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Industry, Legislators: Mongrel word ‘Marijuana’ No More – Let’s Call It ‘Cannabis’

There is a slowly rising respect coming into the cannabis industry from key business sectors.

Maybe it’s because of the estimated half billion dollars in state tax revenue that the industry is expected to generate this year, according to Forbes magazine.

Maybe it’s in D.C., where more bills for legalizing cannabis have been seeing co-sponsors added to the list, such as Virginia Representative Tom Garrett’s bill HR 1227 “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017,”essentially a rehash of a Bernie Sanders bill that now has 11 co-sponsors – three more since the end of May – and the recently introduced “Marijuana Justice Act of 2017” just announced by Senator Cory Booker that has caught on with legislators because it’s about fighting against the drug war and correcting the racial disparities in marijuana-related arrests.

And maybe it’s right inside the industry, with the owners and operators and subject matter experts, where some of the keenest key indicators are working to make this industry more respectable in the way they discuss business, or the way they design dispensaries or how they create sophisticated packaging.

You can see it at the trade shows, where there are now more people in suits and ties (well, suit coats and nice shirts at least), treading across the expo show room floor jousting for attention or grabbing an associate for a quiet talk about staffing up or buying in to a fast track company or merging with a like-minded company.

But there are other subtle changes. One is in the use of the word “cannabis”. There is even legislation in one state where the word marijuana is officially outlawed in favor of the use of the word cannabis. More on that in a minute.

Everyone knows the story about why this plant was demonized in the first place – that it was allegedly called “marihuana” in the late-1930s to give it a Mexican sounding name – some thought is was Mary Jane in Spanish – because of the hordes of Mexican laborers that were flooding into California, reportedly going crazy, raping white women, etc. as a result of smoking cannabis leaves mixed in with their tobacco cigarettes.

Even then, the word was called out as inappropriate.

According to Dr. William Woodward, an attorney testifying on Tuesday, May 4, 1937, for the American Medical Association before the House of Representatives working on the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, legislators got the plant all wrong. “There is nothing in the medicinal use of Cannabis that has any relation to Cannabis addiction,” he said under oath. “I use the word “cannabis” in preference to the word “marihuana”, because cannabis is the correct term for describing the plant and its products. The term “marihuana” is a mongrel word that has crept into this country over the Mexican border and has no general meaning…”

But this word that we use to describe the cannabis plant has been around for nearly 160 years, and was not a scare-tactic word made up by William Randolph Hearst, allegedly protecting his investments in paper by keeping hemp out of the picture; or by Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics who spent years on an anti-marijuana campaign; or any of the other noteworthy historical figures involved in making marijuana illegal.

In fact, no one can exactly pinpoint where the word came from. One of the first uses was in a book published in 1853 by the University of Guadalajara, “Lecciones de Farmacologia”, which described the cannabis plant with the word “marihuana”.

Today, professionals in the industry are beginning to bristle at other words used to describe the plant – weed or dope or pot or even grass – because they see the need for the dialogue to change as we get deeper into a multibillion dollar industry generating billions in tax revenue.

And really, the name change is happening as more attention goes to medical marijuana, as a sort of nod to the Latin name and its value as a medicinal herb.

There are signs of a change. At a recent Americans for Safe Access event, one of the speakers apologized for using the word marijuana at the first reference in his speech, and made sure to say cannabis throughout the rest of his presentation.

Other speakers at trade show events over the last two years have alluded to this change as well, sometimes to the applause of audience members who all get that there is a change, possibly representing a bit more respect for this industry, and that we should all get behind that change and help grow that respect.

Now about that state –  Hawaii.

Hawaii State Senator Mike Gabbard introduced a bill in March to change the state’s reference from medical marijuana to medical cannabis. The bill, Senate bill 786, signed into law on July 11, now means that all legislation using the word marijuana in Hawaii will have to be changed to cannabis.

In a letter to the Hawaii president of the state senate, and the Hawaii House speaker, Governor David Ige confirmed the passage of the bill, which read, in part, as follows: “The legislature finds that the term “marijuana” originated as a slang term to describe the genus of plants that is scientifically known as cannabis. “Marijuana” has no scientific basis but carries prejudicial implications rooted in racial stereotypes from the early twentieth century era when cannabis use was first criminalized in the United States. The term “cannabis” carries no such negative connotations and is a more accurate and appropriate term to describe a plant that has been legalized for medicinal use in Hawaii, twenty-seven other states, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.”

Will other states follow Hawaii’s lead? It’s hard to say.

The industry is growing up. Change will continue. We will get the respect a huge, growing industry deserves.

The question is how we show respect for our plant – this amazing, helpful, versatile, and yes, money-making plant – from now on.

David Hodes

David Hodes

David Hodes is based in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area. He is the former editor of seven different business magazines, and has contributed feature articles to several business/lifestyle publications and national cannabis magazines. Hodes is also a former field producer for CBS News, NBC, NFL Network, ESPN and other media outlets; worked as a news promotions producer for two network affiliates; and was the morning news editor for a third network affiliate.

He is member of the National Press Club, and deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.

This Post Has One Comment
  1. Shouldn’t we be pushing the editors behind the AP Stylebook? Especially since they added “synthetic cannabis” – afaik, that’s why marijuana is still used.

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