As marijuana goes mainstream, what’s happening to the way we talk about weed?

For decades, the marijuana industry operated underground, outside the confines of the law.

But even though at the federal level, possession and the use and sale of marijuana remain illegal, 29 states and the District of Columbia now allow medicinal marijuana to be sold for the treatment of specific diseases. Moreover, nine states now permit its recreational use.

As a linguist, I’ve been interested in exploring how legalization has changed the way we talk about the drug – specifically, how new dispensaries are marketing their product.

A drug that’s ripe for slang

Marijuana terminology is vast, with as many as 1,200 slang words used to describe the drug and its various strains.

Slang develops for several reasons. It’s a form of in-group signaling – a way for people who share a similar set of interests to communicate with one another. But it also allows people engaged in criminal activities to conceal their illegal pursuits.

Slang can quickly change. Once the general population becomes…

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