Cannabis culture has come a long way in the past 25 years. Before 1996, no one in the United States could use cannabis legally for any reason. Fast forward to 2020, when medical use is legal in 33 states. Additionally, recreational use is legal in 11 states, and cannabis isn’t just okay—it’s officially “essential.”

In March of 2020, when states began to issue stay-at-home orders and close retail businesses in response to the Coronavirus, states like California and Illinois let cannabis companies stay open. These businesses, according to state governors, provide essential services including medical support.

These decisions didn’t fall out of the sky—they’re evidence of cannabis slowly but surely taking its place in mainstream culture.

Increasing Support

In 2019, a Pew Research Center report showed 91% of US adults believe cannabis use should be legal, with 39% supporting only medical use and 59% supporting medical and recreational use. That’s a major jump over the 16% who supported legality just 20 years ago.

The number of people who report actively using cannabis is smaller, but it’s significant. According to a Gallup poll, 12% of Americans say that they smoke cannabis, up from 7% in 2013.

Changing Consumer Attitudes

More people supporting cannabis use means that the actual practice can come out of the shadows and onto the main streets—often literally.

In 2016, California and Massachusetts legalized the recreational use of cannabis. From that year to the next, seed-to-sale tracker MJ Freeway reported a 20% increase in cannabis retail activity and a 13% increase in shopper traffic.

In West Hollywood, California, the Original Cannabis Café lets diners order pot products as well as food. Dispensaries are welcoming all kinds of customers, from recreational users to medical patients, and in the process are proving to the world that cannabis users aren’t a “type.”

cannabis leaf

Mainstream brands are joining in too. Nike and skateboard artist Todd Bratrud have collaborated three times on sneaker designs that given an insider nod to cannabis culture. All three came out on the 4/20 holiday. Lyft even donated $42 worth of ride credits to Colorado smokers.

The cannabis industry expects to see more promotions and events like these in the future, as brands start to realize that pot users are everywhere and it’s okay to market to them.

Cannabis Culture in Academia

The mainstreaming of cannabis isn’t just affecting commercial industries. Academia is getting in on the act too, legitimizing the study of cannabis and its effects on people and society.

Colleges and universities across the United States have established courses, undergraduate majors, and even master’s programs around cannabis. The University of Maryland has its Master of Science in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics. Northern Michigan University has an undergraduate degree called Medicinal Plant Chemistry.

There are classes on the business, physiology, and policy of cannabis and entire research departments are dedicated to studying it. In 2018, the University of California, Irvine established the Center for the Study of Cannabis. Run by the Schools of Medicine and Law, it sponsors multidisciplinary investigations into cannabis as a plant, medicine, and industry.

UC San Diego has its Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, where researchers study how cannabis can treat physical and mental health issues. In time, this research may help take cannabis even further into the mainstream.

Meanwhile, if you live in or visit a legal state, you can fairly easily locate a helpful dispensary representative who can help you find a promising product. It’s good to be a cannabis user in the 21st century.