Changing the Terms: Adult Use Is Still Recreational Use


It’s funny how society plays with language to try to make things appear nicer than they really are. Over the last 50 years or so, U.S. English has undergone quite a transformation. Workers are now team members. Prisons are correctional facilities. Early retirement and downsizing have replaced being fired. And now, we refer to recreational marijuana use as adult use.

Changing the terms says a lot about the realities of recreational marijuana. But it also says a lot about our willingness to use meaningless terms to cover up something we are trying to hide. Think about it. Most legal marijuana users, both recreationally and medically, are adults. Rebranding (see, even this writer is doing it) recreational marijuana use as adult use is meaningless for that very reason.

1. Softening the Blow

So why the change in terms? There could be any number of reasons. From a marketing standpoint, perhaps promoting adult use softens the blow. Perhaps continuing to refer to recreational use is too harsh for some ears to hear. So we change the terms to make legalizing recreational use easier to live with.

It is really strange when you look at it linguistically. Let’s face it, people use all sorts of illicit drugs recreationally. We have never referred to recreational heroin use as adult use. Perhaps that’s because heroin doesn’t have any legitimate medical uses. But what about opioids?

Opioid painkillers do have a legitimate medical use. We don’t differentiate between prescription and recreational use by referring to opioid abusers as adult users, do we? No. Why not? Because society is not currently trying to make recreational opioid use legal. We don’t care if the term ‘recreational use’ is harsh or offensive because we don’t want people using opioids for anything other than legitimate medical purposes.

2. Getting High for the Sake of It

The difficulty with continuing to refer to recreational marijuana use is that it lays bare one of the central arguments against it: recreational use equals getting high just for the sake of it. By way of comparison, how does society feel about getting drunk just for the sake of doing so? We generally look down on it. We certainly don’t condone it. So why are we okay with using marijuana just to get high?

This is not to say that recreational marijuana use is a bad thing. The idea here is simply to point out that we want it both ways. We want people to be able to get high on marijuana but not drunk on alcohol. But why stop there? We cringe at the idea of people smoking tobacco or vaping nicotine. But we have no problem with smoking marijuana flower and vaping THC liquids.

3. Not Everyone Is on Board

Proponents of recreational marijuana use are remarkably effective marketers. They are slowly but surely turning the tide of American culture in their favor. But not everyone is on board, at least not yet. Take lawmakers in the state of Utah. They are incredibly careful about the terms they use.

According to Pure Utah, a cannabis pharmacy in Payson, state regulators are very careful to talk about pharmacies and cannabis. They stay away from discussing dispensaries and marijuana. Their choice of words is in direct correlation to their desire to not allow medical cannabis to progress to recreational use in the Beehive State. They are playing games with language just as much as the adult use gang.

No matter the terminology, adult use is still recreational use. The implications of that will not go away no matter how much we try to soften the language.

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