How to legalize marijuana, without ever saying 'marijuana'

There is a superstition in the acting world that William Shakespeare's play Macbeth is cursed, so actors avoid saying its name inside a theatre to avoid bad luck.

They refer to it instead as "the Scottish play."

On Thursday, you would have been forgiven if you thought there was a similar superstition around speaking the word "marijuana" in the National Press Theatre.

Four cabinet ministers and the parliamentary secretary who has headed up the government's marijuana legalization efforts spent close to an hour taking questions and outlining their plan to legalize and regulate marijuana without ever uttering the word.

They referred to it instead as "cannabis." Forty-five times, in fact.

They were asked questions that used the word "marijuana." They were asked questions that used the word "pot." But in each and every answer, the ministers pivoted to the word "cannabis" with a level of discipline that suggested intent.

One might have developed the impression the government was dancing away from the word "marijuana" on the day it made good on its promise to table marijuana legislation.

As it turns out, that was the case.

'Parochial words'

"Cannabis is the term that the (federal) task force used. We are moving away from 'marijuana,' which seems to be a more parochial word that is used in terms of cannabis," Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told CBC Radio's The House.

The government has freely used the word "marijuana" in the debate around this public policy choice. As recently as April 11, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used it in question period — even throwing in a "joint" for good measure.

"We are legalizing and controlling the sale of marijuana with two goals in mind," Trudeau told the House of Commons. "First is protecting our young people from the easy access they have to marijuana right now. It is easier for a teenager to buy a joint than a bottle of beer."

But, as Wilson-Raybould pointed out, those sorts of "parochial words" were missing from the official rollout of the legislative plan on Thursday.

Government officials say this was a deliberate choice to avoid confusion about what exactly would and would not be legalized and regulated by these moves. The use of the word "cannabis" is more precise, they said, because it covers the full range of products — from joints to oil to edibles — that will be affected.

They did point out that ministers and the prime minister may still use the word "marijuana" when discussing it in the future.

Just not on the day they announced their plan to make it legal.