Is “Marijuana” Canceled?

What word should we use for “weed” and why?

In our modern “cancel culture,” people are unceremoniously ostracized from social circles as a form of online shaming for people that the masses (or a select influential few) deem shameful. Our question today is whether “marijuana” is destined for the same fate? 

A Sordid History

Articles all over the internet repeat the sordid history of cannabis around the world and specifically here in the United States. In a nutshell, cannabis was a medicinal plant that, for thousands of years, didn’t cause much fanfare. In the early 1900s, Mexican newspapers published stories about the horrid dangers of “marihuana,” and in the U.S., Mexican immigration drastically increased due to the Mexican Revolution. 

California was the first state to ban cannabis, in 1913, due to fears related to “Hindoo” immigration. Mexico federally banned its use and production in 1920 and banned its export in 1927. Over fifteen years later, the first U.S. law regulating cannabis came as the “Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.” Up until this point, cannabis was vilified in lots of words, like “marihuana,” “reefer,” “loco-weed,” and “narcotic hemp.”   

Further Complexities of Language and Intent

The Spanish spelling of the plant in question is actually “marihuana” and that is the name that the Mexican press used for slanderous tales and that Harry Anslinger used in the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Some states still include “marihuana” in their laws, harkening back to the original Spanish spelling. Is there a difference between “marihuana” and “marijuana,” and are both on the chopping block? 

“Marijuana” is an Anglicization, which is the common practice of respelling foreign words. For example, the word “dandelion” comes from the French “dent-de-lion” meaning “lion’s tooth.” It’s interesting that the Anglicization in the case of “marihuana” actually brought the word farther from English phonetics (possibly as a mistake or to make the word and substance seem more foreign and dangerous). While it’s widely agreed that the U.S. War on Drugs was a thinly-veiled attack on communities of color, is that the fault or somehow the burden of the word “marijuana” and its producers and consumers? For the last several decades, “marijuana” has been hated by some and revered by others, both prohibited and passionately upheld. 

The word marijuana is typically criticized because it was negatively associated with the Latino community. Some would say that Marijuana is disparaging and outdated. Marijuana is fear-mongering and racially charged. In certain instances, using the term is unprofessional and reminiscent of the illegal market. Compared to marijuana, cannabis is most often seen as scientific, educational, professional, and associated with responsible use. 

Modernization, Professionalism, and Inclusion

As professionals, we aim to use terminology precisely, but that can be difficult in the swirling, ever-changing, and rapidly expanding lexicon of the cannabis industry. In the infancy of development, the markets are constantly in flux, with new terms and brands coming in and out of existence daily. “Cannabis” is the Latin, scientific name, which research studies often default to, though even knowledgeable sources use “marijuana” to distinguish between psychoactive and hemp varieties of cannabis. This distinction may or may not align with the original definition of “marijuana,” but either way it seems that English speakers need a way to differentiate between the varieties without examining the tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol potencies. 

“Marijuana” is not the only questionable term in the industry either (we’ll save the frustratingly unclear Sativa, Hybrid, Indica discussion for another day). Without being explicitly aware, this evolving industry is working to establish a whole new vocabulary of shared, standard terms and definitions. Regulators, producers, consumers, and critics are all contributing to the conversation. What we need now is to work civilly to agree on the jargon so we can finally talk openly and without shame about a topic that was taboo for far too long. 

At Canna Advisors, with clients throughout the U.S. and the world, we pay special attention to the particular terms used in each jurisdiction. If the regulations call it “medical marijuana” or “medicinal cannabis” or “cannabinoid products” or “marihuana” then that’s what we call it too. If there’s uncertainty, we default to “cannabis”—for consistency, and because it carries the most professional tone (in our opinion). However, around our office (especially during 4:20 happy hour), you’ll hear us freely toss around slang for the plant we love so dearly. 

Whichever word you use, just the fact that people are having this discussion shows the market is distancing itself from its derogatory past. We are moving forward to an industry that promotes impactful social equity programs, lifts up diverse entrepreneurs, and supports its exceptionally diverse clientele. 

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