Cannabis in the Media: Language Matters

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

As of January 1, 2019, cannabis is legal in eleven states and Washington D.C. As more states continue to hop on board with ending cannabis prohibition, the debate around the plant is becoming increasingly more mainstream. To continue guiding the national discussion in a positive manner, do we need to reevaluate how we speak about cannabis in the media?

What is Cannabis?

You’ve heard the terms “weed,” “pot,” “marijuana” and others, but how is Cannabis different? It’s not! Cannabis is the scientific name for the genus containing three psychoactive plants: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis (less commonly known). Cannabis also contains THC and at least 65 other cannabinoids. Although you’re likely more familiar with its slang terms, changing the way we talk about the plant as we continue moving into an era of legalization is long overdue.

The History of Cannabis and the Media

To fully grasp the harmful effect slang terms have on cannabis normalization in the

media, we should give you a quick rundown of the relationship between cannabis and the media. You might be surprised to find out that cannabis hasn’t always been illegal. In fact, up until the 1930s it was both a legal and lucrative industry for farmers in the US. However, as cocaine and opium prohibitions fell into effect, so did bans on cannabis. Only then did politicians begin using slang terms, such as “marijuana” in an effort to de-legitimize the beneficial reality of the plant.

De-stigmatization and Legalization

However, now that cannabis legalization has reached more than eleven states, and the debate for legalization is sweeping the majority of the country, it’s crucial that we reevaluate our use of slang terms in the media to help undo the stigmatization of cannabis both recreational and medicinal.

The fact of the matter is that when we use slang to address cannabis in a medical sense, in journalism, or in a legal capacity, we’re subconsciously reinforcing the harmful stereotypes surrounding cannabis and those who use it. Even terms like “medical marijuana” reinforce the mindset of illegality.

As legalization efforts plow full steam ahead, you’ll probably continue to see legitimate news sources referring to cannabis using slang, especially “marijuana.” Lori Lightfoot, Chicago’s mayor, is an ideal example of a public figure who speaks about cannabis in a respectful and appropriate manner. By using the appropriate terms that have scientific and beneficial connotations, we’re ultimately controlling the dialogue surrounding cannabis, its benefits, and the advantages of legalization.

a Time and a Place for Slang

Like all things, however, there will be moments when it’s not as important to speak formally. Just as you refer to a friend by their nickname in a casual setting, calling cannabis by your preferred name is completely fine! In fact, High Note, a Chicago-based greeting card company uses slang in an informal and charming way by offering “greeting cards with a pot stash.”

Remember that time, place and context matter, so be respectful in the way you speak about cannabis publicly—you never know who may be open to learning about its benefits!

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