Updated on October 21, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
You can’t have a conversation about cannabis without talking about stigma. Cannabis may go down in history as the victim of pervasive smear campaigns for generations. By political leaders and by the medical community.
With increasing clinical research on cannabis, it has remained a prohibited substance legally. Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug and illegal at the federal level.
Boomers generally oppose cannabis. The majority of Millennials support it. And Generation X? They are evenly divided. And quiet about their views. What are the sociocultural drivers for each generation? How has the War Against Drugs shaped these different generations? Lastly, how much influence does each generation have on cannabis legal policy?
Boomers and Bud Got Off to a Bad Start
The Baby Boomers continue to make, shape, and shift both public policy and consumer trends. With over 71.6 million Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964), any change in their social opinion has an economic impact.
Baby Boomers grew up through the 1950s when the campaigns about “Reefer Madness” began. If you want to understand where the stigmas originated from, blame that decade. And by the time the 1960s rolled around, you were bohemian, or you were corporate. Straightlaced Americans in their teens and early twenties didn’t head to Woodstock. Or if they did, they didn’t inhale.
The generalizations and stereotypes about people who smoked marijuana still linger today. Like “people who smoke pot are lazy.” Or “potheads are dumb” or “you can’t smoke weed and
a) go to college
b) get a good job
c) make a lot of money
d) become a business professional.
Along with those stereotypes that people who used cannabis could become violent. Erratic and dangerous. There is no evidence to support that cannabis makes you hazardous to anything other than your fridge. Or your favorite cereal.
You were a bad person if you smoked weed. That was drilled into Boomers as they grew up. And they passed that torch onto their Gen X and Millennial children. Two generations responded to cannabis culture and views in entirely different ways, depending on how authoritative their Boomer parents were.
How Have Views of Cannabis Use Shifted for Baby Boomers?
When the Baby Boomer population began to enter retirement years, they experienced a burgeoning opioid crisis in the making. Over 55 years or into their sixties, Boomers began to develop chronic diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s, painful inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. And increased rates of certain types of cancer, including breast cancer, colorectal and prostate cancer.
Pharmaceutical marketing laws (or lack of stronger regulations) coupled with aggressive strategic incentivization created the crisis. It lit a fire that would see an increase in opioid medication use.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2018, opioid prescription rates fell to their lowest volume in thirteen years! Only 168 million opioid scripts were written in 2018. Or about 51.4 prescriptions per 100 adults living in the United States.
Take a moment to think about that statistic. That was the 13-year record-breaking and lowest opioid prescription rate. It makes you wonder what the average number of dispensed opioids was before.
In 2006 215,917,663 opioid prescriptions were written (72.4 per 100 adults)
· In 2009, 243,738,090 opioid prescriptions were written (79.5 per 100 adults)
· In 2012, 255,207,954 opioid scripts were dispensed (81.3 per 100 adults)
Today we have a better understanding of the harm potential for opioid use. Particularly by patients who use pain medications daily. And over a long period. We’ve all got the message now: “opioids are bad” and perhaps only helpful for patients diagnosed with a terminal condition.
Cannabis Legalization Is a Priority for Millennials: Gen X and Baby Boomers? Not so Much
The generation that invented avocado toast and learned how to use the computer when five are innovators. Culturally, millennials are anti-establishment, pro-alternative health, and pro-self care. They are also pro-cannabis.
As global citizens with a greater multicultural awareness than perhaps other generations, millennials think legalization is a no-brainer. Due North, our Canadian neighbors have long-since legalized both medical and adult-use (recreational) cannabis. In many cities and counties in legalized states, possession of <2 ounces is a ticket (not a misdemeanor or felony charge).
In 2019 a Quinnipiac poll was released. It surveyed opinions about legalized marijuana across the United States. The poll included Baby Boomers, Gen X respondents, Millennials, and Generation Y participants.
The results from the Quinnipiac poll were not surprising:
· Only 44% of Americans aged 65 years or older supported cannabis legalization.
· 85% of Americans aged 18 to 34 years were in favor of it.
· 63% of Generation X (aged 35-49) also supported legalizing weed.
Are you surprised by the numbers? We found the high number of Generation X respondents that didn’t support cannabis to be impressive. We can understand the historical context of hesitancy from Baby Boomers, but why does Generation X not fully embrace responsible recreational or medical cannabis use?
Are Gen X Americans More Conservative About Marijuana Use?
Yes. Just over one third (37%) of Generation X participants, polled did not support cannabis legalization. That is a ‘high’ number. What are the possible influences that impact the almost 40% descent about cannabis for people aged 35 to 49?
Mandatory workplace drug testing. Generation X is in the middle of peak earning and advancement in their careers. Random drug testing has become a more frequent requirement for corporate employed professionals. Not just in the health or financial service sectors.
Generation X is also right in the middle of the prime years of parenting. Obviously, you do not want to encourage cannabis use for minors. It is a felony offense to provide cannabis or any controlled substance to anyone under the age of 18 years. Or 21 years of age in some states. And as parents, you of course, want to discourage drug use. They are nostalgic about traditional family values inherited from their own parents.
Will that mean that Generation X will increase medical marijuana adoption rates as they age? It is probable, as we already see a growth trend in seniors with chronic health conditions. But for now, Generation X are almost 50/50 about cannabis legalization.
What Do Millennials Really Think About Cannabis for Personal Wellness?
Verilife is a multi-state cannabis dispensary and operator. Verilife commissioned a research poll to better understand the generation gap between Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers regarding cannabis and culture.
From May 29 to June 5, 2020 Digital Third Coast (Chicago) conducted a survey of 1,000 people from each population segment. About 80% of respondents had completed post-secondary education, and 63% were full-time employed at the time of the survey.
Here are some of the insights shared about millennial cannabis users:
· Millennials are more likely to be daily consumers. 1 in 5 said they consume marijuana every day. Only 12% of Baby Boomers considered themselves to be daily users.
· Millennials consume cannabis throughout the day. Boomers are twice as likely to ‘wake and bake’ in the morning.
· Inhalable cannabis remains the most popular method for both Baby Boomers and Millennials. This includes pre-rolled cannabis products and whole flower for use in pipes or dry-herb vaporizers.
· Millennials are more likely to consume cannabis before a social event, to moderate anxiety. Next to smokable cannabis, millennials prefer edibles (18%) and vape cartridges (14%).
How will each generation shape the future of decriminalization and federal legalization of medical cannabis? Baby Boomers are the least active when it comes to voter turnout. Generation Y, Generation X and Millennials are politically engaged. And because of that activism and engagement, we project rapid growth of medical marijuana programs nationally. A focus is on legislating qualifying conditions that are inclusive for patients with a broader spectrum of health conditions and symptoms.