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Cannabis Sign Language: Promoting a More Inclusive Industry

Sheldon Sommer

by Sheldon Sommer

December 29, 2023 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
Cannabis Sign Language: Promoting a More Inclusive Industry

The absence of cannabis-specific signs in American Sign Language (ASL) for critical concepts imposes significant disadvantages for members of the deaf community.  Essentially, right now, cannabis sign language doesn’t really exist. This creates obstacles for those seeking to benefit from the healing properties of cannabis products.

Without appropriate language tools, deaf individuals face obstacles in comprehending and discussing important details related to cannabis.  This lack of appropriate tools can negatively impact their ability to make informed decisions about their health. For example, without ASL signs for important terms like “terpenes” or “endocannabinoid system,” deaf cannabis users are more limited in their ability to effectively engage with healthcare providers and access essential cannabis-related information.

The Panks Notice A Need For Cannabis Sign Language

Jared and Angela Panks are dedicated growers and cannabis education advocates on a mission to bring the life-changing benefits of cannabis to the deaf community. Using their creativity and knowledge of medical cannabis, the couple aims to revolutionize cannabis communication. As such, they’re developing a unique new sign language for deaf cannabis patients.

Angela is an experienced cannabis grower who was born deaf. Jared learned ASL as a second language when he training as a paramedic and firefighter. During this training, he noticed a concerning barrier to critical communication when providing help to deaf people in emergency situations.

That’s where their non-profit Deafining comes in. The pair conducts educational programs that incorporate sign language into lessons about cannabis. Their video resources also cover topics like regenerative farming, beekeeping, worm farming, and mycelium cultivation. Their aim is to empower the deaf community with better resources to learn and educate themselves on healthy choices and lifestyles involving cannabis. The Panks hope to one day restart their business producing medicinal cannabis.

Cannabis Sign Language: Creating a New Lexicon

The pair noticed a critical gap in cannabis communication when they attended cannabis events and faced particular challenges conferring with growers and educators.

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For one, the events Jared and Angela would attend lacked ASL interpreters. This gap posed a serious obstacle for deaf people who wanted to learn more about healthy cannabis consumption and industry practices. As such, Jared would have to serve as an interpreter for Angela in conversations with other growers and experts.

Nevertheless, it was still difficult for the couple to translate effectively because many agricultural and medicinal cannabis terms are not included in the ASL vocabulary. As a result, they were required to finger spell  many of the words relevant to their questions and input.

There are currently no signs in ASL for complex concepts in the natural sciences, regenerative farming, or medical cannabis. Jared and Angela decided to fill these communication gaps by creating their own language. For example, although there are already two signs that designate cannabis in the ASL vocabulary, both of these have derogatory drug connotations. So, the Panks set out to come up with a better sign.

For Jared and Angela, it was important to create a sign that would represent cannabis’ unique properties in a positive way. To determine what this sign would be, Jared and Angela surveyed attendees at cannabis events about what three words best-defined cannabis for them. The Panks found that many people responded with words like “community,” “love,” and “healing.”

Inspired by the loving connotations evoked by these responses, they decided to use the ASL sign for “C” tracing the outline of your heart. The couple has since produced signs for sativa, indica, hybrid, terpenes, extract, cannabinoids, endocannabinoid system, and mycelium.

Final Thoughts

The language not only helps to facilitate conversation and connection between ASL cannabis users. It also expands the cannabis community to be more accessible and inclusive. The Panks approach to linguistic adaptation both fosters inclusivity and promotes equitable healthcare access by acknowledging the right of every individual to benefit from vital health information.

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