I had the pleasure of attending Ohio HempFest, a time honored tradition on the campus of The Ohio State University. I was invited to hear Brandy Sheaffer, the President of North Central Ohio NORML, speak to the crowd about marijuana reform. She did an outstanding job rousing a few hoots and hollers from a very supportive crowd. Afterwards I heard her critiquing herself, “I stumbled over the word marijuana!! How could I have done that!?”
One of the other speakers for the event chimed back to her, “It’s because we are all used to saying ‘cannabis’ now.” The discussion continued and Sheaffer did admit to first having written her entire speech using “cannabis” but was urged to change it and say “marijuana” instead. Right now, there is a big push to change the stigma of the word “marijuana” in this industry and for the past few years the scientific term “cannabis” has become the politically-correct way to address the topic when speaking to…well, mainly when speaking to politicians.
Many argue that “marijuana” is a racial slur. It was used by early prohibitioners to tie the plant to people of color and Spanish decent. For those involved in the movement, the use of the word sends a tinge of ignorance and lack of understanding behind the science and history of the plant. I must admit that while I understand this view and do agree that the term has negative connotations, there is a large part of me that thinks why not change the connotation? Change the image the word paints in your mind, not the use of the word itself.
For years, Steve DeAngelo of the Haborside Health Center has helped to push the industry in understanding the history of the word “marijuana” and has urged people to use the term “cannabis”. There is a post on the center’s website about why the establishment does not use “The M Word” and I completely understand the reason behind the decision. But personally I believe that this is a slippery slope. If we tell people to stop using the term “marijuana” and to respect the plant by only referring to it in its scientific term, should we also stop using the terms: pot, weed, ganga, chronic, dank, sinsemilla, herb, grass, and reefer?
Personally, when I hear the word “marijuana” I think of medicine. My mind does not automatically picture some Cheech-and-Chong-type character. However, when I hear the word “reefer” I do automatically think of “reefer madness” –a silly movie full of ridiculous propaganda used to fuel the prohibitionist movement. I for one am too smart to believe those lies and I feel that it is people who are causing the stigma, not the word itself. I also believe that the way to change the stigma is to educate the people.
The following quote was taken directly from the Harborside Health Center website. It is a reminder of why we are fighting to legalize this substance. It is a reminder that the goal is to free people from the shackles of prohibition. It is not about raising tax revenues, or stock prices, or getting in on the “green-rush”. It is about freedom. Freedom is the reason that the world is buzzing about weed in the first place.
“Language is important because it defines our ideas. Words have a power that transcends their formal meaning. When we change words, we can also change the thoughts that underlie them. By changing the words we use to describe cannabis, we can help our fellow citizens understand the truth about it, and see through the decades of propaganda. That understanding will convert cannabis opponents into supporters, and bring closer the day when all our prisoners go free, and nobody else is ever again arrested for cannabis.”
I will add one final thought. While language is important, let us also remember that image is everything. Ultimately the issue is not about words, but rather about actions. Never before have so many eyes been focused on the American counter-culture of cannabis use. Millions of people that have been ridiculed and judged as “stoners” or “potheads” can finally stand proud. They no longer have to be afraid to just be themselves. Please remember that it is our duty to the marijuana movement to make sure that we are always putting our best foot forward, but let’s also not forget to make sure we aren’t stepping on anyone while we do it.