Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 | 11:45 p.m.
Marijuana by any other name would provide the same high, but many people now prefer the term cannabis, citing a stigma surrounding marijuana as well as a reportedly racist — albeit perhaps little known — history.
Many dispensaries and related businesses have shifted to using the more cultured-sounding cannabis, and even state government in Nevada has followed suit. The Legislature passed a bill this year creating a Cannabis Compliance Board to regulate the industry and requiring governing language to use the term cannabis going forward.
Mitch Britten, founder and CEO of Thrive Cannabis Marketplace, said he saw the step toward the term cannabis as a way to destigmatize the plant.
“It almost started to feel like marijuana was almost like a derogatory term,” said Britten, whose company has stores in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Reno.
Britten said terminology is important and was something taken seriously when developing Thrive, even in deciding to brand the business as a marketplace. “I personally don’t like the term dispensary, so I thought, let’s take that step toward legitimacy one step further,” he said.
Riana Durrett, executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association, said the move away from the term marijuana seems to be on the rise in places where the plant has been legalized. “I think a lot of people are trying to move toward the word cannabis,” she said.
The original use of the term marijuana by Nevada lawmakers was based on its usage in other legal environments, such as federal regulations, Durrett said.
Another argument against the term marijuana is that it has a reportedly anti-Hispanic history.
“Indeed, some claim that lawmakers originally adopted the foreign-sounding word ‘marijuana’ precisely because they wanted to underscore that it was a Latino, particularly Mexican ‘vice’ and thereby boost support among xenophobes for laws prohibiting the drug,” according to an Oct. 31 study by Vanderbilt University professors Robert Mikos and Cindy Kam.
Durrett noted that while the word might have been borne out of a troubling history, most people using it today are neither aware of that history nor using the word in a racist way. Its legal usage was also not meant to be offensive, she said.
“Nobody is using it to put down certain populations; that’s just the word for it,” she said.
In any case, the Vanderbilt study, which expected to find the term marijuana would have a more negative connotation in the public’s eye than cannabis, concluded there was no difference.
“Whether asked about legalization of the drug, the moral acceptability of its use, tolerance for activities involving the drug, the harmfulness of its use or the traits of its users ... respondents offered similar opinions whether we called the drug ‘marijuana’ or ‘cannabis,’” the study said.
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, a former state senator and leading advocate for legalizing recreational marijuana, said people should call it whatever they want. But marijuana has a more anti-establishment tone that fits the “sinful” reputation of Las Vegas, he said.
“I think it has a sex appeal,” Segerblom said. “It has a little bit of outlaw flavor.”