It’s fair to say that the cannabis industry has absolutely exploded over the last twenty years or so. Since California paved the way for medical cannabis with the passage of Prop 215 way back in 1996, the legal cannabis industry has evolved into a multi-billion dollar juggernaut and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. But does everyone feel the same way about cannabis entering the mainstream?
A massive part of that growth is the American consumers’ shared love of cannabis. Last year put that love on clear display, with legal buyers spending more than $17 billion on cannabis last year alone, even with COVID-19 crippling much of the economy. Retail sales rose by 40 percent, crushed previously held records for monthly and yearly sales, and Americans overall bought and used 71 percent more cannabis amid a stressful global pandemic.
And while it’s no surprise that 18-29-year-olds, Gen Z and young Millenials, buy about 22 percent of all legal cannabis, it might surprise many that aged 30-49 and aged 50-64 combined out-purchase that younger generation. That’s right! Boomers and the Gen X generation, likely your parents and grandparents, are buying just as much cannabis as your generation is.
Despite the buying stats, however, there are some key differences in the way that the generations see cannabis. After all, everyone is shaped by the pop culture, politics, and culture that raised them. It would only make sense that legal cannabis, something that’s new to U.S. culture over the past two decades or so, would be perceived very differently by someone who’s 20 than someone who’s 70. After all, if you grew up in an era when cannabis was outlawed and demonized by the federal government unilaterally, it’s hard to change those established views quickly.
This article is going to break down in detail some of the key differences of why the generations see both recreational and medical cannabis differently, how those differences affect consumer behavior, and what can be done to narrow the divide between the two for the sake of social justice, criminal justice reform, and legal changes.
The Medical vs Recreational Split
As we mentioned before, people of all ages love their cannabis. On average, millennials reported spending $78 per month while boomers spend $75, which is an average of $76.50 per month among both generations. Basically, the two age groups are spending about the same on cannabis. The first key difference between them is how they purchase it. The Baby Boomer generation are more likely to be patients in their state’s medical program, while Millennials are much more likely to not get a card of their own and buy recreationally.
That split between the medical and recreational programs could come from a few different factors.
First, it’s important to note that the legalization divide may play a role here. Even as 11 states and U.S. territories have legalized recreationally and public support has shifted significantly towards legalization, medical programs are still the more widely accepted and more common legal marketplace for cannabis users. The push for full nationwide cannabis legalization is led by younger people, so it only makes sense that older, more conservative generations would just lean on the medical programs in their states instead of pushing for legalization.
In the end, numbers don’t lie. It’s clear which generation is prioritizing legalization when only 44 percent of Americans aged 65 and over support cannabis legalization and an astounding 85 percent of 18-34-year-olds and 63 percent of age 35-49 are in favor of it.
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How, When, and Why They Use Cannabis
As we broke down above, there’s an age difference in who’s getting their cannabis from where. So it would only make sense they’re using it in different ways, at different times, for different things as well, right?
Research suggests that the Baby Boomers tend to use their cannabis to alleviate physical symptoms that come from conditions associated with aging, like arthritis, chronic pain, and cancers. Many Millennials and Gen Z, on the other hand, use cannabis as a social lubricant or to relax instead of alcohol.
Another difference is when they’re using their cannabis. According to research, Boomers are twice as likely to use cannabis in the morning, while Millennials much prefer to use it in the evenings. For the anxious and career-minded Millennial generation, it only makes sense that they’re choosing to use their cannabis after work while the generation fast approaching retirement might be looking to ease their morning aches and pains instead.
The last key factor for this section is the method of consumption. Smoking dried cannabis flower via pipe, joints, or blunts is still the most popular method of consumption for both Boomers and Millennials. Other methods like edibles, vapes, and tinctures are also used about equally by both. Boomers, however, have a clear love of capsules. Around 23 percent of Boomers said capsules are their preferred way to consume, compared to only 10 percent for Millenials. It would make sense that an aging generation may choose to steer away from smoking flower, especially in the midst of a respiratory-based global pandemic.
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The Bottom Line
While there are differences in method, consumption, level of support for full legalization, and time of day they’re using their cannabis, every generation shares a love for clean, green, natural medicine. Cannabis has a way of relaxing us, relieving pain and inflammation associated with a variety of illnesses, and helping people get restful, restorative sleep for thousands of years.
Regardless of your age, there’s no sense fighting against the restorative power of medical cannabis.