I recently received a random marketing email in which I was greeted with the word “high” in place of the word “hi”. My first reaction was a long, visceral cringe. My second was the thought, “hey, if I – just a lowly cannabis industry lawyer and not an actual cannabis industry stakeholder – am so off-put by this cannabis pun, imagine what actual people in the cannabis industry would think!” Today, I’m not going to analyze any complex cannabis law or policy issue, but instead talk about one of my biggest pet peeves (bad cannabis puns!), and I’m going to beg everyone to quit it already. Please!
If you talk to anyone in the cannabis industry who has been doing it for a while and/or who is very successful, you’ll see that they rarely, if ever, use cannabis puns. To them, the industry is a way of life, a career. It is not a punchline or something to downplay or trivialize. Many of these folks feel suspicious of the sudden influx of people into the industry who, just a few years ago, may have been against cannabis and/or are now trying to capitalize on the “green rush” and make a quick buck.
Yet, it’s hard to be in this industry at all and not be barraged with a constant onslaught of really lame puns, all of the time. In fact, many people just sort of tune it out. For the industry vets and pros I described above, this kind of stuff can often be a big tell of something to avoid. So with all this in mind, it begs the question: why is this still happening?
It goes without saying that cannabis has only relatively recently started to emerge from under the rock of complete illegality and stigma (it’s still getting out). There are still a lot of folks who still look at cannabis as something that stoner hippies on Dead tour or lazy millennials use. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with folks (and this comes up a LOT with lawyers who don’t actually practice much in the field) who, when they learn I practice in this space, will laugh and ask whether I am high right now, or get a contact high, or whether my clients give me “doobies”, or something silly like that. These people are no longer in junior high!
The puns are just an extension of this sort of trivialization. I see this a lot in academic writing, law/accounting/business blogs and articles, and even news media posts. A state agency issues guidance on an unclear rule – boom, legal blog called “clearing the smoke” is published. A court strikes down a cannabis law – an article called “up in smoke”. A cannabis company wins a cannabis dispute – something is written with some clever take on the word “relief”. You get the picture.
This stuff seems pretty bland and lame and like it doesn’t really actively harm anything. And it goes without saying that most of us who work in or around the industry in some capacity have made silly puns at one point or another in our careers. But the point of using puns is – I at least assume – to be funny. You rarely see businesses in serious, established industries using puns all the time. There just seems to be this weird exception with the cannabis industry for some folks.
Words have meaning. If the industry wants to be taken seriously, if it wants to stop hearing the silly laughs and the doobie jokes, it has to seriously consider whether it’s worthwhile to continue making the written equivalent of lame dad jokes at every opportunity. We absolutely can – and should – write about cannabis in the exact same way we would write about any other consumer product or service. It is totally doable, I promise!
If the industry wants to be considered legitimate by folks who presently don’t think it is, we have to take ourselves just as seriously. This is a very easy first step towards doing that. So I ask all of my readers, the next time you are tempted to make a silly cannabis pun, don’t make it!