allowed to take it to an assisted living facility? Sadly, the answer is not as straightforward as you would think.
Common Sense is Not That Common
As marijuana is legal in 29 states plus D.C for medicinal use (9 of which allow recreational use), you would imagine that weed would be legal in assisted living facilities in those states, right? Not necessarily.
As it transpires, every long-term care facility has its own policies on weed, which means that while one location allows marijuana, another one right down the street may not.
Federal Cash Makes the Decision for Some Facilities
The majority of nursing homes that are regulated by the government receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. In return, they comply with certain Federal laws and standards. Failure to adhere to these rules means the facilities could lose their funding. Therefore, even if you live in a state where marijuana use is legal, the fact that it is federally illegal means almost all state-funded nursing homes don’t allow its use.
Deborah Pacyna of the California Association of Health Facilities highlighted the issue. The organization she works for represents 75% of California’s nursing homes and she outlined its policy. According to her, residents are not allowed to use cannabis because the facilities they use receive federal aid.
Meanwhile, facilities that are not reliant on federal cash tend to be more lenient. According to the California Assisted Living Association, for example, which represents 600 facilities, the rules vary from place to place; while some ban weed, others treat it like any other form of medication. However, residents are usually only allowed to use marijuana if they are capable of self-administration.
Another thing to consider is that even if you end up in a facility where marijuana use is allowed, there is a chance that you won’t receive the approval of physicians because there ‘isn’t enough proof’ of medical relevance. This is a patently ridiculous statement because there are literally tens of thousands of studies which show that marijuana is perfectly safe for use and is non-addictive, while anecdotal evidence from patients suggests that it works really well as a painkiller.
The location of an assisted living facility can also dictate whether or not you can use marijuana inside. Dispensaries in Vermont, for instance, are legally allowed to deliver cannabis products to individuals participating in the state’s medical marijuana program. However, there are many facilities in the state that are a fair distance away from any dispensary, and thus don’t allow delivery of the weed.
Possible Safety Issues
Even in facilities eager to cater for seniors using marijuana, there are a few health and safety issues to consider. Most locations are forced to assess each case individually before coming to a decision. First of all, if a resident requests weed, the facility has to decide if it is practical or not. For instance, smoking isn’t allowing in most nursing homes so you would probably have to vape or use edibles.
Also, the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy in many nursing homes is an issue because it increases the likelihood of injury and liability. According to Dr. Cheryl Phillips of LeadingAge, an industry group that represents over 2,000 facilities, if residents use marijuana without the staff’s knowledge – and if it isn’t part of their care plan – it will result in a safety problem.
What’s the Answer to the Question?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to the question of “is medical marijuana allowed in assisted living facilities.” Whether you can use marijuana in an ALF depends on a myriad of factors, including the individual company’s rules, whether or not they are federally funded, or if their physicians and staff are willing to allow weed on the premises. In most cases, assisted care facilities are not legally obliged to let you use cannabis, which means you are relying on their discretion.
We can, however, highlight a few certain facilities that bend over backward to accommodate residents. For example, the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York helps its residents to use medical weed. Although its staff won’t store or administer the herb, residents can purchase it from a dispensary, store it in locked boxes in their rooms, and self-administer as needed.
Ultimately, it is the legal issue that causes problems for seniors looking to use marijuana as a form of medication. In most states where cannabis is allowed for medicinal use, the law doesn’t address the possibility that residents of assisted living facilities would want to use it. In Alaska, for example, the medical marijuana law clearly states that a nursing home doesn’t have to cater to the needs of residents who request weed.
However, in states such as Rhode Island, Oregon, and Michigan, “agitation of Alzheimer’s” is regarded as a qualifying condition. In Maine, moreover, employees of nursing homes and inpatient hospice workers are allowed to register as a patient’s medical marijuana caregiver.
Ultimately, if a senior citizen is suffering from chronic pain or a neurodegenerative condition, it is absolutely criminal to deny them the right to use medical marijuana if they live in a state where it is legal. Alas, we live in a country where the same facilities routinely pump their residents full of useless and harmful opioids, which only lead to addiction and side effects. In the end, as you might have guessed, federal dollars dictate most of the marijuana-related decisions in ALF facilities.