What’s In A Name? Please, Call It Cannabis

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” As the legalized marijuana industry continues to evolve, some argue that the terminology used must also change along with it. Some terms, such as “weed,” “pot,” and even “marijuana” often carry with them negative connotations which the nascent industry is trying to get away from. Do you think it would ever be possible for the cannabis industry to be successful in changing the way we talk about the drug?

Does it matter if we call it pot, or weed, or cannabis? Absolutely.

Last month, I travelled to Los Angeles to speak on a diversity panel at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo, the same conference Roger Stone had been ousted as keynote speaker for his racist, tone-deaf commentary. The discussion focused on the work my fellow panelists have done and are currently doing to include communities of color in the cannabis industry.

However, part of the discussion focused on the language used when talking about the plant. It’s no secret that cannabis has a range of nicknames, but should we use them? The words “pot” and “weed” are bastions of a different era. Using them calls forth images of lazy stoners and sketchy drug deals. On top of that, “marijuana” is racially-derived.

One of the panelists, Fanny Guzman of Latinos for Cannabis, highlighted that cannabis is integral to her culture. When she hears “marijuana” she feels the sting of ignorance, especially when Latinos are arrested for cannabis in California at double the rates of other groups.

Given this reality, I believe the media has an obligation to educate the public on the proper language use around cannabis. This is not just another industry. Cannabis can be an intersectional catalyst for justice. It encompasses criminal justice, physical and mental health, entrepreneurship and more. The plant is a solution to many of our societal ills; however, we don’t currently grant it the verbal respect it deserves.

Mainly, because of the words “pot” and “weed.”

To be fair, cannabis is a weed. Attend any conference or listen to experts at a testing laboratory explain negative results, and there will no doubt be an explanation of just how hungry a weed it is. However, the use of either casual moniker sends a clear signal to movement veterans, industry players, and everyone in between that someone’s level of understanding of the work behind the plant is skin deep.

Cannabis media is dotted with uses of “pot,” “weed” and occasionally even “ganja.” As a writer, I can sympathize with the want (albeit need) to use a different word, but as the storytellers of the burgeoning industry – it’s up to us to correct the culture. A quick rundown:

“Cannabis” is the plant itself;

“Hemp” is used for industrial purposes;

“Marijuana” is used for medical references (for now).

In additional to the vocational reasons to correct our vocabulary, there are the social reasons. Just being able to list off the three bullets above will make you an expert by the average American’s standards and, honestly, “cannabis” is a prettier word. When I hear “pot” or “weed” I hear a stifled laugh track behind me, as if the plant was just some novelty fixture in the chapter room of fraternity houses.

“Cannabis” sounds like a health product, a wellness product. “Pot” and “weed” sound like drugs. In a letter to the SF Chronicle, a writer details (using “pot” 14x) the stereotypical stoner: a young adult who smokes their ambition into oblivion by skipping class, assignments and maybe even work. Forget that research has shown cannabis consumers are happier, healthier and all-around more successful than their non-consuming peers. (It also probably explains why the latter group is becoming smaller by the day.)

I think average Americans are surprised at how quickly cannabis has been able to enter their orbit. They have an understandable built-in hesitancy toward the plant, given the country’s history. By solidifying our industry’s vocabulary, we push back against the mass levels of propaganda and hysteria with health-and-wellness-based education.

If so, even more people find cannabis is closer to a “Napa Pinot Noir” than a back-alley blunt.

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