Making marijuana legal will encourage use, especially by young people. That is the go-to line for any drug prohibitionist who has been bludgeoned by the onslaught of marijuana legalization and medical marijuana exceptions now passed in 20 American states.
Unfortunately for them, the latest polling data from Gallup seems to show that further liberalization of American marijuana policy is not leading more young people down the supposedly slippery slope from marijuana initiation to full-blown heroin addiction. In fact, fewer young people are trying marijuana than when I began college in the mid-1980s.
In 1985, a full one-third (33 percent) of Americans had tried marijuana. In 1996, California became the first medical marijuana state and since then, 19 more have created exceptions to criminal prosecution for medical uses of cannabis. In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first political jurisdictions in the world to fully legalize the possession of marijuana. Today, just 38 percent of Americans have tried marijuana.
The crosstabs of the poll are even more devastating for the idea that legalization entices young people. When I graduated high school in 1985, 56 percent of my generation aged 18-29 had tried marijuana. The figure now for that age group is just 36 percent.
The groups that have increased their experimentation with marijuana are over age 30. While 41 percent of the middle-aged (30-49) in 1985 had tried pot, the figure is now nearly half (49 percent). The increase is more pronounced for ages 50 to 64, rising from a mere 9 percent in 1985 to 44 percent today -- almost five times greater use! This means more people aged 30 to 64 are experimenting with marijuana than people in their college years. Among seniors age 65 and over, experimentation has nearly tripled, from 6 percent to 17 percent.
Current use of marijuana is still an area where young adults come out on top. Fourteen percent, or over one-third of the 18-29-year-olds who tried marijuana, are using it currently. Only one-out-of-seven of the 49 percent of 30-49-year-olds who tried marijuana are using it now (7 percent). Just 5 percent of people aged 50-64 are currently toking, which is about one-in-nine of those who tried it. Only one percent of seniors aged 65 and older are using pot now.
So, it seems that even though fewer young people are trying marijuana, more of them are currently using it. However, current use steadily declines as the marijuana smoker ages... so much for the super-potent, highly-addictive modern marijuana.
It may sound like something on the back of a yuppie's bumper sticker, Achenbaum joked, but boomers have moved beyond self-absorption to understand the duality of living in today's increasingly global world. "That tension between realizing that I'm part of this large world that is very fragile and on the other hand feeling very fine-tuned to [everyday life] is a gift that the boomers have shared among themselves," he said.
The rise of adult education classes and community college courses, along with increased educational opportunities for women, changed what is referred to in the paper as "the three boxes of life": employment, work, and retirement. "Boomers were not acting in lockstep in going through life as our parents were and as we were programmed to be in adolescence," Achenbaum said.
Many boomers cut their teeth on the social change movements spearheaded in the '60s and '70s, ushering in new eras of inclusiveness, diversity and understanding. "While boomers have not succeeded fully in eliminating racism or sexism or ageism or homophobia, we have made more of an effort than previous generations did. I don't see how any subsequent generation [could reverse those efforts]." Achenbaum said.
Boomers were the first generation to separate religion -- which had been seen as a public, performative act central to one's identity -- from spirituality, a more private experience, Achenbaum said. They were also the first to travel for enlightenment, folding their experiences abroad into their existence. "There have been spiritual traditions ever since people were in caves, but our cohort were the ones that went to the East and said 'I could be Jewish and Buddhist at the same time,'" he said.
Despite a number of incurable diseases and legislative roadblocks, medical advances, lifestyle changes and federal programs have helped baby boomers live longer and healthier lives, according to the paper. The value of "wellness" will be left in boomers' wake, potentially altering the way we view "the golden years." "My hope is that as we grow older, people will see how different we look and act [and] stereotypes of older people being obsolete, stupid and [prone to] Alzheimer's will begin to fall apart," Achenbaum said.
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