As cannabis legalization sweeps states on the East Coast such as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, state licences, criminal justice reform acts and newspaper headlines still read Marijuana instead of Cannabis. Irrelevant as the terminology may seem, the history behind both terms is extremely important to consider. In a time when so many issues with inequality and race have started to gain traction for justice, the words we use and their associated history are more important to consider than ever before.
can·na·bis | \ ˈka-nə-bəs \
Definition of cannabis
1: a tall Asian herb (Cannabis sativa of the family Cannabaceae, the hemp family) that has a tough fiber and is often separated into a tall loosely branched species (C. sativa) and a low-growing densely branched species (C. indica) : HEMP sense 1a —used especially for cultivated varieties having high levels of THC2a: the psychoactive dried flower buds, leaves, or preparations (such as hashish) or chemicals (such as THC) that are derived from the cannabis plant
mar·i·jua·na | \ ˌmer-ə-ˈwä-nə , ˌma-rə- also -ˈhwä- \
Definition of marijuana
1: the psychoactive dried resinous flower buds and leaves of the female hemp or cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa or C. indica) that contain high levels of THC and are smoked, vaped, or ingested (as in baked goods) especially for their intoxicating effect : CANNABIS
NOTE: Several substances (as cannabidiol) lacking psychoactive properties are extracted from the flower buds of marijuana and are used medicinally.
So why do we have two terms for the same plant when one of them is clearly the scientific name? Cannabis was historically referred to by its scientific name, Cannabis sativa and noted for containing several medicinal benefits. There are historical assumptions that during the Mexican Revolution, as immigrants started flooding into the United States, some of their recreational habits around smoking the cannabis plant were introduced to the American people. In my opinion, the account of this in and of itself seems extremely racist and off base. That is until you begin to look into things and the history around who was profiled by their use of the plant early on before prohibition was in full swing.
Minorities and immigrants alike started being profiled in border and port cities. Taking charge of cannabis and painting it out to be a bad thing was a way to enact social control over the population. At a time when media was entering the big screen and presenting far out ideas was as easy as telling an animated story, cannabis and many lovers of it became the target. Border cities such as El Paso, Texas took the lead in making the plant illegal to possess. There are also rumors that the Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the 1930’s had a case file targeting Jazz musicians in port cities such as New Orleans called “Marijuana and Musicians”.
I’m Confused, So Where Did the Term “Marijuana” Come From?
That same Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was known to be a serious racist. I personally hate referring to his name because it gives him attention that he most definitely does not deserve. He served in this position from 1930 until 1962 and is infamously known in the cannabis community as the Godfather of Prohibition. He pioneered early acts against the drug, calling it “Marijuana” instead of cannabis, knowing it sounded more “hispanic and foreign”. Working with fear and false information as his number one tool to eliminate the drug both nationally and globally, for many years this prohibition was praised and accepted. Using the term marijuana over cannabis as laws were passed are to blame for our terminology issues we have today. Even Wikipedia redirects people searching for the term marijuana to cannabis referring to it as a disambiguation, essentially meaning they’re trying to help people make the change in terminology too.
Many organizations and corporations on the West Coast have made the change in use from marijuana to cannabis. Change takes time, but some things are worth educating others and investing in yourselves. Journalists and reporters can serve as the first layer when reporting on industry by titling headlines with cannabis anytime they want to use the word marijuana. Lawmakers can begin naming reform bills with cannabis instead of marijuana. Even in the year 2021, there is a sad irony when a criminal justice reform act created to help minorities targeted negatively by cannabis prohibition over the years is named MORE, Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement. Until change can be seen widespread, the final challenge lies with you to begin using the word cannabis over marijuana. Good luck & one love.
Kelly Anne Walborn Ferraro is a long time lover of cannabis in all forms. She got married to her amazing partner, Anthony Ferraro on October 2, 2021! Kelly spends a majority of her time helping companies hire dedicated tech teams. Kelly shares about her personal journey with cannabis and some of the experiences she has had in the past. Check out some of their short form videos about how Anthony tackles the world as a blind man. The Ferraro’s end all their creative pieces with the message of “One Love”.