‘Eighth,’ ‘half-quarter,’ or ‘three-and-a-half grams’? Legalization could be changing the way we talk about weed

Twitter icon

If you’re a cannabis consumer on the West Coast, you’ve likely purchased an ‘eighth’ before. If you’re located in Ontario or the East Coast, you might call the same amount of cannabis a ‘half-quarter.’ But if you’re new to pot and you buy it through the government channels, you might call the same amount of cannabis something else entirely: 3.5 grams. 

This is the standard language in legal dispensaries, and it makes sense. It’s direct and easy to understand, but it’s also dry and dull, lacking the personality of terms like dubsack (twenty dollars worth of weed), or a quad (seven grams), or an elbow (pound). Under prohibition, the colourful language around cannabis flourished. There are more than 1,200 documented names just for the plant alone. 

Legalization is opening up more people to the world of cannabis, but it’s also changing the culture and the way we talk about it, says Ariel Glinter, who works in business development at The Joint Head Shop Inc., which operates stores in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Glinter, who has been a part of cannabis culture for decades and has travelled to legal states like Colorado, California, and Nevada, says there is something that stands out among all jurisdictions that move to legalize weed.

“One thing that I’ve noticed across the board is that as soon as legalization happens, the culture starts to die,” he says. “I think that’s clear. A lot of people that were part of the culture were only part of the culture because that’s where they got their weed. And now that they can just go to the store and go home, that’s what they do. The entire mainstream just treats it like any other vice now.”

Establishing a glossary of terms

That includes taking some lustre out of the language. In the months leading up to legalization, the Canadian government made a calculated choice. Weed, pot, and marijuana went out the window and in their place, from the ashes of prohibition’s past, rose the plant’s scientific name; cannabis. 

We believe it is more appropriate to use the term cannabis when engaging in a serious discussion of the goals and features of a new regulatory system for legal access,” reads The Final Report of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation. Marijuana, the report says, “is a slang term that is not scientifically precise.”

Mostly free of pejorative connotations those other terms carry, cannabis was used at every press conference and in each media release and with every new announcement. Approaching two years later, it appears to have worked. People say cannabis —  admittedly a stuffy word — much more than they used to. 

And while the term cannabis is straightforward enough, there’s been a proliferation of resources in recent years to help define other weed jargon. The Ontario Cannabis Store provides a handy glossary of terms, as do some health organizations, like the Arthritis Society of Canada, which also hosts an online cannabis education module

A “strain” — a controversial term, where some prefer the term “cultivar” — is defined by the Arthritis Society as such: “In much the same way that different breeds of dog are the same species but have widely different characteristics, a strain can be thought of as a “breed” or variety of cannabis plant that has distinct properties and cannabinoid profile.”

Some resources are more helpful than others. The Canadian government raised eyebrows when they published a glossary of cannabis slang terms in 2017 with some confusing entries, like “dank krippy” and “errl.” 

In her book, Higher Etiquette, Lizzie Post, whose great-great-grandmother was Emily Post, the socialite renowned for her books about etiquette and high culture, reminds readers that the language of the past — like pothead, weed, or even marijuana — are steeped with stereotypes that have long been outdated. Instead of pushing those old narratives forward, she reminds readers that the way we talk about weed is changing. She recommends sticking with cannabis.

“As we enter the dawn of a new ‘post-prohibition’ era, the stigma surrounding cannabis use is fading, and the conversation about what it means to get high is changing. When it comes to being a respectful, thoughtful, and responsible consumer of pot, there is a lot you need to know,” teases the publisher page

Odes to the past

As helpful as these resources are, they don’t quite capture the original culture, Glinter says. If you walk into a legal dispensary and ask for a zip (ounce) of the devil’s lettuce (cannabis), there’s a good chance the person behind the counter won’t have any idea what you’re talking about. 

Still, there are language tics that are hanging around. I remember the first time I received a text greeting from a weed-friendly source, in the days before legalization, that didn’t lead with ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’ but ‘High!’ At first blush, I rolled my eyes, but with a longer view of time, I’ve come to appreciate the reminder of the past, as we continue to move forward. 

“High is standard, man,” Glinter says of the unconventional greeting. “I remember this back from when I was in university, especially in law school, you needed to have signals that you’d use to let other people know that you were a cannabis consumer and they would give you the same signals without actually saying it.”

For Glinter, he wore his signal on his head. A toque embroidered with the Zig-Zag rolling papers logo. 

“I had a toque with the Zig-Zag man on it,” he says. “People that knew, knew, and people that didn’t, didn’t. That was it.”

e-mail icon Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Reddit icon
Rate this article: