Burning Questions: Slinging slang

Is 'pot' a pejorative?
By VALERIE VANDE PANNE  |  August 7, 2013


I know that you are enlightened, but the more you can get [the] paper away from terms like “pot” and “weed” when referring to medical marijuana, the better. Those terms have such a strong association with recreational [use] and devalue the seriousness of this plant as medication which is, in some instances, prolonging life and in so many instances, providing relief from symptoms caused by so very many medical conditions.

_JoAnne Leppanen, Executive Director, RI Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC)

I remember back when I first started in the “drug policy reform” movement, there was a great debate that continues to come up today. Some people think that in order to be taken seriously about marijuana, they need to wear suits and ties and have short hair. Others believe that if they want to lobby their government to change marijuana laws, they can wear whatever they want — including neon tie-dye.

Then there are those who point to the LGBT movement and say that only by embracing chaps-wearing, bare-bottomed leather daddies and magnificent trannies was the movement able to push full speed ahead and score so many legislative victories, and that the same applies to marijuana policy: “Reformers” need to embrace their hippie brothers and be proud of their lifestyle choices.

And, I’ve sat in meetings, listening to the discussions of about how image and language are used — not just in drug policy circles, but also in the political world in general — to influence, from the color of a suit, to the amount of grey at the temples, to use of the word “security.”

But you know all this already. You are one of the tireless advocates who have devoted your life to making sure severely ill people have access to medical marijuana. One way you did this is by choosing your words carefully. You’ve worked for years (decades?) so those who were afraid of the “devil weed” would come around and witness its therapeutic value.

You’ve wielded your words appropriately, effectively, and respectfully. That power is to be commended.

When I discussed the use of “pot” and “weed” with other medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana advocates, some expressed concern over use of the word “marijuana,” saying that only “cannabis” should be used. Others thought there are more important issues at hand than which word to use. Some share your concern about the specific use of the words “pot” and “weed” (and other slang words, including “ganja,” “herb,” “trees,” “nugs,” “buds,” “reefer,” “smoke,” “dope,” “green,” “kind,” etc.) when the topic of medicinal marijuana is in the media. That’s a dozen American slang words that all refer to the same thing: marijuana. And not one of them is inherently negative.

Most of these words are culture-specific, and context and intent are powerful players along with them. Here in the US, we have the most ethnically and culturally diverse population on the planet. That means your social community will dictate what words you use and hear the most—and the publications catering to those communities will use the language of that community.

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