People use a lot of different words and phrases to refer to their favorite plant. Pot, weed, herb, ganja, bud, purp, green, reefer, trees, whacky tabbacky – the list is nearly endless. And while any of these terms are acceptable to use while standing around a circle passing a joint, some of them are more appropriate than others in formal contexts.
For example, the term “marijuana” is often eschewed by modern day policy advocates and professionals, in favor of the more politically correct term “cannabis.” Industry insiders rarely use the word marijuana (or any of the most common slang terms), but few people understand the reasons why.
History of the Word Marijuana
Marijuana has been a term applied to cannabis for well over 100 years. A Spanish word of Latin-American origin, the word originally meant nothing controversial at all. It was simply a word for pot.
However, a wave of anti-marijuana insanity fell upon the United States in the 1930s. The country began prohibiting the use of cannabis, led primarily by the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics – a man named Harry Anslinger.
Anslinger tapped into the racial prejudice that was so common during that time, and tried to link cannabis use with immigrants and crime. He frequently, for example, referred to jazz and swing music (which were both created in large part by African American and Latino musicians, among others) as “satanic” art forms, which were born from cannabis-smoking hooligans. He went as far as to say that cannabis use was largely limited to the “degenerate” races, including those of African, Latin or Philippine descent.
One of the other ways he created a negative perception of pot in the 1930s was by calling the popular plant marijuana (although it was often spelled marihuana at that time, and still retains that spelling in many legal documents). This gave the drug a Latin-sounding name, which helped convince white Americans that it was dangerous and evil.
The Preferred Alternative
As the cannabis industry has grown, many advocates and policy directors began learning about the term marijuana, and its racially insensitive use throughout the early portions of the prohibition era. In an effort to avoid using a word with such negative connotations, many in the industry began seeking a new term to use when referencing their plant of choice.
Some suggested using part of the scientific name of the plant. This seemed to help avoid the use of an offensive term, and instead, elevate their language by using biologically accurate terms. Accordingly, the word cannabis – the genus name for both primary cannabis strains – instead of marijuana, in formal discussions.
A Tiny Tip
Because cannabis is taken from a scientific name, it should actually be capitalized and italicized when written. In other words, you should write Cannabis instead of cannabis when composing your term paper about medicinal uses of THC or putting together a resume for the grow shop around the corner.
Nevertheless, in casual writing, cannabis is perfectly fine and the typical way the word is written.