America’s Generation Z is coming of age in a whole new world of weed.
This large cohort, which already has big-time spending power as the oldest age into high school and college, is formulating its consumption habits at a time when marijuana muscles into the mainstream. Unlike their Gen X or Boomer parents, Gen Z shoppers have only known a time where cannabis is edging toward acceptance, with California voting to legalize medical use in 1996—a year before even the oldest Gen Z consumers were born.
“They’re growing up in a world where cannabis is completely normal,” said Anna Duckworth, co-founder and chief content officer of Miss Grass, an online cannabis accessories shop and publication based in Los Angeles. “Everybody will know how to roll a joint and there won’t be any shame talking about it.”
Weed is already big business in the U.S., with legal sales passing $10 billion last year amid easing regulations around the country. And it will only get bigger as the generation that’s twice as likely as the average American to use cannabis begins earning a steady paycheck. It’s always hard to generalize about an entire age group, but early signs suggest it will be a generation of marijuana consumers, embracing legal pot to unwind or treat ailments like insomnia and anxiety as perceptions of a drug once seen as a vice for lazy stoners get turned upside down.
On a recent Friday in Los Angeles, 21-year-old student Baruch Levin was near the main UCLA quad trying to recruit students to join his fraternity. Levin grew up in Southern California and while most of friends in high school smoked weed, he waited until he was 18, paranoid from his dad’s warnings that it would make him “dumb.” Prior to California’s recreational legalization in 2018, he had a friend with a medical card who could get it. Now Levin buys it for himself, including through the popular Eaze delivery app.
He was comfortable discussing marijuana, but there are still stigmas: While he often talks to his parents about drinking, he typically doesn’t mention pot. “I think it will take one more generation,” he said. “We grew up with the stigma from our parents.”
Typically, the age to buy legal pot is 21. That means that only a tiny fraction of Gen Z—who are roughly ages 7 to 22—are currently part of the legal weed economy. But with each year that passes, more and more Gen Z consumers will be able to light up. In the first few months of last year, Gen Z accounted for just over 1 percent of sales in the legal market. But on this year’s April 20, the pot industry’s unofficial holiday that has become a kind of Black Friday for cannabis, at least three times more of them were able to participate legally, according to Headset, which tracks cannabis sales.
“I think it will take one more generation. We grew up with the stigma from our parents.”
Corporate America is taking notice. In addition to the marijuana firms in Canada, where pot is now legal nationwide, there are a handful of so-called multistate operators in the U.S. that are now among the most valuable cannabis companies the world. They’re opening stores and cultivation facilities across the country in a race to develop national weed brands.
Packaged food and beverage companies are also studying the industry, trying to figure out how to market their products to this newly relevant group of consumers. They’re also pondering how cannabis might work as an ingredient, with companies from Coca-Cola Co. to Hunt’s ketchup owner Conagra Brands Inc. both studying CBD, a compound that doesn’t get you high.