Changing the narrative

Conscious efforts toward everyday language and normalization can overcome cannabis stigmas

California’s cannabis culture is rooted in advocacy and grassroots policy change, one quality that sets the Golden State apart. It was the first state to legalize medicinal cannabis use in 1996, followed by recreational use in 2016. But cannabis is still illegal under federal law, and continues to carry a stigma.

Perpetuating falsehoods about a medicinal drug that's known to alleviate cancer-related side effects and improve mental health prevents people who may benefit from seeking the drug as a possible remedy or silences them. It can also cause unnecessary judgment and fear.

While the image and reputation of cannabis have a long way to go, there are a number of ways the everyday user can help the cause move forward. Here's how users and advocates can continue to destigmatize its use.

Change the dialogue

Cannabis has picked up a number of street names and monikers throughout the years: ganja, weed, chronic, Devil's lettuce.

According to research by the Global Commission On Drug Policy, there is a perception problem when it comes to cannabis use. Along with the unserious nicknames are the various negative portrayals of cannabis users in the media as lazy, uneducated bums with no job or life goals.

We have to change the narrative and attitude. When you discuss marijuana with family or friends, steer clear of slang and refer to it as its scientific name, “cannabis.” Speak up on what cannabis means to you and how it has improved aspects of your life. Word of mouth has always been an effective tool.

Normalize it

Cannabis use is often depicted as being immoral and dangerous (Reefer Madness anyone?), or there's something “wrong” with people who use it. A number of studies, however, have shown that not only does cannabis use have health benefits, but it's safer than both alcohol and tobacco.

It's perplexing given the normalization of the alcohol industry and its culture despite it being harmful and a potential cause of death, unlike cannabis. A mom can post a photo of a large glass of red with a cute wine caption and rack up likes on Instagram. The reaction would be entirely different if she was holding a vape pen or lighting up a joint or bowl.

Casually broach the topic of cannabis with people the same way you would a new IPA or wine. Offer friends and family the opportunity to try cannabis in a safe environment such as your home. If you're an influencer or a frequent user of social media, consider incorporating cannabis content into your feed and highlighting your canna-life on stories and channels.

Educate and research

The stigma against cannabis is strengthened by stereotypes and propaganda. As use has increased throughout the years, so has the wealth of knowledge and clinical research.

Yet easily-debunked myths are still reported as news. Some still regard cannabis as a gateway drug even though, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder' substances.”

One of the best ways to help destigmatize cannabis use is by education. Take advantage of resources including SN&R's Cannabis section or websites such as California Weed Blog that feature events, local information and cannabis news so that you can refute inaccuracies. It's easy for others to pass judgment and regurgitate oversimplified or inaccurate talking points. Stay informed and get versed on how cannabis can benefit your friends, family and community.

Enjoy responsibly

Use cannabis and embrace the lifestyle with intention. Most consumers partake privately in their rooms or homes—or they keep that part of their lives hidden from people they know—and stigma plays a part in that.

While it's understandable to not welcome more negativity in today's trigger-happy environment, it actually handicaps the cannabis image. If common perception is that cannabis users are immoral, unprofessional or lazy, then being an example of a responsible consumer, especially with respect to those around you, directly combats that.

That does not mean becoming a person who enjoys cannabis indiscriminately. California law forbids cannabis use near schools and day cares where children may be present, as well as public places where tobacco is prohibited. You can help make the image around cannabis a positive one by knowing your state and local laws and being a responsible, respectful and informed advocate in your community.