The relationship America's Baby Boomer generation has with marijuana cannot be explained by teenage infatuation, followed by early adulthood ambition, followed finally by later-life acceptance, says Brookings Institution senior fellow John Hudak.
"I think that one of the important things to caution about when thinking about the Baby Boomer generation is that they are often characterized as a bunch of hippies smoking weed and having sex. In reality, marijuana use always was and continued to be something that is done by a small percentage of the population."
Popular images of the Baby Boomers who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s fostered the notion that marijuana was a regular part of recreation, from music festivals to basement parties.
"And so, even within that ... age cohort of people who brought marijuana into the mainstream, there was still a lot of public opinion movement that needed to happen in order for public opinion to get where it is today," or from roughly 20 percent acceptance, or a preference for decriminalization, to roughly 50 percent today.
As part of Arkansas Public Media's ongoing coverage of Arkansas's first-in-the-Bible-Belt medical marijuana rollout, I spoke with Hudak about the history of marijuana criminalization in the United States, the conflict between the Baby Boomer counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s followed closely by President Richard Nixon's War on Drugs, and finally, the tidal shift in acceptance of marijuana as an intoxicant that should be legalized but regulated alongside alcohol. The first half of the interview can be heard here.
"In 1990, support for marijuana was hovering around 20 percent, which was really about as low as it'd been throughout most of Gallup's asking about it. This is again for recreational use. By the mid-2010s, you see an increase of about 40 percentage points. You see a tripling of support, up to about 60 percent.
That change, he said, is partly generational turnover. The generations today that is least accepting of marijuana as a legal part of the country's life and culture are the so-called Greatest and Silent generations, while Generation X and Millenials are most accepting.
"And so, as [the oldest generations] die off, they are being replaced by young people, people turning 18, entering the electorate, with the highest levels of support, and so that generational change can explain some of that, but not all of the change. Something else is happening too, and that is people are changing their minds on marijuana."
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