This article was originally published on Nisonco, and appears here with permission.
It is an undeniable truth that words hold power. Nowhere is this more evident than the public relations and marketing world, where consumer perception defines a brand’s success. There’s a fine line to walk: play it too safe, and your company comes off as stale, outdated and unapproachable. Play it too edgy, like GreenTec Holding’s recent BLK MKT campaign, and you risk public outrage.
The simplest way to manage words with stigma is to address them head-on in your company protocol. Is it OK to say “pot” or “weed”? How about “getting stoned” versus “consuming”? We at NisonCo hope this look into some frequently used questionable phrases and terms in the cannabis industry helps create conversation at your company, and inspires you to create an in-house style guide if you don’t have one already. We don’t advocate for one usage over another, as cannabis consumers themselves report enjoying classic, countercultural terms like “pothead” or “stoner,” but invite you to examine the terms which your brand aligns most closely to.
1. What do I call this stuff? Cannabis vs Marijuana vs Weed vs Pot vs…
You may be asking yourself why there are so many terms for the devil’s lettuce — reefer, ganga, grass, dope, it goes on. Many nicknames developed for the plant because cannabis was illegal for so long. This is true of any substance or activity that is illicit, such as in the age of alcohol prohibition, when slang terms like “booze” and “sauce” that we still use today became popularized.
Many people who consume cannabis are proud of terms like “pot,” “weed,” “ganga,” or “reefer” because they are a nod to a time when they were pushing the envelope of normalized cannabis usage. These words are at an in-between place where some brands may find them to be useful in remaining consistent with brand tone, but other companies may decide to nix them from the verbage lineup.
Technically speaking, the scientific name of the genus in question is Cannabis Sativa. On the whole, we at NisonCo find “cannabis” to be the most accurate and least offensive term across the board.
The word “marijuana” has recently come under fire for potentially racist connotations, in relation to Mexican use and law. In the 1920s when cannabis was outlawed, Mexicans began using women’s names as code for the plant. The thought is that “marijuana” is a mash of “Maria” and “Juana,” which is also where we get the term “Mary Jane.” The word was picked up when the United States sought to pass laws against Mexican and other foreign human rights. At a hearing in the 1920s, Commissioner Harry Anslinger (first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics) gave testimony that, “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”
As stated previously, many cannabis consumers are looking to “take back” terms like “pot” and “weed,” and “marijuana” is no exception. Still, it’s essential as a brand to recognize the history that entrenches such terms and then make definitive style decisions around usage.
2. What to call the act: Consuming vs Getting High vs Medicating
“Consuming” is the safe call between terms, as it doesn’t carry negative connotations and has a clear meaning.
“Medicating” vs “high,” however, is a dichotomy that spreads farther than just cannabis. For example, at a hospital you may be “medicated” with oxycontin, but if you took the same substance in heroin form, you would be “high.” The same problem is apparent in cannabis consumption: is there a negative association with “getting high?” There are positive “highs” in our lexicon — runner’s high, being high on life, etc. Hopefully given time, being “high” on cannabis will carry a purely positive connotation — perhaps one your brand can help forge if your team and customers are comfortable with the word.
Many cannabis brands that are centered around …