Millennials have been fed the party line on drugs since kindergarten. This is a generation that has been told to just say no by the friendly faces of the D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, a generation whose commercial breaks have been punctuated by brains on drugs as eggs in frying pans. Since they were old enough to listen, this is a generation that has been told that drugs are bad. Period.
This avalanche of propaganda has been met with a healthy dose of skepticism. (This is a generation that questions authority). Millennials have confronted the billions of dollars spent on armored SWAT trucks and helicopters and bullet proof vests, the hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders languishing in crumbling prisons across the U.S., the chaos and violence on the streets of Juarez — and just said no.
In just the past three years, the U.S. has seen a dramatic turnaround in longstanding policies and opinion concerning the country's third most widely used drug. In June of this year, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution urging the federal government to respect local and state measures on marijuana. The Justice Department announced in August that it will not intervene in Colorado and Washington State, both of which passed measures to regulate recreational marijuana.
The change from the top reflects the surge in support for marijuana legalization, which has reached an all time high in the U.S. A Pew Research Poll from April shows 52% support for marijuana legalization, an 11 point jump from 2010, and a staggering jump from 1969, when just 12% favored legalization. The Pew poll isn't an abberation. Recent polls from Reason-Rupe, Gallup,and Quinnipiac University all show a majority in favor of legalization.
Millennials show the strongest support of any age cohort surveyed. The Pew poll from August of this year, for example, showed 65% support for legalization from the millennials. The Quinnipiac University poll showed a nearly identical level of support.
Self-preservation undoubtedly plays a part in the generational fervor for this subject area, since young people who smoke pot are more likely to get busted than anyone else. Fully 74% of all marijuana arrests are for people under the age of 30. People under age 30 do not comprise 74% of all marijuana users, so, needless to say, law enforcement is going after the Boomer crowd quite a bit less.
The prospects for a young person convicted of a drug offense, no matter how minor, are instantly dimmed.
Federal student aid ineligibility. Difficulty obtaining employment. Increased likelihood of re-arrest. The personal costs are great. The societal costs are tremendous.
This is a generation that cannot dismiss the systemic discrimination and human rights abuses inextricably linked to the prosecution of the drug war. There is no sitting on the sidelines.
In an interview with PolicyMic, Devon Tackels, Outreach Director at Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a nationwide grassroots organization devoted to drug law reform, said, "With drug policy reform sweeping the country at unprecedented levels, youth interest is surging and our movement is growing faster than ever. We’re excited to see changes on the horizon, and we’re thrilled to be part of it."
Organizations like the Students for Sensible Drug Policy and NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, engage their membership in the grinding and frequently tedious work of grassroots lobbying and organizing. As a counterpoint to the high level legislative work of think tanks and policy groups frequently headquartered in Washington D.C. and New York, grassroots groups are frequently small and scrappy.
Millennials aren't the only group pushing to reform drug laws, to be sure. The movement to end the drug war has brought on board a diverse group of committed activists, from 80 year olds to 18 year olds.
Thanks to their dedication in efforts across the country, the vision for an alternative has never been closer to reality.