Is Cannabis an ‘Industry’ in the U.S? Depends Who You Ask

Language is important in the pot world in surprising ways.

“Marijuana” is something of a no-no by now, thanks to the word’s racist origins in the United States, and has been replaced almost universally by “cannabis.” (There are companies and magazines with “marijuana” in the name, but they’ve been grandfathered in, a bit like how nobody bats an eye over “The United Negro College Fund”).

A few weeks ago, a handful of pot entrepreneurs and enthusiasts proved the rule again when they gathered with the intent to take aim at the term “cannabis industry” during an online conference on pot in the context of “conscious capitalism.”

The confab was produced in coordination with a group by that very name: the San Francisco-based Conscious Capitalism, which seeks alternative ways of doing business that aren’t as rapacious as capitalism has become in the United States.

Their talk was supposed to devote time to coming up with a new name for “the cannabis industry.” After all, calling something an “industry” calls to mind steel mills, oilfields, and slaughterhouses, and robber barons like Andrew Carnigie, John Rockereller, and J.P. Morgan. Or maybe it conjures up companies like Facebook and Amazon, and figures like Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.

In short, “industry” sounds rapacious, and if there’s anything the progressive, old-school types in cannabis want to avoid, it’s appearing rapacious.

“‘Industry’ suggests an economic model which powers up the 1 percent and leaves behind everyone else,” said Geoff Trotter, co-founder of Regenabbis, a Bay Area consultancy that helps cannabis companies and others incorporate sustainability and equity into their business models.

But as it turned out, the talk, hosted by events organization State of Cannabis, didn’t devote much time to coming up with a new term.

Participants seemed more concerned with the issues that underlie that whole discussion: the incursion into cannabis by money-hungry investors and entrepreneurs; the ongoing struggle to create a diverse industry; and environmental concerns.

Most were far more interested in the continuing effort to eliminate the gross unfairness that pervades cannabis at the moment: lots of people—many of them Black or Hispanic—are sitting in jail for selling weed, the very act that is making wealthy white dudes richer.

But for the limited discussion on the term ‘industry,’ panelists offered a few alternatives, including “the cannabis community” or “the cannabis space.” None of them seem likely to supplant “industry” or “business” any time soon, Trotter essentially concluded. Rather than giving up the term “industry,” he wants the more progressive elements of the cannabusiness business to “claim it back.”

It’s “OK for us to continue to use ‘industry,’ but to be mindful to use it in the right way,” he said, noting that few object to the term ‘cottage industry.’ “It’s also OK to talk about it being a ‘movement,’” he added.

Speaking of language, the participants in the talk also referred several times to the “traditional industry.” To people unfamiliar with the pot world, it might seem strangely topsy-turvy that “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.

2 Comments

  1. “Most were far more interested in the continuing effort to eliminate the gross unfairness that pervades cannabis at the moment: lots of people—many of them Black or Hispanic—are sitting in jail for selling weed, the very act that is making wealthy white dudes richer.” — Dan Mitchell

    Here the concept of “gross unfairness” is used to legitimize the author’s operational racism. He claims to be concerned about people serving time for selling marijuana but reveals his primary concern to be about “Black and Hispanic” inmates, contrasting their plight against that of wealthy “white” marijuana marketers. Also note, he equates the lawbreaking done by those incarcerated with the lawful peddling of marijuana — at least when it’s done by whites. From this I presume his respect for marijuana dealers, legal or illegal, to be confined to dealers of color.

    It seems marijuana, even when used in “chronic” amounts, provides relief from neither racism nor hypocrisy.

  2. Hey, They’re pot growers pure and simple. They can call or sell themselves as “farmers” but they’re just pot growers. It isn’t even an industry but folks just selling weed. Why try to legitimize them with words when they’re just pot dealers. Somehow tobacco is bad and pot smoke is good for you? Good grief!