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Should We Call it Marijuana or Cannabis?

December 17, 2019

by Ma Raim

Throughout its history, cannabis has been known by several slang terms such as dope, grass, pot, herb, reefer, ganja and the like. However, by far the most popular name for the cannabis bud is “marijuana.” Marijuana is one of the most universally recognized words for the cannabis plant in the English-speaking world, yet its origins go largely unrecognized by the majority of the population. For example, many people don’t know the racial connotations that come with it. For that, we must look back at the history of marijuana or cannabis in Canada and the United States and learn why many people are moving away from terms like marijuana and other less desirable lingo.

Cannabis wasn’t commonly used in the United States until the 1920’s when Mexican immigrants and labours began to migrate flood into the United States from the south, introducing cannabis to Americans. At the same time, sailors coming from the Caribbean and Brazil arrived in the docks of New Orleans and introduced it to the famous entertainment district. Due to cannabis’ popularity, The American government began to pass laws against the cannabis plant.

The History Of The Word Marijuana

While the word marijuana comes from Mexico, its exact origins remain unknown. According to some experts, the term may derive from the ancient Aztec language or soldiers’ slang for a brothel. Another scholar dug into how cannabis’ history and argues the word marijuana came to North America from China or Spain.

Related: A Brief History of American Anti-Cannabis Propaganda

The word marijuana was used by politicians who first criminalized cannabis because they wanted to underscore that it was a particularly Mexican, vice. Prohibitionists hoped that Americans wouldn’t want anything to do with the foreign-sounding plant. Also, at the time, there was a growing wave of sentiment against Mexican immigrants entering the country at the time. Government officials seized using the opportunity to both fight immigration and drugs.

In addition, many people aren’t aware the term marijuana is particularly linked to campaigns by Harry Anslinger. Many people think of him as a lesser-known Joseph McCarthy, Anslinger who led the charge against communism in the late 40s and into the 50s. Harry Anslinger propelled the anti-cannabis sentiment to a national movement. He used what he called his “Gore Files” which were a collection of quotes from police reports, to graphically depict offences caused by cannabis users. His most infamous story in The American Magazine concerned Victor Licata who killed his family. However, it was later discovered that Victor Licata didn’t kill his family because of cannabis, but because he was suffering from mental illnesses.

Over the years, Anslinger would have control over the country’s drug legislation, including the Boggs Act of 1951, which required mandatory sentencing and various state laws further criminalizing drug use. Due to his consistent public relations pushes, Anslinger was considered the preeminent expert on drugs in America. He remained at the helm of the Federal Narcotics Bureau until the Kennedy administration; however event after he retired, his ideas were swiftly adopted by successive administrations.

Is The Word Marijuana Racist or Acceptable?

Today “cannabis” and “marijuana” are terms used more or less interchangeably in the industry the public. With cannabis access and our understanding of the once-illicit plant growing, the cannabis industry is trying hard to educate around the term, and generally refers to the plant by its official name, cannabis.

Is the Future Marijuana or Cannabis?

It’s not just distributors and activists that have stopped using the word marijuana to describe cannabis: Governments are getting in on the act as well. In Canada, where lawmakers have regulated cannabis for medical use since 2001, the government-run websites and informational literature stopped using the word marijuana in its most recent set of rules. Instead, it switched to “the Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations”, which it adopted in 2016. Whether we’ll completely drop the term marijuana is uncertain and only time will tell. Will marijuana’s dark past be forgotten or will political correctness win out and cannabis becomes the go-to terminology?

Thanks for reading and check out more of our pieces on all things weed here, on subjects like the history of 420.





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