We all look forward to the day when cannabis is legal across the United States. As advocates, we work to promote change. But have you ever considered the power words hold, especially surrounding cannabis?
I sat down with Oaksterdam University’s Executive Chancellor Dale Sky Jones to talk about this subject; it is one she discusses in lectures and is mindful of every day.
“The truth is that our words carry enormous weight,” said Jones. “Words shape our thoughts, feelings and attitudes, which dictate our actions. That’s why how we talk about cannabis is so important today.”
Lots of words in the English language are used to refer to cannabis: locoweed, weed, grass, dope, pot, marijuana, ganja, maryjane, and others. At one time in America ‘cannabis’ referred to the plant and was used by pharmaceutical companies in medicine to treat insomnia, migraines and rheumatism. Not until the early 1900s—when Mexicans legally immigrated to America to escape the Mexican Revolution—that we learned the word ‘marihuana,’ which in-and-of itself is not a bad word. However, the stigma associated with ‘marijuana’ took hold in the early 1930s when Harry Anslinger specifically used the term in propaganda and linked its use to minorities in an effort to racialize the plant.
The War on Drugs was declared by former president Nixon in 1971, soon after the Controlled Substances Act became law and classified cannabis as a schedule I controlled substance illegal federally. At this time in history, America was experiencing youthful rebellion, social upheaval, political dissent and an elevated presence of federal drug control agencies. Generations of children learned about the dangers of drugs including marijuana through programs like D.A.R.E., which perpetuated negative information and attitudes related to cannabis.
Today, even as cannabis is more accepted by the general public, Jones maintains that the cannabis industry is still a movement. “No other industry in America produces and trades a product that is federally illegal,” said Jones. “Until this changes the cannabis industry is a movement.”
Movement implies work-in-progress and that’s exactly how Jones sees it. “Some of the obstacles still in our way are mental, perceived, and emotional. These are all very real and the words we use must be specific to change perceptions and stigma.”
So, what words do we need to drop from our vocabulary as cannabis advocates? “Stop using the word ‘recreational,’” said Jones. “It’s a dangerous word because it conjures up images of stereotypes or images of children playing, both of which don’t help us move forward.”
Other words to consider include:
- Adult, Commercial, Retail … instead of Recreational
- Cannabis, Medicine … instead of Pot, Weed, Marijuana
- Consume and Consumer … instead of Use and User
- Overmedicate … instead of Overdose
- De-schedule … instead of Reschedule
“Advocacy requires education and responsibility,” said Jones. “Choosing our words wisely advances our goal.”