Cannabis or marijuana? Why it matters what name you (and the law) know it by

What’s in a name? Would that which we call cannabis by any other name smell as sweet? That likely depends on one’s personal opinion on the smell of cannabis – a notably divisive issue. But as for the name, it turns out there is quite a bit of baggage attached to how reference is made to the Cannabis sativa plant, as demonstrated by a new change in the US state of Washington.

There legislators thought it was important enough to adopt a motion implementing legislation passed in March to formally change references to “marijuana” in state law to “cannabis” – a move that matches CBD-Intel’s editorial policy of refering to “cannabis” unless “marijuana” is specifically used in a formal title.

Some may roll their eyes and think state legislators have far too much time on their hands, but what we call something is extremely important to how we perceive it. And the use of “marijuana” was popularised from the time of Reefer Madness to tie the product to foreigners – particularly Latin American immigrants, other minorities and other groups considered undesirable in order to highlight its “criminal” nature.

 

Hippies and Black people

 

This was exacerbated by the War on Drugs. As president Richard Nixon’s chief domestic policy advisor John Ehrlichman said in a 1996 interview with Harper’s reporter Dan Baum:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar Left and Black people. You understand what I’m saying?

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalising both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.” 

By changing references to “marijuana”, legislators may be able to change unconscious bias and perceptions surrounding cannabis. At the very least they will be able to eliminate from official documents and legislation a word chosen deliberately for its racial connotations.

The law governing the change was originally passed by Democrat governor Jay Inslee on 11th March. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board on Wednesday morning adopted a motion to implement 2022 legislation at the start of July. The new rules will come into effect on 6th August.

It means “marijuana” will be replaced by “cannabis” throughout the Revised Code of Washington, including Chapter 69.50 RCW, the Uniform Controlled Substances Act and would also apply to Title 314 of the Washington Administrative Code detailing the duties and responsibilities of the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB).

 The bill was passed unanimously by the legislature, showing that this was considered to be an important distinction, and not just semantics, by legislators on both sides of the political divide.

Freddie Dawson CBD-Intel staff

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