Our Choice of Cultural Language

Many pockets of dissenting opinion exist within the cannabis legalization movement. There are those of libertarian bent who, although they may not themselves be participants in the culture, believe in the right of every citizen to cultivate, possess, and medicate with a natural herb that can be grown in their backyard.

Others are more academic in their approach, citing issues like state’s rights and the hypocrisy and ignorance of the federal government’s prohibitionist stance. Increasingly, investors, market analysts, and entrepreneurs are touting legalization’s benefits for the economy, including employment, government tax revenues, and small business growth.

“Cannabis” or “Marijuana”?

Despite our progress, we still can’t decide how to label the miraculous kind herb. Pot? Marijuana? Cannabis? Weed? Mary Jane? Muggles? Ganja? Some of these labels are obviously the result of decades of prohibition and biased stereotypes.

The term “marijuana” itself is especially loathed and often avoided by some journalists and authors simply because of its history. In the 1930s, Harry Anslinger and William Randolph Hearst were fully immersed in their racially motivated anti-cannabis political campaign to demonize the plant and eventually make it illegal at the federal level (which they succeeded in doing in August of 1937).

Harry Anslinger

Harry Anslinger, the face of early era cannabis prohibition (public domain)

Technically, the Marijuana Stamp Act that passed nearly 81 years ago is no longer in effect, having been replaced in 1970 by the Controlled Substances Act that birthed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and spawned the Drug War hysteria proliferated by the Nixon Administration, boosted by Reagan, and sustained by every presidential administration since (yes, including Obama’s).

It is under this Act that cannabis is defined as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it is, like heroin and bath salts, officially a highly addictive, dangerous substance with zero medical benefit. Schedule II drugs, which are less restricted and considered safer than those on Schedule I, include cocaine and methamphetamines—both of which can legally be prescribed by a physician (although this is relatively rare).

Yet human trials and real world research can’t even be conducted for cannabis in the United States.

University researchers, often beholden to federal grants and other funding that might be at risk if they dare venture into full-blown cannabis testing, are typically hesitant to pursue marijuana research. Conservative laws at the federal level, combined with funding complexities and an aggressive DEA, all serve to squelch concrete research into the efficacy of cannabis in the United States.

The term “marijuana” itself is an either purposeful or accidental bastardization of the Mexican Spanish term marihuana. Because Anslinger and Hearst were attempting to discredit and slander Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (among other things), they purposefully chose a term that gave average, conservative, very Anglo Americans the impression that this herb was somehow uniquely Mexican in nature or origin. If illegal at the federal level, Mexicans could be jailed, fined, or even deported for minor possession of cannabis.

William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst, an obviously friendly robber baron bigot (public domain)

It’s no wonder that many activists and advocates shy away from the term “marijuana” in their writing or marketing materials. It has a decidedly 1970s feel. Cannabis is the term of choice in Europe, the U.K, and Australia—and, to a more limited extent, Canada.

The term “pot” also works in most parts of North America.

Progressive individuals everywhere, however, recognize the term “cannabis.”

A Tough Issue

Use of “marijuana” by those in the media is a tough issue. We want to use it for recognition factor. A 68-year-old domestic partner and registered Republican in a small town in Wisconsin won’t necessarily understand “cannabis,” but is sure to respond to “pot” or “marijuana.”

Of course, it can easily be argued that this is exactly why the potentially unknown term “cannabis” should be used more frequently; readers need to be exposed and educated.

“Cannabis” has a decidedly 21st century ring to it. Possibly it’s the European flavor. It’s objective. It’s technical. It’s Latin, for god sake. It’s about as unbiased and neutral a term as can be used to label this particular herb.


An independent cannabis garden in Humboldt County, California

I typically stick to “cannabis” in most of my writing, but must admit to often embracing “marijuana” for major projects, even my book Understanding Medical Marijuana. Because the target audience of the book was middle class, middle aged, largely undecided voters, I purposefully used this old school term for our favorite plant to best attract this demographic.

No Longer an Alien Topic

The topic of cannabis, however, is gaining enough national attention from major news outlets like CNN, MSNBC, and FOX that it no longer is such an alien topic to tens of millions of conservative Americans. While the average FOX viewer might not be a big fan of the culture or a daily consumer, they increasingly recognize previously strange terms like “cannabis” and even “cannabinoids” and “CBD.”

“My personal preference is for the scientifically accurate term cannabis, because it removes emotion and stigma from the debate.”  — Steve DeAngelo, The Cannabis Manifesto

My direction? I’m mostly going to abandon use of “marijuana” in my writing. I’ll toss it in there sometimes just to shake things up and avoid the monotony of using “cannabis” for the 29th time in a single 1,400 word article.

It was the enemies of the cannabis culture and the architects of prohibition that negatively branded and twisted an honest Mexican Spanish term, using it to spearhead a campaign of lies, greed, racial bigotry, crony capitalism, and overall anti-progressivism.

Snuff Out “Marijuana”

As a culture and a nation, patients and cannabis consumers in America have suffered from the efforts of a handful of privileged and well-networked corporate barons and bureaucrats for the better part of a century. Then, when everything looked like it might get better in the 1960s, President Kennedy was assassinated and the door was opened to primitive Luddites and prohibitionists like Richard Nixon—anti-progressives who spoiled everyone’s fun a few years ago.

I’ll admit, however, I will probably begin using the term “pot” even more. I feel as if my generation, which grew up in the 1970s to 1990s, owns it. Not Nixon. Not Anslinger or Hearst.

While “pot” is certainly dripping in slang and not exactly the term-of-choice for an academic research study, I’ll take it over “marijuana” every day.

But enough of the history lesson. The next time you’re engaging in social media, writing a blog post, or simply talking with a  friend, think about the language that you employ to get your idea across.

Are you simply helping perpetuate terms that originated in hate and an absolute defiance of science, sustained by ignorance and corporate special interests?

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003-2018 Gooey Rabinski. All Rights Reserved.

Gooey Rabinski is a technical writer, photographer, and compliance documentation specialist for cannabis businesses who has contributed feature articles to magazines and media outlets such as High Times, CannaBiz Journal, MERRY JANEEmerald Magazine, Grow Magazine, Herb.coThe KindSkunk, Cannabis Culture, WhaxyHeads, Weed World, Green Flower MediaCannabis HBK11RenderHealth Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself.

He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle.

His cannabis-related freelance photos, spanning back more than a decade, are available on Instagram and Flickr. He tweets from @GooeyRabinski.



3 thoughts on “Our Choice of Cultural Language

  1. Pingback: Cannabis for Performance Enhancement? | Gooey Rabinski

  2. Pingback: Exposing the Lies of Cannabis Prohibition | Gooey Rabinski

  3. I appreciate the history totally agree with you on the use of this term I in the future also don’t want to label cannabis with this outdated term which caused such negative stigma to a race by small minded over-zealous pigs thxs Gooey 🙄✌


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s