MIAMI - In her 88 years, Florence Siegel has learned how to relax: A glass of red wine. A crisp copy of The New York Times, if she can wrest it from her husband. Some classical music, preferably Bach. And every night like clockwork, she lifts a pipe to her lips and smokes marijuana.
Long a fixture among young people, use of the country's most popular illicit drug is now growing among the AARP set, as the massive generation of baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and '70s grows older.
The number of people aged 50 and older reporting marijuana use in the prior year went up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent from 2002 to 2008, according to surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The rise was most dramatic among 55- to 59-year-olds, whose reported marijuana use more than tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent.
Observers expect further increases as 78 million boomers born between 1945 and 1964 age. For many boomers, the drug never held the stigma it did for previous generations, and they tried it decades ago.
Some have used it ever since, while others are revisiting the habit in retirement, either for recreation or as a way to cope with the aches and pains of aging.
Siegel walks with a cane and has arthritis in her back and legs. She finds marijuana has helped her sleep better than pills ever did. And she can't figure out why everyone her age isn't sharing a joint, too.
"They're missing a lot of fun and a lot of relief," she said.