Word Games

Is there a cannabis 'industry'?

Language is important in the pot world. For instance, “marijuana,” something of a no-no by now, thanks to the word’s racist origins in the United States, has been replaced almost universally by “cannabis.” (Those dated companies and magazines with “marijuana” in their titles have been sort of grandfathered in, a bit like how nobody bats an eye over “The United Negro College Fund”).

A few weeks ago, several pot entrepreneurs joined an online conference to talk about cannabis in the context of “conscious capitalism.” The confab was in fact produced in coordination with a group called Conscious Capitalism, which seeks alternative ways of doing business that aren’t as rapacious as capitalism has become in the United States.

The talk was supposed to be devoted to finding a new name for “the cannabis industry,” because the term “industry” calls to mind steel mills, oilfields,slaughterhouses and robber barons, as well as companies like Amazon and figures like Jeff Bezos. “Industry” sounds rapacious, and if there’s anything the more progressive, old-school types in cannabis want to avoid, it’s appearing to be rapacious. “‘Industry’ suggests an economic model which powers up the 1 percent and leaves behind everyone else,” said Geoff Trotter, a co-founder of Regenabbis, a Bay Area–based consultancy that helps cannabis companies and others incorporate sustainability and equity into their business models.

In fact, the talk, hosted by the events organization State of Cannabis, didn’t devote much time to coming up with a new term. The participants seemed more concerned with the issues that underlie this whole discussion: the incursion into cannabis by money-hungry investors and entrepreneurs, the ongoing struggle to create a diverse industry, environmental concerns and the continuing effort to eliminate the gross unfairness that pervades cannabis at the moment: lots of people, many of them Black or Hispanic, are still sitting in jail for doing something that rich white dudes are now getting rich from: selling weed.

They offered a few alternatives, such as “the cannabis community” or “the cannabis space,” none of which seem likely to supplant “industry” or “business” any time soon. Rather than giving up the term “industry,” Trotter wants the more progressive elements of the cannabis business to “claim it back.” Noting that few people object to the term “cottage industry,” he said it’s “OK for us to continue to use ‘industry,’ but to be mindful to use it in the right way. It’s also OK to talk about it being a ‘movement.'”

Speaking of language, the participants in the talk also referred several times to the “traditional industry.” To people unfamiliar with the pot world, “traditional” refers to what is also called the “underground” industry. It’s the legal pot business, with its entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and massive corporate buyouts, that is the upstart, full of newcomers who often don’t have a clue about the industry’s origins or history.


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