Refresh Checked Unchecked Menu Search Shopping bag Geolocation Person Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube Info Icon CBC Icon CBC Shape CBD Icon CBD Shape CBG Icon CBG Shape THC Icon THC Shape THCV Icon THCV Shape Loading…
Advertise on Leafly

Say What? Why ‘Cannabis’ Is Rising and ‘Marijuana’ Is Fading

May 29, 2017
Marijuana still dominates mainstream media, but cannabis is coming on strong. (Julie Jacobson/AP)
During alcohol prohibition, you could get zozzled at a juice joint. Half-screwed, half-shot, half-seas over. You could have the heebie jeebies, the screaming meemies, the whoops and jingles. You could burn with a low blue flame. You could be squiffy, scrooched, and sprung. Slopped to the ears. Stewed to the gills. Fried to the hat.

A lexical shift is happening around the word cannabis. It's a term that’s changing social norms, business, law, and government.

It sounds dated now, and a little ridiculous, but the social vocabulary around drinking was rich and vibrant and filled with creativity. It was also short-lived. With language, what’s considered correct changes over time. New words become introduced, or borrowed, or invented, while others become endangered and lost, or dwindled down to a regional specificity, or fall out of favor socially.

The weight and meaning of words changes and adapts because language changes and adapts, and right now a lexical shift is occurring around cannabis. There’s a propagation of terminology that’s emanating not just from changing social norms, but business, law, and government.

From ‘Mariguana’ to ‘Marihuana’ to ‘Marijuana’

In recent history “marijuana” has enjoyed a prominent position in the North American lexicon, but that wasn’t always the case.

Early in the 20th century, the plant was known by its botanical name, cannabis. Marijuana is a derivative of the term mariguana, a nickname for the plant that was popular among Mexicans who migrated to America after the Mexican Revolution.

Related

The Origin of the Word ‘Marijuana’

Hearst: Connected ‘marijuana’ and fear

That term was eventually exploited through the work of two men: Harry Anslinger, the director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 to 1962; and William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper publisher who was worried about the effect this new plant could have on his timber investments.

Together, this duo triggered marijuana’s lexical ascendancy.

Wait, Marijuana Invented Jazz?

Hearst, who had hundreds of newspapers at his disposal, filled his pages with racist propaganda about “marijuana” the “killer weed,” while Anslinger traveled across the country, prevaricating, propagandizing, and stoking fear to ensure that his legislation, the Marijuana Tax Act, would be passed.

Related

Cannabis and the Constitution: A Brief History of Cannabis in the US

“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind,” Anslinger testified before Congress. ‘Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage.”

Marihuana_revenue_stamp_$1_1937_issueHearst and Aslinger were unrelenting in their ignorance, spouting lunacy and purposely distorting the conversation for their own self-interest. It was bigoted and biased, but it worked. The populace was fooled. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act (spelled “Marihuana” at the time) was passed and the term marijuana was codified into law.

Related

Louis Armstrong and cannabis: The jazz legend’s lifelong love of ‘the gage’

Canna-Wellness in the 2010s

“Words carry positive and negative values,” says Frank Nuessel, a professor of Spanish, Italian and Linguistics at the University of Louisville. “And the word marijuana carries all sorts of negative, pejorative connotations.”

In April, Neussel published a paper that considers the linguistic aspects of the names for marijuana dispensaries in Colorado. Nuessel found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the dispensaries most favored names that alluded to the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

Related

Do People Search for Cannabis, Marijuana, or Weed in Google?

The term “wellness” was most popular, while words like “medical,”“health,” and “healing” were also prominent. References to naturalness followed (“herbal,” “organic,” “earth”). As for the plant itself, the most popular descriptor was “green,” followed by “leaf” and “grass.”

Marijuana carries lexical baggage that these words do not. They represent a shift in the conversation around cannabis, a focus on its medicinal legitimacy and an improved understanding of its benefits. These are also the words that people are responding to.

What ‘Cannabis’ Can Signify

Sean Clancy is a trademark lawyer in Portland, Oregon, specializing in the cannabis industry. He fields queries and works with business owners regarding the names of their companies and products. “I definitely see the way people are re-thinking language around cannabis,” he says. “Cannabis is the word that advocates are trying to go with. The more liberal, progressive people that are against prohibition and moving towards legalization, they have learned that they should be, and are, using the term cannabis.”

Nobody ever got called a ‘cannabis-head.’

Clancy has observed a mad dash for certain terminology, the words business owners view as having the most valuable real estate, linguistically. This includes portmanteaus of “canna.”

Related

Did the Industrial Value of Hemp Spark Cannabis Prohibition?

“There’s definitely a landrush,” he says. “All these businesses start and they think they are going to be the canna-business or the canna-grower, but businesses with that term in their name are a dime a dozen.”

You Work in the WHAT Industry?

While there’s a scramble towards “cannabis” in the business world, socially and colloquially, cannabis still has a long way to go if it is to replace marijuana. “It will take some time before the perception of the word marijuana is changed,” Nuessel says. “I don’t know how many people have the word ‘cannabis’ in their active vocabulary, or if they would even recognize it.”

Related

How to Get Hired to Work in the Cannabis Industry

Clancy, who uses the term cannabis most frequently but will use marijuana depending on his audience, has run into this problem. “If I go to lawyer networking events and interact with other stodgy lawyers and say I work in the cannabis industry, they’ll say ‘what?’ Then I’ll say ‘marijuana’ and they’ll get it.”

Meet the Congressional Cannabis Caucus

The evolution of terminology is also playing out politically. Amid the uncertainty of cannabis laws under the Trump administration, in February, at the U.S. Capitol, the Congressional Cannabis Caucus was launched—not the Congressional Marijuana Caucus. Included in their mandate is passing legislation that enables cannabis research, working with banks and cannabis businesses, and bridging partisan divide regarding cannabis.

Related

Cannabis Now Has Its Own Congressional Caucus

“Politicians that are more prohibitionist definitely use the word marijuana,” Clancy says. “If somebody is using the term ‘cannabis’, I almost make the assumption that they are slightly more educated on the issue than if they are only using the term ‘marijuana’. Usually you hear the term ‘marijuana’ in a disparaging way. Or they are trying to raise the specter of crime and criminality.”

Canada Likes ‘Cannabis’

In Canada, the Liberal government continues to move forward with its legalization plans. Recently, a press conference was held where the government outlined its plans for legalization and took questions from the media. Those questions were peppered with mixed terminology—marijuana, pot, weed—but the politicians showed remarkable, purposeful restraint. In every answer, for nearly an hour, they responded using only the term “cannabis.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: His government uses ‘cannabis’ exclusively. (Enrique De La Osa, Pool photo via AP)

“The Government of Canada deems that it is more appropriate to use the term ‘cannabis’ when engaging in a serious discussion about the new legal framework that would legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to cannabis,” explains Liberal party spokesperson Gary Holub. Marijuana, Holub says, “is a term that is not scientifically precise.”

For cannabis advocates, this realization, after nearly a century of prohibition, is a welcomed change. “I’m glad they’re using “cannabis”—that’s the correct name of the plant—and it begins the process of telling the truth about this substance, which has been shrouded in myth and misinformation for far too long,” Craig Jones, the executive director of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada, writes in an email.

Related

Canada to Legalize Marijuana. Here’s What You Need to Know

“Most other names were originally terms of derision or abuse—so I’m fine with the use of cannabis. About time.”

Just as marijuana was once codified into law in America, changing the tone and tenor of the conversation, Canada is now experiencing its own lexical shift. It remains to be seen what broader changes will come as a result, but the groundwork is being laid.

The Canadian legislation that would legalize cannabis nationwide is proposed to go in effect next July.

The name of the statute?

The Cannabis Act.

Sam Riches's Bio Image

Sam Riches

Sam Riches is a writer and journalist in Toronto. His work can be found in Vice, Pacific Standard, Wired, and many other publications.

View Sam Riches's articles

  • Cannada

  • jim heffner

    Here’s to the Political Correctness Police. I’ve caved in and use the word Cannabis when I’m writing about the noble herb. When in conversation I speak of ‘weed’, ‘bud’, ‘dope’, ‘herb’, ‘stuff’, ‘ma'(Chinese and possibly the oldest term in use), ‘smokage’, ‘doobie’, ‘reefer’, ‘MaryJane’, ‘ganja’, ‘mota’, ‘wacky tobaccy’, ‘Square Grouper’ and from the Viper Era my favorite ‘tea’. About 5 to 10 years ago, in this area, everything above ditch weed quality was called ‘Krippy’. I love the ever evolving English language. Most socially mobile folks adapt their language to the level of their companion’s, of the moment, speech patterns. There are some weird demographics and speech patterns here on the islands of SW Floriduh.

    • collette.robert@yahoo.com

      It’s a living language and we swim in it. I have adopted terms I never thought I would ever say like coinkydink and flustrated–oh yeah, I’m wearing crocs now, but don’t tell anybody.

  • 1garryminor3

    I prefer “Kaneh Bosm.”
    In 1936 a Polish Anthropologist named Sula Benet discovered that in the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament the word “kaneh bosm”(קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם) was translated as “calamus” or fragrant cane by the Greeks when they first rendered the Books in the 3rd century B.C., then propagated as such in all future translations from the original Greek without review, including Martin Luthers. During that same time period Hebrew slowly ceased to be used as a spoken language. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that a man named Eliezer Ben-Yehuda revived it once again.
    Benet concluded through years of substantial research and etymological comparison that the correct translation of “kaneh bosm” should be “cannabis.” In 1980 the Hebrew Institute of Jerusalem confirmed her claim that indeed “kaneh bosm” is cannabis. Ben-Yehuda’s 1964 Hebrew-English dictionary confirms this fact, page 140.
    The Biblical “Canon,” from the Greek “Kanon,” meaning; “to measure, to rule, straight, upright,” is also derived from the Hebrew word “kaneh”(קְנֵה).
    Cannabis Hemp fibers were used for measuring cords, as they are the strongest plant fiber.

    In fact we now know that all early religions used cannabis and, or, other psychotropic plants as sacraments. Calamus was used by ancient peoples and still today as an aphrodisiac and stimulant, its active chemical asarone is a precursor to the psychedelic MDMA, ecstasy.

    In Exodus 30:23 GOD instructs Moses to use 250 shekels of “kaneh bosm” in the oil for anointing all priests, and later kings and prophets, for all generations to come, including that of Jesus and even today as the title Christ/Messiah means literally; “covered in oil, Anointed.” “Kaneh” is also listed as an incense tree in Song of Songs 4:14. The error was repeated in Isaiah 43:24, Jeremiah 6:20 and Ezekiel 27:19, where “kaneh, kaneh bosm” are translated as calamus or sweet cane. There are 141 references to the anointing and 145 to burning incense in the standard Bible.

    Much has been learned regarding the role of cannabis and human development since Benet discovered the error over seventy years ago, and with these revelations along with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Nag Hammadi Library, certain Apocrypha, and a closerexamination of the Bible, we find that in order to be called worthy of the title “Christian” one has to be anointed with the very Holy Oil as described in the original Hebrew text of Exodus. Johns water baptism is incomplete and any other oil counterfeit.

  • Buzzby19491

    This seems like much ado about nothing. The term “marijuana” might once have had a serious negative connotation, but that is no longer the case. As a cannabis initiate since the late ’60s, “marijuana” is what it has been called and what people continue to call it. The most common alternative is “weed”. I can’t think of any plant, fruit, or vegetable that’s commonly referred to by it’s official latinate designation. I see no reason why the Party of Political Correctness should try to inflict that on the rest of us.

    • JohnB

      Say “marijuana” to the forces of prohibition, or even those just on the fence, and a whole range of negative mental images and connotations come to mind.

      You are free, along with Jon Thomas and Russ Bellville, to use whatever pet names you want to use, but please be aware of whether the terminology you choose helps advance the cause of cannabis law reform, or works against it.

      Returning to the term cannabis cuts all ties with the negativity surrounding the term marijuana – a goal most desirable if we keep our eyes on the big prize, which is complete national legalization.

      • jontomas

        “Marijuana” was legalized in my state, California. – Not “cannabis.” – You guys are really carrying this too far.

        • besommer

          That isn’t exactly correct as industrial hemp was included in Proposition 64. Marijuana, by legal definition, “does not include the mature stalks of the plant; fiber produced from the stalks; oil or cake made from the seeds of the plant; any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom)”.

        • collette.robert@yahoo.com

          The old switcheroo

      • Buzzby19491

        As I said, much ado about nothing. If you think the success of cannabis legalization turns on the connotations of a commonly used word, you are putting far too much weight on that supposition. If I find myself in the company of Messrs. Thomas and Bellville, of which I was unaware, then I’m probably right.

      • hyjyljyj

        Well put. I wrote a long etymological screed about this very topic not long ago, the thrust of which is that “Marijuana” was given a J in the middle to make it look more Spanish-y, more foreign and thus more SCARY to 1930s paranoids in the US who were just happy they had their booze back. BTW in legislation and professional journals, it’s called “alcohol” or “liquor”. They don’t use “booze” or “hooch”.

        In 1937, when the American Medical Association spoke out in favor of cannabis being legal, AMA Legislative Counsel Dr. William C. Woodward said: “I use the word ‘cannabis’ in preference to the word ‘marihuana’, because cannabis is the correct term for describing
        the plant and its products. The term ‘marihuana’ is a mongrel word that
        has crept into this country over the Mexican border and has no general
        meaning, except as it relates to the use of cannabis preparations for
        smoking.”

  • jontomas

    From the article:

    >>>Frank Nuessel… the word marijuana carries all sorts of negative, pejorative connotations.”

    No. Some “negative, pejoriative connotations” were cast on marijuana long ago, but we took back the word in the sixties and seventies. – Some cowardly people are just trying to escape from the 80 years of demonization by using a different word. – It won’t work, and just makes those who do it look suspicious – like they’re trying to hide something – as this article points out.

    It’s “marijuana” forever! – Enough of this nonsensical campaign! — It insults everyone’s intelligence.

    • JohnB

      Despite the stigma being unfounded, the term marijuana nonetheless carries such stigma, and no amount of protest by you can change that.
      Thus, it is better for the movement at large to use the word, the more correct term, cannabis, which is not so loaded with negative connotation.

      • jontomas

        I’m glad you mentioned “the movement at large.” – Let’s put it to a vote. A few folks getting a bee in their bonnet won’t do it.

        • Captain Jim

          There are people like you who prefer to use the term marijuana and have done so for decades with positive intentions. That’s fine. There are also a lot of misguided and uniformed people out there who don’t even know the historical significance of the word cannabis and to them, the word marijuana is mostly associated with negative connotations.

          I use both, but prefer to use cannabis instead of marijuana when I can. This is my opinion.

          I was talking to an older Doctor the other day who is very anti-marijuana and when I mentioned to him that I was a medical cannabis patient, he didn’t even know what that meant.

          To me given the historical significance of the word cannabis dating back thousands of years for medicinal purposes, recreational purposes and industrial uses, that’s a real shame.

          I could have told this doctor I was a medical marijuana patient and he would have understood what that meant…. kind of, but then that brings up all the reefer madness that has been plugged into his brain for basically all of his life.

          I’d rather take the opportunity educate someone on the historical significance of the word cannabis. It also lends itself better to words like cannabinoid and endocannabinoid. The word endomarijuanainoid system just doesn’t have the same ring.

          That’s my opinion and my vote.

          • collette.robert@yahoo.com

            But what is the right side of the egg to crack?

        • Captain Jim

          P.S. I think I’m going to stab myself (joking) if I continue to hear the DEA use the term “smoked marijuana” over and over again to deflect away from the medicinal value of cannabis.

      • Captain Jim

        There are people like Jon Tomas who prefer to use the term marijuana and have done so for decades with positive intentions. That’s fine. There are also a lot of misguided and uniformed people out there who don’t even know the historical significance of the word cannabis and to them, the word marijuana is mostly associated with negative connotations.

        I use both, but prefer to use cannabis instead of marijuana when I can. This is my opinion.

        I was talking to an older Doctor the other day who is very anti-marijuana and when I mentioned to him that I was a medical cannabis patient, he didn’t even know what that meant.

        To me given the historical significance of the word cannabis dating back thousands of years for medicinal purposes, recreational purposes and industrial uses, that’s a real shame.

        I could have told this doctor I was a medical marijuana patient and he would have understood what that meant…. kind of, but then that brings up all the reefer madness that has been plugged into his brain for basically all of his life.

        I’d rather take the opportunity educate someone on the historical significance of the word cannabis. It also lends itself better to words like cannabinoid and endocannabinoid. The word endomarijuanainoid system just doesn’t have the same ring.

        • collette.robert@yahoo.com

          The good thing about our doctors is that they get no education in nutrition, to promote the use of petrochemical based drugs.

          • Captain Jim

            I’ve seen both do very helpful things for humans. Both should be legal, not just 1. Especially seeing as one has no known lethal dosage, while the other can sometimes kill people with just double the dosage or less.

        • jim heffner

          I smoked my first ditch weed in Junior High -1956 or ’57 but I had no idea about the history of Marijuana or Marihuana until I read Jack Herer’s ‘Emperor’. I heard ‘Hasheesh’ for all things about Cannabis in Turkey and first heard Mota in Nam. Most of us who read articles about ‘Cannabis’ are quite a bit better informed than the good Doctor – I take it he’s not a Naturopathic Doctor. I love observing the evolving English language but for now the area of re-legalization and its opposition is as calm as the Sargasso Sea compared to the present political scene which is by far the most bigglyest and greatest most humongest area of innovation in our language. At least we’re not having this conversation in Esperanto.

          • jim heffner

            Sorry, spellcheck didn’t catch me misspelling ‘humungest’.

      • Captain Jim

        P.S. I think I’m going to stab myself if I continue to hear the DEA use the term “smoked marijuana” over and over again to deflect away from the medicinal value of cannabis.

        • collette.robert@yahoo.com

          Did you see the video of the cops eating the edibles in that shop they busted? They didn’t show it, but later one of them thought that he was a woman, another was found talking to a urinal, and a third had a fight with a bicycle.

          • Captain Jim

            If it’s the one where they made fun of all the sick people including the lady with 1 leg, yes, I saw that, but not the aftermath you speak of. I saw an article just yesterday of two cops near where I live caught on video making fun of someone with Down Syndrome. Classy.

    • collette.robert@yahoo.com

      We’ll track them down wherever they are by god

  • A rose by any other name is still a rose. Cannabis is the scientific name and marijuana is its slave name, issued by prohibitionists. Thankfully cannabis is once again in the American pharmacopoeia. This medicinal herb offers significant benefits to Americans. Prohibiting such a beneficial plant has led to nothing but injustices and pain.

    • jontomas

      Nonsense. – The word “marijuana” was used by Mexicans and others for hundreds of years before Anslinger’s thugs tried to turn it into a dirty word. – As I noted, we definitely took back “marijuana” in the sixties and seventies, and it is now a word beloved by millions of Americans. – This silly campaign will never get traction,

      • JohnB

        You’re still wrong on this one, Jon – sorry. Using the slang term that Anslinger promoted into our legal lexicon isn’t an act of defiance or “taking back,” it’s simply doing exactly what Anslinger wanted.

        You should refuse to use the term simply because of Anslinger’s purpose in using it in the first place. THAT would be an act of defiance.

        • jontomas

          Sorry, John. You’re wrong that I’m wrong. 8^) —- It doesn’t really matter how it was “promoted into our legal lexicon.” That’s ancient history. – It matters no more than the evolution and changing use of all our several thousand words. – What matters most is how it has come to be used. – The sixties and seventies showed us “marijuana” is not something bad, but a brain enhancer so near harmless, it improves the health and future of every person who switches from Budweiser’s to buds.

          Cannabis is the scientific name and a fine word as well. If we were to fix specific meaning to each term, it would most likely be: Cannabis is the plant. Marijuana is the part of the plant that is smoked – or otherwise consumed. – But mostly, marijuana is the amazingly benign plant we have known for decades.

          Call it what you will. – All the hundred names are beautiful. – Marijuana, cannabis, ganga, mota, weed, grass, pakalolo…etc.

          No one should look askance at others for their preference of name. It’s wonderfully been “marijuana” to me for 47 years. – And I don’t want to be a member of NORCL instead of NORML.

        • GBAUTO

          John, what’s wrong with using the plant’s botanical name instead of slang???
          I agree that the public perception of the word ‘marijuana’ has a serious negative overtone because of propaganda of the 20th century-it is time to call it by it’s REAL name. CANNABIS

      • besommer

        I guess you didn’t read the article. According to the above, it was the term “mariguana” that was used by Mexicans. The spelling “marihuana” as used in “The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937” was most likely due to the letter “g” in that context being pronounced as the letter “h”. The same can be said for the pronunciation of the letter “j” with the later term “marijuana”.

      • collette.robert@yahoo.com

        La cucaracha, la cucaracha, ya no puedo caminar, porque no tengo, que lastima, marijuana para fumar. Pancho Villa for president!

  • Captain Jim

    I read an article a few months back from Canada’s national news network CBC where they were all up in arms that the liberal government was trying to confuse people by using the word cannabis instead of marijuana in their push for legalization.

    What a bunch of morons. Anyone who doesn’t understand the historical significance and importance of the word cannabis, or tries to cover it up on purpose by using idiotic slang… especially “dope”, “doper”, “pothead” etc. has no business having their comments on the matter taken seriously.

  • Megan Dooley Fisher

    I love this!! Cannabis it is and so shall it be called! It’s an exciting time when we see cannabis getting its proper due! GoFire has developed a fantastic vaporizer that will give patients and caregivers better insight into how cannabinoids work and they’d love your help! GoFire.co/beta is the signup link to apply for consideration as a beta tester!

  • Alan479 Martin

    Marijuana is illegal and cannabis is legal.

  • Todd Burgess

    Here’s the pot calling the kettle cannabis?

    • collette.robert@yahoo.com

      It’s six and a half of one to a dozen of another

  • bullish_11

    WHO cares, Marijuana or Cannabis? DOES it matter? NO. If you like using Marijuana or weed, continue, its your life, if you prefer Cannabis, go right ahead, again, its your life.
    FOR way to long this simple helpful Plant, just a Plant, has got a bad rap, and so many are finally learning about its helpfulness. We should all Rejoice in the Fact that we have States, and Countries around the world taking the stigma away from it, no matter what you call it, this Plant will and is helping Millions of people every single day get through that day and make it to the next.
    I have had to go away from it myself for a long time because of the jobs I have had, and wanted to be a trusted employee, and finally as I get older and have way to many pains that Opiods don’t help or cause more issues for, I am back, using medically to try and ‘sort’ of stay above the law, and feel Free again…

    If using the Word Cannabis on legislation gets it Approved, then Hell I am all for it. As long as we continue on the Path we are, and WE Vote in Cannabis/Marijuana Friendly people to continue this push forward, No one should Care what we call it, that is your personal preference, so ENJOY some Wacky Tobbaccy and Lets try to live in Peace…!

    • collette.robert@yahoo.com

      The fucking wine assholes have gotten into the weed business. I never tasted a hint of persimmon before

  • lovingc

    I go to marijuana news. If you search cannabis news you get Canadian sites and some European sites.

  • collette.robert@yahoo.com

    Great article. Good research and I love the new language. I have been thinking that we need some new holidays and was trying to think of some names. I like Groundhogs day best as it is not heavily used. We eat a roast groundhog of course just like on Easter we eat the traditional Easter rabbit. I was thinking about a garage sale day when the whole country would have a garage sale and just wander around marveling at the poor taste of their neighbors.

  • Ginin Abottle

    Weed is going away and will never come back. We/You are all doomed