...[A] statistical trace of what I've taken to calling the "puff daddy" movement emerged a few years ago, when researchers at the National Institutes of Health compared national drug surveys conducted over two-year periods beginning in 1991 and 2001. Their analysis, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that the percentage of people who say they smoked marijuana in the past year had remained fairly stable over the 10-year stretch. (That is to say, it ended where it started.) But they found a very different pattern among those between the ages of 45 and 64: As my parents' generation matured, the number of smokers in that group had nearly tripled.
The baby boomer drug uptick turns up again in the recent data. According to the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, almost 6 percent of all adults between the ages of 50 and 59 reported smoking marijuana in the past year. That's up from about 3 percent five years earlier. Meanwhile, the number of recent users over the age of 50 has climbed to 2.65 million people nationwide (and we can assume the real prevalence is somewhat higher, since these figures are based on self-reported drug use). Here's something to think about: There are about as many boomers using cannabis today as there are high-school students doing the same.
Still, it's not easy to get an accurate picture of who these puffing oldsters are and how their drug habits have evolved over the last few decades. (It's also not clear to what extent the legalization of medical marijuana has been a factor.) In August, researchers at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration published a detailed look (PDF) at patterns of drug use among the boomers. Most appear to have used marijuana continually throughout their lives, but a sizable portion were classified as "resumers"—those who recently emerged from a long hiatus in smoking dope.
'The report defines “resumers” as anyone who used the drug at least once during the past year, not at all in the year before, and at least once in all the years before that. These accounted for 17 percent of those people between the ages of 50 and 59 who said they’d smoked dope in the past year. Of course any boomers who had “resumed” two (or three or four) years ago would be excluded from this total.', Sure enough, almost all the puff daddies and pot mommas I've encountered fall into this latter category: After years of abstinence, they've just recently started to rifle through junk drawers for vintage roach clips and rolling papers.
For more on the growing rates of marijuana use, read Paul Armentano's article on the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.