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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block in Washington.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand in California, which was the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use.

In many California cities, cannabis dispensaries have sprung up like weeds. But in more conservative places, it's harder to find medical marijuana.

Debra Baer has this story of a group of seniors in Orange County who are determined to set up a pot collective in their luxury retirement community.

DEBRA BAER: For decades, Leisure World's resort lifestyle has attracted retirees to its swimming pools and golf greens.

Margo Bouer's passion is synchronized swimming.

Ms. MARGO BOUER: The water's magnificent. I'm me in the water, what keeps me alive.

BAER: The 73-year-old is one of the younger members of the Aquadettes, a synchronized swimming group. She's a retired nurse who moved to Leisure World, now known as Laguna Woods Village, 16 years ago. For her, water is more than fun - it means relief from multiple sclerosis.

In the water, she doesn't shake, or lose her balance. She doesn't need a walker or worry about a new symptom that began last year.

Ms. BOUER: Suddenly, I'd have a wave of nausea. And from that wave, I'd vomit, and I'd vomit from the tip of my toes all the way up. And I had no clue as to what was going on.

BAER: In April, a neighbor who happens to be a doctor encouraged Bouer to go to a meeting about medical marijuana. She says it was a stretch for her, a former psychiatric nurse whose generation considered cannabis little more than a gateway to harder drugs. But she went, and then she experimented.

Ms. BOUER: That night, I'm sitting out on my balcony. That wave of nausea came. I lit that pipe and I just held it in my mouth, afraid to even inhale, but I held it in my mouth, blew it out, like that. I was so preoccupied: Now what's happened? Has anything happened? Well, what happened was that nothing happened, except that I wasn't nauseated.

Dr. BILL SCHWIED: The only risk involved is the legal risk.

BAER: That's Bouer's 88-year-old neighbor, retired Dr. Bill Schwied.

Dr. SCHWIED: That is still very frightening to many doctors and patients.

BAER: Actually, there's not enough research done yet on the long-term or on elderly use of marijuana to know all the medical risks, and the legal risks are clear. The federal government still classifies the plant, along with cocaine and heroin, as an illegal, Schedule I, controlled substances with no accepted medical use. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Cocaine is classified by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule II drug.]

Despite that, the retired doctor and nurse in Laguna Woods have become vocal advocates for elderly use of medical marijuana. Since the spring, they've appeared publicly at community meetings.

Ms. BOUER: And guess what? I slept like a log.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BOUER: It was wonderful.

(Soundbite of applause)

BAER: More than 200 seniors turned out for this panel discussion on medical marijuana at the retirement community in June. No one spoke against it.

Unidentified Woman: Can you recommend a doctor?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BAER: Getting a doctor's recommendation is easy; getting the cannabis is a problem for the seniors. Laguna Woods passed an ordinance allowing dispensaries a year ago, but so far, retail property owners have refused to lease to marijuana businesses.

So the elderly retirees are forming their own nonprofit medical marijuana collective. A small group of them has been meeting to study their options.

Unidentified Man: We could give them these little plants that they could grow on their balcony, you know, that won't take much room at all.

Unidentified Woman: You mean, most plants don't get huge?

BAER: They are getting legal advice for their collective. But even if they follow the letter of California's law, which permits doctor-recommended use of cannabis and allows patients to legally buy it or grow their own, they're still taking a risk, says Don Duncan. He's the director for Americans for Safe Access.

Mr. DON DUNCAN (Director, Americans for Safe Access): The federal government typically doesn't target individual medical cannabis patients. But if one or more of these patients wants to join together into a collective or cooperative, there is a substantial legal risk in providing that service to the community. And we think that risk is diminishing under the new administration and with the new attorney general. But until the federal law changes, there's always a chance that somebody could be arrested or indicted.

Ms. BOUER: I'll be a test case.

BAER: Margo Bouer.

Ms. BOUER: You can arrest me. What are they going to do, throw me in jail? A 73-year-old person with MS?

BAER: If that happens, she's likely to have a lot of supporters. Her group recently held a community meeting to announce the collective. More than 70 people turned out.

For NPR News, I'm Debra Baer.

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