Leaf Nation Logo
Photos by Tony Simonelli & Courtesy Home Grown ORegonicX

High Signs: Cannabis Sign Language

“There's no sign language for regenerative farming or Cannabis... So we decided to create our own language."

Sign language brought medical marijuana growers Angela and Jared Panks together. Now, this creative couple is developing their own new sign language specifically to help the Cannabis community communicate. 

Fate is a curious thing … some people go their entire lives without ever truly finding their place in the world, while others are fortunate enough to have the universe show them a sign early on to point them in the direction of their destiny. Such seems to be the case with Jared Panks.

Jared grew up the son of a guerilla marijuana grower in southern Oregon – smoking by 13 and growing by 16. Besides weed, Jared’s other teenage hobby was playing hockey, which he learned by playing with several local adults, one of whom happened to be deaf. As the two that differed from the rest of the group, they formed a bond, and his new friend began teaching him some basic sign language. Little did he realize at the time how much learning the ASL alphabet would soon change the trajectory of his life – thanks to an unexpected encounter with a girl named Angela, who would eventually become his wife.

Heeding The Signs 

Angela had quite a bit in common with Jared: She’d also grown up in southern Oregon, had started smoking weed around the same age (sneaking joints at a hippie party in Keno near Klamath Falls), and also had family members who were guerilla growers – not only her dad, but uncle and grandfather as well. But there was one big difference between Angela and Jared (and, in fact, most of the other kids in their area) – Angela was born deaf.

As it happened, the two teens ended up in the same church youth group but never officially met until one fateful afternoon when the group went out wakeboarding and Angela started having trouble.

“I went in the water trying to wakeboard, and I was struggling, trying to get up,” Angela recalls. “People were trying to yell at me to tell me what to do, but I couldn’t hear them.” 

Seeing her start to panic and realizing her situation, Jared instinctively sprang into action.

“I jumped out, swam over to her, and started finger spelling everything that she needed to do, trying to communicate for the first time while I was treading water,” he explains.

“Thanks to his help, I was able to get onto the board … and after that, I had a crush on him,” Angela confesses.  

Since the two teenagers were in relationships with other people, nothing came of the encounter and they continued on separate paths – Angela later got married and had kids, while Jared studied to become a firefighter paramedic in Salem. But the experience in the lake never left him.

“It gave me a different perspective on life,” he reflects. “I remember praying, and God putting that image in my mind of being in the lake interpreting for Angela because she needed it. I started thinking about how useful it would be in emergency services, so that became my second language.”

Just two months into his classes, Jared used his knowledge to help paramedics save the life of the infant of a deaf couple who’d accidentally ingested heroin. He took it as another sign from above. “After that, I was like, ‘OK, I hear you, God.’”

Love Connection 

Fast forward to 2013: Angela was divorced and single for two years, and Jared was working for the forest service in California. Having never forgotten that girl in the lake, Jared looked her up on Facebook and sent her a friend request. 

“I wasn’t looking for a relationship. After my divorce, I didn’t trust anybody – I just wanted to be on my own,” explains Angela. “So when I got his friend request, I almost deleted it … but I thought he looked familiar, so I said ‘fuck it’ and I accepted it. As soon as I did, he sent me a message saying, ‘Do you remember me from back in the day?’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah.’”

“I told her that I went to college and studied sign language and how she’d changed my life,” Jared says. “Then we FaceTimed, and as soon as we started talking again, she just fell in love with me right there.”

Home Grown ORegonicX

By this point, both of them had been separately working on Cannabis farms for several years: Jared, running his dad’s grow after his debilitating spinal surgery in 2006, and Angela helping at a farm as part of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program since 2005. Eventually, Angela started a medical grow of her own on her one-acre property in Grants Pass — supplying Cannabis just to herself and her deaf friend Brandy at first, then later selling to local dispensaries. After the couple got together, they expanded their cultivation efforts, started driving to dispensaries all around the state together soliciting business, and building their own sustainable medical Cannabis brand: Home Grown ORegonicX. Sadly, that dream ended for them in 2015 with the passage of Measure 91, legalizing recreational adult use. 

“Rec killed that opportunity for us,” Jared laments. “We were in 70 stores all over Oregon, and then they suddenly closed our access to sell legally to those stores. There’s no justice for the medical farmer.”

Without the ability to legally sell to dispensaries, they did the only thing they could do: scale down their grow (from 80 to 48, and now just 12 plants) and provide medicine only for themselves and their patients in the deaf community, even though it meant operating at a loss. 

“We’ve kept going and providing for our patients because it’s not about the money,” says Jared. “It’s about the need, and giving people opportunities to live a better life.”

“Deaf people come from all over the country to learn and do hands-on farming here because they want to learn, and they trust us,” Angela adds proudly. 

Deafining Cannabis

This caring couple now devotes their lives to educating deaf people about Cannabis and regenerative agriculture – not only on their farm, but online as well. In February 2020, they started a Facebook group for deaf growers called Deafining Cannabis where they answer questions, offer advice and post educational videos. It was this name and concept that they adopted for their latest and most impactful project yet: developing their own Cannabis-related signs. 

“We’d go to different Cannabis events and we’d see that there were no interpreters, so I would interpret for Angela and our team,” Jared explains. “But we’d lose our train of thought since I had to fingerspell so many words because there were no signs for those words.” 

“We wanted to do educational videos for our deaf community, but how can you when you don’t have language?” Angela asks. “There’s no sign language for regenerative farming or Cannabis or natural sciences. So we decided to build a foundation and create our own language.”

In developing their new sign language for our culture, they naturally started with the most obvious word: Cannabis. There were already two signs for marijuana in ASL, but both had derogatory drug connotations to them – so the Panks decided to come up with a better one.

“We really wanted to create a sign that represents Cannabis well – gives it its own identity, its own name – one that’s more positive.” 

To determine what that sign should be, they launched the “Three Words Project” – walking around at Cannabis events with a video camera asking prominent people in the Cannabis industry/community what three words best defined Cannabis for them. 

“A lot of people would say community, love, inspiration, healing, mission – it was all about coming from the heart,” Angela says. “So when we were thinking of the word to appropriately represent the inspiration behind Cannabis, it’s a letter ‘C’ tracing the outline of your heart, because a lot of it comes from love.”

The couple has since developed signs for sativa, indica, hybrid, terpenes, extract, cannabinoids, endocannabinoid system and mycelium, as well as starting a nonprofit and website – Deafining – planning to eventually use their many hours of footage to produce a documentary and educational video series. They also hope to someday revive their Cannabis business in the modern legal market using the new 60-acre plot they purchased five years ago, so they can once again provide their dank medicine to the masses. Unfortunately, though, all of these projects require funding – which has been in short supply lately. 

“Money’s been a struggle,” Jared reiterates. “We’re making it work, but it’s crucial for us to find sponsorships and do some fundraising to help with it.” 

“Our hope is that with this language, our deaf community will be able to learn and educate themselves on these healthy choices and lifestyles,” Angela continues, “and be able to have a conversation and find commonality with others in our Cannabis community anywhere we may go in the world – so that everyone is welcome.”

How To Sign

Endocannabinoid System

How to Sign: With both hands in a fist position, one on top and another at the bottom of your abdomen, flick your index fingers towards each other across your stomach. 


How to Sign: Make a “C” shape with your hand, then use it to outline half of your heart. 


How to Sign: Index fingers meeting in the middle of the chest, make quick jagged downward and upward lightning movements with index fingers in opposite directions. 

deafining.org | @deafiningcannabis | facebook.com/homegrownorx

About Bobby Black

Bobby Black is a marijuana media icon. He spent 21 years at High Times magazine as an associate art director, senior editor, and columnist. He is currently the Content Director of California Leaf and Competition Director of the Leaf Bowl cannabis competitions. He is also the Executive Director of the World of Cannabis Museum project, host/writer of the cannabis history podcast/column Cannthropology, and co-founder of Higher Way Travel.

This article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of All Magazines.

View our archive on issuu.

Are you 21 or older? This website requires you to be 21 years of age or older. Please verify your age to view the content, or click "Exit" to leave.