Here's Why We Should Probably Say 'Cannabis' Instead of 'Marijuana'

The word marijuana has a rotten history.

Colorado was the first US state to legalize marijuana, followed by Washington state, in both cases after voter initiatives

Weed, pot, ganja, bud, herb, grass, green, dank, Cali, Dutchie, hippie lettuce, Mary Jane. That sticky-icky-icky herb goes by many different names, but the most common is of course, “marijuana.” Why is that, when the plant’s official Latin name is actually “cannabis?”

In a recent article in The Stranger, Tobias Coughlin-Bogue breaks down the complicated and troubling reasons. The article, titled “The Word ‘Marijuana’ Versus the Word ‘Cannabis,'" explains how the term marijuana began to circulate widely after Harry Anslinger—first head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics who famously launched the war on drugs—shamed the herb publically. The year was 1937, and racist stereotypes about Mexican immigrants abounded (how far we’ve come). Thus, Anslinger used the Mexican term for the plant in his speech in front of a congressional panel to push his pot prohibition bill.

"We seem to have adopted the Mexican terminology, and we call it marihuana,” he said.

Anslinger intentionally circulated the word because of ulterior motives.

“While he sounds all innocent there, like he just picked up the word from who knows where, many surmise that he was actively using the term to focus the discussion on recreational use," Coughlin-Bogue explains. "His terminology distanced the plant as much as possible from its common medical and industrial uses, where it was more often referred to as cannabis or hemp. Using ‘marijuana,’ most commonly associated with recreational use among poor Mexican immigrants, was a sneaky bit of branding for the bill he wanted passed.”

Coughlin-Bogue’s piece goes on to outline the history of marijuana demonization and eventual prohibition which. It consists of a collaboration between a crooked government hellbent on prohibiting cannabis for greedy and racist reasons, working in cahoots with William Randolph Hearst’s yellow journalism news empire.

While “marijuana” no longer connotes a racial message for most, Coughlin-Bogue favors referencing the plant, which we now know to possess myriad healing properties, by another of its many available handles. And, as he points out, he’s not alone: “Harborside Health Center, one of California's largest and most influential dispensaries, has a page on its website devoted to the issue."

Harborside's website states the following:

"The word 'marijuana' or 'marihuana' is an emotional, pejorative term that has played a key role in creating the negative stigma that still tragically clings to this holistic, herbal medicine. Most cannabis users recognize the 'M word' as offensive, once they learn its history. We prefer to use the word cannabis, because it is a respectful, scientific term that encompasses all the many different uses of the plant.’"

Read the fullStranger article.

April M. Short is a freelance writer who focuses on health, wellness and social justice. She previously worked as AlterNet's drugs and health editor. 

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018