Millennials have become a force to be reckoned with—from a sheer numbers perspective, they’ve surpassed the Baby Boomers as America’s largest living generation. And they have strong opinions about what they want from their culture, including, evidently, the legalization of marijuana.
Reforming marijuana laws
According to the Pew Research Center, the Millennial demographic (defined as those 18- to 35-years-old in 2016) has driven the shift toward public support of marijuana. In 2006, 34 percent of Millennials supported the legalization of marijuana. By 2016, that number had leaped to 71 percent. Even 63 percent of GOP-leaning Millennials say marijuana use should be legalized; Democratic-leaning Millennials are even more enthusiastic, with77 percent favoring legalization.
But just because Millennials overwhelmingly support marijuana legalization, the question remains: Will this generation’s power-in-numbers have a hand in pushing forward state laws and federal laws legalizing marijuana use?
“Legalization and reform at the local, state, and federal levels represents a great opportunity for Millennials to embrace their growing position in society and break from policies and dogmas of the Baby Boomers that may no longer be compatible with the Millennial vision of the 21st century,” says Corey Cox, associate attorney with the nation’s top cannabis law firm, Vicente Sederberg, in Denver.
“As societal attitudes change, the law follows. Millennials are largely in favor of marijuana legalization. If the federal laws don’t change before the Millennials are in power, the Millennials will change the laws when we get in power,” says Brian Pendergraft, attorney with The Pendergraft Firm LLC in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Heeding the millennial voice
In the meantime, the Millennials have a loud collective voice. And they can use it to their advantage to further an industry that is poised to drive long-term economic growth and social change. “Millennials owe it to themselves and to future generations to take ownership of what this change looks like,” says Cox. “The industry has grown beyond the 1970s stereotypes many people still associate with marijuana. One of the most basic, yet powerful, things Millennials can do is use their various platforms to express their views and experiences with marijuana and in the process shift the conversation from one driven by fear and superstition, to one driven by facts and positive experiences.”
Though the marijuana industry is fledgling, it does mirror the millennial experience. “This is an industry that, like many Millennials, has transitioned from basements to business enterprise and has created tremendous economic opportunities across a wide spectrum of skills, education levels, and backgrounds,” says Cox.
Millennial cannabis entrepreneurs
Millennials have witnessed prosperity and economic decline and are motivated to alter the course of their future. “This is an industry that has largely embraced the entrepreneurial spirit central to the Millennial identity,” says Cox. “As a result, this industry exists in a very creative and experimental space where people can express themselves and pursue untapped opportunities. This is true for the craftsmen and artisans literally growing the industry, for the legal and business professionals constantly seeking creative solutions to the industry’s many obstacles, and for everyone in between.”
Particularly for environmentally conscious Millennials, cannabis-growing offers opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint. “We are focused on addressing the new freedom of Prop 64 allowing Californians to start growing cannabis at home,” says Gregg Steiner, president of the Sherman Oaks-based Cabinet Garden, an indoor plant-growing system that can help solve a great deal of environmental damage that large-scale marijuana farming can cause. Millennials have launched businesses and latched onto systems like this—and begun to develop their own innovations—that lower the cost of cannabis, reduce pesticide use, and limit environmental damage and energy consumption.
Off the record
While some Millennials are using the growth of cannabis enterprises to their advantage, taking the opportunity to put their entrepreneurial bent in motion, other Millennials who have been affected by harsh marijuana laws are trying to cover their tracks.
Because recreational marijuana is still illegal in many states, many Millennials have found themselves on the wrong end of the law when it comes to weed. “Countless Millennials have been imprisoned or suffered from marijuana’s prohibition. Legalized marijuana represents hope for social change and a more positive future for those negatively impacted by the war on drugs,” says Cox.
“Legalization of marijuana will increase the employability of Millennials that are scared they will not be able to get a job because of their record,” says Pendergraft, who works to expunge non-violent crimes from the records of Millennials.
“Decriminalization will help keep marijuana in the hands of adults while also not criminalizing responsible adults for using a harmless plant,” says Anthony Franciosi, founder of the Honest Marijuana Company, an eco-friendly cannabis growery in Oak Creek, Colorado. “It has also created tons of job and entrepreneurial opportunities for people who were members of the counterculture for so long.”