Where Did The Word “Marijuana” Come From?


Weed, pot, grass, ganja, and Mary Jane; the list goes on and on. One of the coolest things about the cannabis community is that stoners can get pretty creative when it comes to thinking of creative nicknames for our favorite plant, not to mention all of its different genetic strains.

(We counted 420 of them, lately)

But did you know that the use of the word “marijuana” had nefarious intent in the United States?

Rewind the clock to the 1920s when the US economy was suffering, and it was easy for politicians and the media to blame an influx of Mexican Revolution refugees for the country’s woes. Marihuana was a mixture of healing herbs brought to the US by Mexican nationals, but Californian and Texan politicians co-opted the name during a drug-ban that blamed Hispanic and African-American factions for bringing down America with drugs. “Marijuana” quickly entered the lexicon as a pejorative, despite the fact that US citizens had been using cannabis all throughout the second half of the 19th century, supplied by pharmaceutical companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly. It was practically a staple of the modern medicine cabinet until the change of lexicon turn cannabis into “reefer madness,” sentiment that the cannabis community is still trying to shake off today.


If you’re wondering why you hear the word “cannabis” more often lately, it’s because that is marijuana’s botanical name. Cannabis sativa L., to be accurate.

While the Government of Canada made a choice in 2014 to use the spelling “marihuana,” it (and some of its licensed producers) have started to recognize the more common “marijuana.” For a period, we saw the “j,” when the government referred to the drug in general and the “h” when referring to the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulation. Now that the program is Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulation, even Health Canada seems not to know what they want to call it.

They’re not the only ones. “Marijuana” and “cannabis” are regularly used interchangeably, from legislative houses to dispensaries, to the media. However, if you find that a politician, doctor or newscaster has a bias, either pro-pot or against it, you may want to take notice of which words they are using to describe the plant and why they may choose one over the other to support that bias.

August 1, 2017

by Alana Armstrong

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Alana seeks to see cannabis from the perspective of politicians, advocates, entrepreneurs, and consumers. She got her start with a byline in the arts and culture section and crossed over into cannabis after using it medicinally. Current projects include investigations into cannabis and wellness; entrepreneurs of the Green Rush; cannabis for athletes; and the evolution of cannabis laws and culture in Canada.


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