Cannabis and marijuana: They are the same thing. But the fledgling businesses in Hawaii legally selling it for medical uses are struggling with how people refer to their product.
A local nonprofit trade organization is trying to stamp out use of the term “marijuana” as well as associated slang words that include pot, grass, weed and pakalolo when referring to licensed dispensaries that grow and sell cannabis to registered patients.
“Call me cannabis,” urges a Hawaii Dispensary Alliance brochure that encourages its members and the public to “avoid stereotypes” and to “stay positive” when choosing words describing “Hawaii’s legitimate cannabis industry.”
The effort presents a challenge for Hawaii’s eight dispensary license holders, given that relatively few people likely understand what distinction is being sought.
Dispensaries want their businesses and their customers to be free of the stigma associated with a street drug.
Yet that drug by any name is still classified as illegal under federal law.
“We want to differentiate from the recreational space,” explained Richard Ha, a Hawaii farmer who received a dispensary license and plans to do business as Lau Ola on Hawaii island. “We’re in the medical marijuana — or medical cannabis — space.”
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
>> Cannabis: a tall plant with a stiff upright stem, divided serrated leaves and glandular hairs. It is used to produce hemp fiber and as a psychotropic drug. Also called Indian hemp, marijuana.
>> Marijuana: cannabis, especially as smoked in cigarettes.
>> Paka lolo: numbing tobacco.
>> Pot: derivative of potacion de guayaya, a traditional Mexican beverage of cannabis flowers steeped in wine.
>> Weed: part of the term “loco weed” given to marijuana because it was smoked by immigrant Mexican laborers.
>> Reefer: a marijuana cigarette in the 1920s.
Sources: New Oxford American Dictionary; Hawaiian Dictionary by Mary Pukui and Samuel Elbert; and Hawaii Dispensary Alliance
At the Noa Botanicals dispensary, which opened earlier this month in Honolulu, CEO Brian Goldstein has a mission statement painted on the wall that reads, “Redefining cannabis as a natural choice for our community — free from stigma.”
Goldstein is particular when talking with customers, and even his own family, about work.
“I have teenage daughters,” he said. “They know what business I’m in. I’m very firm. It’s not marijuana. It’s not dope or weed or even cannabis. It’s medical cannabis. Words have power. How we use words have an impact on their meaning and how they’re perceived.”
Still, the whole medical cannabis-versus-marijuana discourse can be hazy.
That’s because some Hawaii dispensaries, along with numerous parts of the industry in 27 other states that legalized the drug for medicinal purposes, use the term “marijuana” in part because that word is more recognized.
In the Oxford American Dictionary, the definition of “marijuana” is cannabis. And the word “cannabis” is described as a plant with specific traits and also referred to as Indian hemp or marijuana.
Among local dispensaries using the term “marijuana” are Aloha Green and Pono Life Maui.
Further complicating things is that Hawaii dispensaries use the colorful names such as Purple Dream, Holy Grail Kush, Chocolope and Strawberry Tahoe given to different varieties, or strains, of the herb established by breeders in the illegal market.
Goldstein said he struggled with the variety name issue. His conclusion was that many patients are familiar with these names and their associations with relieving specific ailments. He said inventing new, perhaps more clinical, names would require a lot of translating.
So, patients can find Blue Dream and GG #4 (Gorilla Glue #4) on the Noa Botanicals menu.
“Not that I like the names,” Goldstein said. “In fact, some of them are quite bizarre. But people are familiar with them. They may say, ‘I’ve used Blue Dream because it helps me sleep,’ or ‘Gorilla Glue helps me with my pain.’”
In Connecticut the Department of Consumer Protection requires medical marijuana producers to assign their own brand names to varieties of the herb, and the agency can reject names for several reasons including if they are the same or similar to unlawful substances.
What’s resulted in that state are registered brand names such as Theraplant Squiblica for what is known on the street as Girl Scout Cookies, and Curaleaf Hazel for what is commonly called Ghost Train Haze.
On Maui, dispensary Maui Grown Therapies uses only the term “cannabis” but also product street names such as Black Jack, Pineapple Fields and Purple Dream.
Earlier this year the Dispensary Alliance distributed its “Call me cannabis” brochure to its members and the media, advising that it’s not proper to use the word “marijuana” and slang terms referring to cannabis.
“The Hawaii Dispensary Alliance urges all media organizations to now refer to cannabis as cannabis,” the brochure said. “Slang terms only reinforce negative stereotypes and further stigmatize the people who legally take advantage of cannabis’ medicinal properties, and the organizations that seek to legitimately provide the services patients need.”
The trade organization noted that the Legislature and Gov. David Ige enacted a law in July that replaced all references of the word “marijuana” with the word “cannabis” in state statutes and administrative rules pertaining to a 2000 Hawaii law that legalized medical use of marijuana and the 2015 law that permitted dispensaries.
State Department of Health webpages and documents related to the two programs also were ordered to be reworded.
Senate Bill 786, which became the new law, argued that the term marijuana “has no scientific basis but carries prejudicial implications rooted in racial stereotypes from the early 20th-century era, when cannabis use was first criminalized in the United States.”
According to the Dispensary Alliance, the word “marijuana” entered the American lexicon around 1910 in connection with xenophobic sentiments toward legal Mexican immigrants. Prior to that, American references to the herb had almost always employed the word “cannabis,” according to a 2013 report by National Public Radio.
The alliance said the word “marijuana,” commonly used in Mexico with spelling variations, was adopted widely in the United States to vilify the immigrants. Other slang terms also were coined, such as pot (a reference to a Mexican beverage made from cannabis and wine) and weed (a reference to loco weed), the alliance brochure said.
Marijuana was legal at this time. It was outlawed in Mexico in 1920 and then in the U.S. in 1937.
Campaigns against the drug attempted to further stigmatize marijuana and its users, and included the 1936 over-the-top propaganda film “Reefer Madness.” Harry Anslinger, first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, shared shocking but unscientific accounts from others about marijuana-fueled violence in convincing Congress to outlaw the drug.
“They re-branded cannabis to marijuana,” Goldstein said, adding that Hawaii’s medical cannabis industry shouldn’t be tainted by what he regards as an ugly, racist history.
Goldstein further contends that Hawaii dispensaries are selling a different product — one certified to be free of pesticides and other impurities found on illegal plants. “We’re not a pot dispensary,” he said. “It’s not accurate. It equates street drugs with medicine. They’re not the same.”