Pot. Weed. Mary Jane. Ganja. There are many names for the plant recently legalized in Nevada for recreational use. But not all words are created equal and some industry reps are using the term cannabis instead of marijuana because of its historical context. Let’s turn to our contributor Brook Bentley to learn more.
KUNR: So, Brook, you’ve been covering this industry for the Northern Nevada Business Weekly for some time. What have you been learning about the term cannabis versus marijuana?
Brook Bentley: Over time, the terms marijuana and cannabis have been used interchangeably, but there’s a question of whether or not they should be used interchangeably and that continues. The truth is there’s no marijuana plant. There’s a cannabis plant that results in the dried flowers and leaves that is commonly referred to as marijuana, but that’s not actually the plant. While cannabis is the more encompassing term for the industry, there are some other things to take into consideration when looking at the two words and what they mean for the industry.
I reached out to a language a grammar expert Mignon Fogarty, who is known for her Grammar Girl podcast, and here’s what she had to say about it.
“It’s true that words carry their history with them, and marijuana had been associated with an illegal drug for a long time,” Fogarty explains. “I mean, it’s why politicians argue about whether to call people ‘illegal immigrants’ or ‘undocumented immigrants’ because words matter and words shape public perception and public opinion about issues. Having that association with an illegal past like marijuana does could be a drawback for the term.”
Mignon isn’t alone in what she’s saying. There’s a lot of history and the term marijuana actually has its roots in the Spanish language. Prohibition supporters also used to use it in their work to demonize it and to criminalize those who use it.
High Times magazine featured an article comparing the words marijuana and cannabis, and in it they talked about the adoption of the word marijuana to reinforce the connection between the so-called “devil’s weed” as prohibition supporters called it and the Mexican immigrants who allegedly introduced it to American society.
KUNR: We know that there’s historic controversy, but why use the term cannabis, specifically, then? Why is that term important for those in the industry who are trying to get rid of that stigma?
BB: I recently spoke with Scott Dunseath of Mynt, a local cannabis dispensary in Reno, and he talked about what it means for them.
“In our industry, we do refer to the plant and the life-saving properties of the plant as cannabis,” Dunseath says. “Marijuana is a slang term; it was derived from movies like Reefer Madness. It was also meant to paint pictures of racial inequalities and cannabis is the true plant; it’s the true name.”
Like Scott mentioned, many Americans associate marijuana with smoking and joints, and it’s part of the cannabis plant, but the depth of that knowledge with the terms really varies.
KUNR: And, Brook, for those in the industry, some of the folks you’ve been interviewing, it’s not quite as simple as just switching over to the term cannabis, right?
BB: No, absolutely, and as the cannabis industry continues to gain more traction across all the states, using the terms the public is most familiar with is really an effective way of moving those things forward, and this means using marijuana instead of cannabis.
Mignon talked about that regardless of the word choice that there are marketing decisions the industry should focus on.
“If you’re trying to change the image of the industry, I also think people need to take care with the fonts and typefaces they use in their marketing materials and signage because sometimes you still see marijuana associated with those ‘60s ‘summer of love’ kind of fonts on billboards and in advertisements. I think if you’re really trying to legitimize the industry, then you really want to stay away from those and use typefaces that look more modern and respectable.”
However, people in the industry do say that the history and original association is not what cannabis is about and the focus is on cannabis as a botanical compound, and it should be referred to in its own right.
Brook Bentley is with the Sierra Nevada Media Group, which publishes the Northern Nevada Business Weekly.