Millennials View Cannabis Differently Than Other Generations

Millennials hold voting signs
Editorial credit: Laurel A Egan / Shutterstock.com
  • Millennials are more likely to view cannabis as less harmful than alcohol
  • Millennials are more likely to vote in favor of marijuana reform and related measures
  • Millennials spend less on marijuana than Baby Boomers, despite using marijuana at a higher rate
  • Millennials view cannabis more favorably for athletes than opioid painkillers

The change in the United States' view on cannabis between the 1960s and today is vast, almost – if not more so – as vast as the THC potency of flower between then and now. Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, were the largest generation in history...until Millennials.

Millennials outnumber all other generations in the workforce. The Pew Center for Research predicts by 2019, Millennials will be more dominant than Boomers in every aspect of American society.

young man smokes joint in Amsterdam

So, many questions revolve around this cannabis-centric era: Did it take Millennials to finally turn legal recreational marijuana into a reality? Is the way Millennials view cannabis accelerating policy change through resources, technology, or momentum? Is it Millennials' lack of attachment to traditions and norms or a lack of understanding of related institutions?

Is legalizing cannabis something Boomers just couldn't do?

What follows is an analysis of data on how Millennials view cannabis. This has been written in hopes of highlighting cultural, political, and environmental commonalities existing in the society of the 1960s and the upcoming – if not already on shore – Millennial wave.

This is what we know about Millennials' view on cannabis.

Lurking Where Generational Differences Exist: Cultural Transference

Transference is the unconscious redirection of feelings and perceptions about one topic and the subconscious placement of those feelings over something else. In this case, how Millennials view cannabis is evolving past the perceptions of previous generations, most dominantly Baby Boomers.

Many owners of cannabis businesses were not born between 1982 and 1998, the commonly-accepted range of birth years for Millennials. It's Generation X and Boomers who own most legal licenses for dispensaries or growing outfits – and Millennials who act the chipper workforce.

Why, then, have Millennials' views on cannabis become different than older generations?

Whereas Generation X (1965-1981) spent decades learning the deterrent of mandatory prison time for cannabis use, Millennials grew up hearing dual realities: Marijuana consumption could get you locked up – or it could relieve pain and other symptoms from chronic conditions.

It’s common youths to experience a detachment to prominent institutions. Life, for some, has not been long enough to develop concrete associations or loyalty to institutions like public schools, governments, and religions.

Since cannabis is both an illegal drug and a potentially healthful compound, younger generations have grown up listening to two converse opinions and the science to back up each.

Views on Alcohol and Marijuana Have Shifted Dramatically

Throughout the previous two decades, states have continued to pass medical marijuana laws. With depictions of cannabis consumers in popular media and state governments developing framework for MMJ programs, Millennials grew up during a time when the tallest hurdle to cannabis reform stood in front of voters. Millennials grew up with the architecture to aid marijuana legalization and decriminalization efforts.

The regulation and legalization of cannabis is a practice of setting limits and expectations along understood, culturally-relevant lines.

"The group [Millennials] now understands that alcohol is a dangerous drug."
– Forbes

For instance, in the U.S., recreational marijuana has only been legalized for adults 21 and older. In Canada, where the plant has been legalized federally, the legal age for adults to consume cannabis is 18 or 19, depending on the province or territory.

In both cases, cultures took the framework instilled in one product and applied it to the nascent cannabis industry. The winning, already-established product? Alcohol.

Why alcohol rather than, say, tobacco?

Millennials are less likely to smoke tobacco in the U.S. than previous generations, according to Gallup data.

According to the digital polling platform "The Tylt," nine out of 10 Millennials believe marijuana is safer than alcohol. There are numerous reasons this has occurred, including alcohol-related DUIs, liver failure, and seizures. The easiest thing to point to is the lack of direct deaths linked to the consumption of marijuana.

"…Millennials are causing beer sales to crash in the United States. It turns out that this slump could be because the group now understands that alcohol is a dangerous drug. In the latest poll, an impressive 88 percent said that marijuana is safer than booze. And it’s not that they think weed is harmful at all. Almost 86 percent said that marijuana has therapeutic benefits and would be a boon to public health." – Mike Adams,
Contributor, Forbes Online

Older generations are more likely to compare cannabis to alcohol than to tobacco, because of a sort of fear factor and lack of researched information. This may account for the push toward similar regulations as alcohol.

Millennials View Cannabis Legalization as Beneficial

Young people consider themselves as less attached to institutions, at least in terms of political affiliation. According to Pew Research data, 50 percent of Millennials are registered as Independents.

Research performed by George Gao of the Pew Fact Tank shows both Republican and Democratic Millennials are 11 percent more likely to vote for cannabis legalization than Boomers. Republican Millennials are 63 percent in favor, whereas Democratic Millennials are 77 percent in favor.

While both sides of the U.S. political spectrum agree we need to decide on cannabis legalization, this is especially pronounced among Millennials. Cannabis is viewed as a bipartisan issue, with over 60 percent of Millennials in support of legalization.

Young female holds potted cannabis plant and smokes a joint - how millennials view cannabis may change the future

"Not only does the majority of this demographic (84 percent) support the legalization of marijuana, but it no longer buys into the propaganda and corporate sales tactics that have allowed the prohibitionary standard to carry on for over four decades." – Mike Adams, Contributor, Forbes Online

Boomers, Gen X Have More Buying Power, Yet Millennials Consume More, More Regularly

According to research firm Deloitte, Millennials overall consume more cannabis than Generation X and Baby Boomers – by 10 and 21 percent respectively. Millennials are 5 to 7 percent more likely than other generations to use cannabis daily.

"Apparently very few Baby Boomers consider marijuana use risky."
Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH

This, however, does not mean Millennials are the top-spending generational cohort.

According to data provided by the California cannabis delivery service Eaze, average monthly spending between generations varies. Millennials are spending less than both Boomers and Gen X by 6 percent or less, largely due to product preferences and disposable income generated over one's career.

And the trend seems poised to continue.

A report published in October 2017 found that marijuana consumption among adults aged 50 and older between 2006 and 2013 experienced a 71 percent increase.

"I thought the perception of low risk was fascinating because, typically, we think of older generations as drug-adverse, and perceiving most drugs to be risky. But apparently very few Baby Boomers consider marijuana use risky," said Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, researcher, and assistant professor of Population Health at NYULMC. "But after all, this was the generation who was there, in the late 1960s, when the counterculture revolution exploded marijuana into mainstream popularity,"

Millennials View Cannabis Consumption by Athletes More Favorably than Opiates, Other Painkillers

The common perception of cannabis is likely to produce therapeutic benefits is common among Millennials. As more and more Millennials have joined professional sports, so too has the opportunity to change the way sports teams deal with cannabis.

The rise in popularity of products, including CBD-based pain and inflammation lotions, sprays, and ointments, have brought an increasing number of current and former professional athletes onto the soapbox, with trainers and athletic coaches both in support and cautious.

"[Cannabis] can be useful while training at non-peak levels."
– Jordan Tishler, MD

Take former Denver Bronco running back Reuben Droughns. In an interview with Leafbuyer in July 2018, Droughns walked us through the direction NFL often leads players.

"When you’re playing ball, you’re pushed toward that way (toward opioids)," he said. "They’re pushing the opioids and those types of medicines, the Western medicines, toward you.”

Fmr. Bronco Pushes for CBD’s as Alternative to Opioids in NFL from Leafbuyer on Vimeo.

Droughns continues, "Obviously, marijuana and CBD are illegal in the NFL, so they’re not going to push those natural remedies toward you. They’re going to push the things that they’re capable of getting. And that causes problems because guys, after they’re done playing, are hooked on these drugs."

While cannabis-based therapies are on the rise, so too is the rate Millennials view cannabis consumption by athletes as acceptable. With an opioid epidemic that has been declared a state of emergency by the White House and distrust of institutions such as Big Pharma resonating with Millennials, it is easy to grasp why the appeal exists.

Millennials are more likely to address underlying health concerns than previous generations. This includes diet, exercise, and, yes, drug use. As cannabis- and hemp-based products like CBD have gained popularity in recent years, so too have such products become used for a wide array of activity.

Jordan Tishler, MD is a Harvard Alumni and cannabis therapeutics specialist. In an interview with Men'sHealth, Dr. Tishler stated, "…cannabis has been shown to be good for pain control and can be useful while training at non-peak levels. Like a runner's high, cannabis can help with endurance." Dr. Tishler warned, however, in the case of performing optimally "…for peak performance you should not use cannabis."

Where Public Health and Public Perception Meet

Millennials view cannabis differently. Whether it comes from a diminished perception that cannabis consumption causes harm, acknowledgment of the dangers of alcohol and opiates, or the sheer voter numbers to impact legislatures, elections, and society, Millennials may very well bring real change.

Think of it this way:

State-rights issues commonly align with conservative moral values. According to Jesse Graham, of the University of Virginia, conservatives want states to be free to govern themselves. To protect the will and health of the people, the government would be best kept at arm's length.

Conversely, ensuring openness to new ideas and cultivating – even seeking out – change personally and politically has been shown to be more common in liberals and independents.

How Millennials view cannabis is an exception to the rule – an ideation that crosses party and generational lines. Only time will tell if public perception and public health will find appropriate political crossroads. It seems to me, we are at one already.