By Britt Peterson
BACK IN THE 1990s, when my parents tried to talk to my brother and me about marijuana, the word they used was “dope”—which for us meant either “heroin” or “Hello, I am a clueless baby boomer.” Slang terms for drugs are notoriously hard to pin down: Pity the poor ethno-linguist with her notepad, trailing kids through schoolyards and back alleys to quiz them about the etymology of “crunked.”
These days, though, marijuana language is beginning to come clean. Starting this year, Colorado and Washington state have legalized recreational use; meanwhile, Massachusetts and 19 other states, plus the District of Columbia, now allow the prescription of medical marijuana. As this underground economy goes legit, language is moving along with it, serving as a kind of barometer of the drug’s political fortunes. In 20 years, calling marijuana “weed”—or even, some say, “marijuana”—may sound about as antiquated as asking for a glass of “hooch” after Prohibition.