The first time my dad caught me smoking pot, I was mortified. A college sophomore at the time, I had just sparked a pipe out back of my parents’ house, only to hear the rear door unlatch as Pop made his way to the backyard to let the dog outside. Smoke burning my lungs, I looked around for somewhere to furtively stash my cheap glass. Too late—I sensed my father’s presence through the darkness and waited for a rough hand to snatch the back of my neck or a masculine voice angrily grumble my name. Neither happened. Instead, I heard him say one thing before the screen door swung back into place, leaving me to finish up in solitude: “How come you never share, man?”
He was kidding, of course (kind of), but according to recent numbers from the National Survey on Drug Use & Health, that anecdote might not be all that unique. Between 2008 and 2011, the rate of drug use in adults aged 18 to 25 increased from 19.7 percent to 21.4 percent, a significant jump that is largely attributed to a marked increase in marijuana use through the last several years. That’s a total of 18.1 million tokers as of last year nationwide, indicating a jump of roughly four million cannabis smokers since 2007. Now, thanks to that increase, seven percent of the U.S. population admits to smoking marijuana.
All that in the face of one of the worst presidents for pot in recent memory. Given these numbers, it would seem that my age group, the millennial generation, is at the forefront of the stoner set. We’re the new weed generation.
And you’d better believe it’s starting to have an effect, but not in the way you might think. As if we set out to prove that the gateway drug theory is complete bullshit, millennials’ usage rates of drugs across all other categories—including tobacco, prescription pills, and psychedelics—went down as marijuana use climbed. What’s more, an overwhelming majority of first-time illicit drug experiences revolve around pot; of the 3.1 million first-times last year, 67.5 percent went to marijuana. So what gives?
“Parents continue to be the biggest influencer—including of teenagers and young adults—in helping kids make good decisions and show good judgment,” Peter Delany, director of the Center for Abuse Treatment, told Newsworks. He’s probably right; we’re just at the next step in that influence.
A solid 49 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds want to see cannabis legalized, and that’s for recreational purposes, not just medical. That shouldn’t be all that surprising, given that a large portion of people from my parents generation were mired in marijuana long enough in their youth to essentially give me and my peers a contact high. For people like my dear old dad, the legalization trip is nothing new—that age group saw the institution and repeal of mandatory minimums, Nixon’s drug war kickoff, the psychedelic revolution, the start of beloved stoner duo Cheech & Chong, the founding of High Times, and scores of other drug-addled 20th-century events. Perhaps most tellingly, NORML, the famed cannabis legalization organization, started up in 1970, politicizing an entire generation to marijuana legalization and drug policy change at large.
In that sense, our parents’ attitudes toward drugs have evolved in us thanks to their nurturing. The increase in marijuana use for my age group, the growing number of first-timers trying weed—this all indicates a naturally changing social perception of the drug from green menace to innocuous plant. We were raised with more balanced views on drugs, more free of propaganda and persecution than those passed down to our parents from their own set. We certainly didn’t invent the notion that changing your headspace isn’t morally wrong—mom and dad helped with that. That might explain why, when my father caught me puffing the plant that his generation obsessed over, he simply brushed it off.
But where is that attitude getting us now? To answer that, we need look no further than Colorado this November. Amendment 64, that state’s legalization measure, promises to legalize possession of an ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and older and currently has a 47-38 margin in support. For voters under 35, the support rate soars to 61 percent, matching recent nationwide Gallup poll numbers almost exactly. What it all depends on, as Salon points out, is if weed will turn us into value voters like those of generations past and draw out more young voters. Historically, Americans have made make-or-break voting issues out of abortion, suffrage, civil rights and more. Maybe legal dimebags will be enough for my generation.
And if we do our parents proud this election season, there will be plenty to share.