Seeing traffic on the 405 North backed up after school pick-up, I opted for the Sepulveda alternative. The woman putting on mascara in the car alongside us, blindly moved in the same direction and cut me off. “Fuck” I said, as I hit the brakes to avoid impact. The words, “Dad, you said the 'F' word!” were delivered in an authoritarian manner from the back seat. I squirmed and apologized like any good parent. Enjoying my discomfort, my son smiled and said “Dad, seriously, I'm kidding, I hear it all the time.” I thought about the indiscriminate power given to words through socialization and its profound effects. We teach, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” but they often do.

In that instant, I had an “F word” flashback. As a young teen, my younger brother exhibited rebelliousness in its highest form. One night's vivid memory: an Ozzie and Harriet, nuclear family kitchen scene: white Formica table, yellow pleather chairs, table set perfectly. My father arriving military prompt at 7 p.m., fatigued from a day that began at 5 a.m. Hungry, we waited respectfully for him to be served, followed by a frenzied race to plate and eat in the hope of seconds.

“Pass the potatoes” my brother said, followed by a “What did you say?” from my father. My brother repeated his same words. “I believe you forgot a word,” Dad said louder. I prayed my brother would simply say “please” to eliminate my growing anxiety. Instead, without missing a beat, he said, “Pass the fucking potatoes.” I froze, watching my father ominously rise.

The cannabis industry has its own “F” word. Instead of the letter “F,” the letter is “H,” and the word is “high.” High raises every conceivable negative historical, governmental and media-conceived stereotype. Along with its twin cousins — “buzzed” and “stoned” — we have the three horses of the stigma-enhancing cannabis apocalypse. This destructive force is a towering cross that the industry continues to bear and proliferate, albeit sometimes unknowingly. Unlike the carefully crafted language of the alcohol industry, Madison Avenue had no role in the language of cannabis usage, most of which was foisted upon it by unfriendly outsiders.

The failed experiment of Prohibition come to its fateful end in 1933. A naval term used after World War I to describe an approved time period for sailors to enjoy monotony-reducing entertainment, and anecdotally cited in a 1959 Saturday Evening Post article, introduced “Happy Hour,” which by the 1970s brought discounted intoxication to America’s masses. Hospitality, whether in private homes, public restaurants or sports arenas became the foundation of alcoholic consumption.

“What would you like to drink?” became a standardized and familiar welcome. A product with no material physical, medical or physiological benefits, with untold negative implications on both individuals and society at large, now generates nearly $74 billion in sales nationally. Its industrial-sized marketing machine spent nearly $2 billion last year inventing positive lifestyle language reinforced by sexual, sports and aspirational imagery. Like it or not, from a pure business standpoint, the powers behind the pushing of alcohol to consumers has been nothing less than ingenious.

Imagine that instead of alcohol, there was a plant, which for thousands of years had recognized medical benefits. Imagine that today’s medical research has demonstrated the plant’s positive effects in treating ailments such as autoimmune disorders, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, epilepsy, cardiovascular disorders, Alzheimer’s and irritable bowel syndrome — not to mention tumor growth reduction and limiting cancer cells’ ability to spread. Imagine the elimination or reduction of opiates such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Dilaudid, Demerol and Percocet, which presently kill 115 people a day, and the elimination or reduction of central nervous system SSRI medications such as Prozac, Lexapro, Zoloft, Celexa and Paxil, and their often debilitating side effects. Imagine their replacement with one of the 144 individual cannabinoids or combinations discovered to date. Imagine the use of these cannabinoids to find natural, life-giving cures for disease and sickness that synthetic, laboratory-created pharmaceuticals have been unable to provide. Imagine in addition to cures, a plant that had prophylactic and preventative, health and wellness properties that enhanced daily life and made not only living longer possible but living longer healthier possible?

Never has more raw material existed for Madison Avenue's next major marketing campaign. With cannabis, scantily-clad women, celebrities and sports stars are NOT necessary to create demand or incentivize purchase. In this rare and unique situation, only “truth” is required. Truth, imagine that. An informational action plan and tool kit is now an industry prerequisite for the purpose of educating, informing and scaling the cannabis industry in advance of future federal legalization.

The time is now; prior to and in preparation for the achievement of this objective, we need a new, brand-building language incorporating holistic verbiage, to reinforce positivity and stigma reduction. Any words suggesting that the sole reason for cannabis use is to obtain a drunk-like state and experience only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes and the related negative implications. We must do more, we must be collaborative, and we must think more strategically as the cannabis industry moves from a quest once believed to be Sisyphean to one now seen as history in the making. The new “H” word is HEALTH. It’s that simple. I’ll use the “H” word one final time, differently: Its high time for the new “H” word. Let's all get healthy.

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