They thought I was trying to cut in line for the pot shop.
The sun hadn’t been up for that long on July 1, 2017, when I approached the front door of the Reno dispensary. I just wanted to interview the people who had been in line since 4 a.m., not bypass the line that snaked around the building and into the other parking lot.
Once that was explained, most of them were happy to talk.
One man said he’d waited 18 years to buy cannabis legally. Another had waited 40 years, saying he’d almost gone to jail over some seeds.
The jargon they used was common around most anyplace in the country: pot, weed, dope. Maybe try a dab, get a dab rig. That’s new.
Later, at a different dispensary, someone had stuck a note on the door: “No shirt, no shoes, no weed.”
Using slang for a plant that’s been around for, well, millennia, is no big deal, right? I mean, kids have been smoking dope behind the Circle K for decades. They’re just looking for a lid of pot. That’s boss.
Not so in Nevada County, where a select few arbiters of language used to fret over the newspaper’s, among others, use of certain words.
“Cannabis” became the preferred term. “Marijuana” had potential racist overtones — an argument worth having, except there was little room for argument. “Pot” would get you an eye roll. “Weed” was just outright offensive.
The problem was, though, that what became offensive depended on who said it.
Former Supervisor Hank Weston elicited a wave of groans when he used slang during a formal meeting on cannabis. But Steve DeAngelo, a national cannabis advocate, could say “weed” all day at a public forum, and no one’s joint fell out of their mouth.
The days of us versus them over pot seem over in Nevada County. We’ve switched from battles between supervisors and cannabis advocates to determining the best way to tax recreational pot. Unsurprisingly, the world didn’t fall apart when pot became legal, and there appears to be no dramatic increase in its use. Instead, people who were using it now can do so legally.
But the battle over the words we use will likely continue for some time.
I get it. “Pot,” “weed,” “dope” — even “marijuana” — these words make most people think badly of cannabis. Advocates needed to rebrand the plant if they were to emerge from the shadows and gain legitimacy.
It’s still going on today. You don’t go to the dispensary to buy a “joint.” Instead, you get a “preroll.” The fact that you’re buying pot in a place called a “dispensary” should let you know that the world around us has changed dramatically.
And, just as the world has changed, so have its words.
A quick look at this newspaper will show we use the word “marijuana” less than we did a few years ago. That’s partly because we’re not writing about it as much as we did, but it’s also because we’re changing along with everyone else.
That’s not to say there’s a ban on cannabis slang in this newspaper. It’s just to say that a shift in the words we all use has occurred, just as it’s happened every year for pretty much as long as language has existed.
Maybe, years from now, certain slang will fade from use. Somehow I doubt it. Certain words and phrases, like memories, stick with us, no matter how much some people might try to shake them. They enter the dictionary and stay there, and after awhile become ensconced or even cliché.
That’s just the straight dope.
Alan Riquelmy is the editor of The Union. He can be reached at 530-477-4239.