OPINION: Millennials and the Drug War

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Millennials are a generation of their own. They have been defined in about a hundred different ways from ‘entitled brats’ to ‘driven underdogs’. More members in the age bracket are living at home than ever before, likely as a result of crushing student debt and poor economic opportunities. Millennials are thought of as tech savvy, environmentally aware, and culturally diverse. And one more fact – more of them than any generation before support the legalization of marijuana.

Political thoughts on the use of marijuana – both recreational and medical – have long been divided along party lines with Republicans touting evidence such as a study completed by the University of Southern California linking recreational marijuana use to testicular cancer while Democrats fight back with comparisons between marijuana and other legal substances such as cigarettes.

However, millennials seem to be breaking down that barrier. A recent Pew poll suggested that in discussions associated with the widespread legalization of marijuana, young Republicans were more likely to align more closely with Democrats than their own party. Results indicated that over 63 percent of millennials that identified themselves as Republicans supported the legalization of marijuana, making them the only living generation of Republicans in favor of legalization.

And nationwide legalization may be in the future.

More support for both recreational and medical use of marijuana exists in the United States right now than it has in the last 50 years. We are closer to cultural acceptance of marijuana use than any time since World War II when the US government commissioned the growth of hemp in their “Hemp for Victory” campaign. The plant was used heavily as cordage for ships and other military equipment.

Even now states falling across both party lines have legalized the use of marijuana on various levels. Alaska, the most recent of these, is the first red state to approve use. It joins Washington and Colorado (both predominantly blue states) in full legalization. As of November 2014, only 23 states in the union still have a flat out ban on the drug.

But why is the millennial attitude different?

Multiple surveys and studies indicate millennials are overwhelmingly opposed to the criminalization of drugs, especially marijuana. Having grown up in the midst of the War on Drugs, millennials have had to deal with the consequences, such as skyrocketing prison populations and economic impacts, of a failed government initiative.

The generation as a whole is considered to be more optimistic and tolerant of change. This tolerance has been, and likely will continue, changing the social stereotypes within our nation. Since millennials are currently the largest generation in the United States, what they have to say about policies, both drug related and otherwise, really matters.

The question is, do they realize it?



Brittni Brown is a recent graduate of The College of Idaho with a degree in environmental studies. She is currently working for a local marketing start up. In her free time, she enjoys outdoor activities such as biking, hiking, and camping.