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PLoS One. 2019 Oct 31;14(10):e0224289. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0224289. eCollection 2019.

Has the "M" word been framed? Marijuana, cannabis, and public opinion.

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Law School, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, United States of America.
Department of Political Science, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, United States of America.


Over the past two decades, a growing cadre of US states has legalized the drug commonly known as "marijuana." But even as more states legalize the drug, proponents of reform have begun to shun the term "marijuana" in favor of the term "cannabis." Arguing that the "M" word has been tainted and may thus dampen public support for legalization, policy advocates have championed "cannabis" as an alternative and more neutral name for the drug. Importantly, however, no one has tested whether calling the drug "cannabis" as opposed to "marijuana" actually has any effect on public opinion. Using an original survey experiment, we examine whether framing the drug as "marijuana" as opposed to "cannabis" shapes public attitudes across a range of related topics: support for legalization of the drug, moral acceptance of its use, tolerance of activities involving the drug, perceptions of the drug's harms, and stereotypes of its users. Throughout each of our tests, we find no evidence to suggest that the public distinguishes between the terms "marijuana" and "cannabis." We conclude with implications of our findings for debates over marijuana/cannabis policy and for framing in policy discourse more generally.

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