Pot, weed, marijuana, devils lettuce, ganja, reefer — you’ve heard it all. The cannabis plant has various names and terminology nowadays; however, this hasn’t always been the case. The word “marijuana,” specifically, is a somewhat newer term for cannabis in the English language, with its history being one that many either do not know or choose to forget.
The history of the word “marijuana” is a bit of a rocky one, but it plays a huge role in where cannabis stands in your life today. Starting all the way back around the 3rd millennium BC, cannabis, and its many names, has left its mark.
Before the 1900s, the term “marijuana” simply did not exist in the English language. Prior to this time, the cannabis plant was primarily referred to as cannabis or hemp, with hash also being extremely popular for the upper-class in the late 1800s. It was during this time that cannabis began to become accepted within medicinal practices and treatments in the US and Europe, as pharmaceutical companies started capitalizing on cannabis extracts within medications.
During the early 1900s, cannabis thrived within medicine. Multiple medications were produced that explicitly claimed cannabis aided in things like “restlessness,” pain, nausea, and even foot calluses. Unlike what we see today, cannabis extracts did not pose the same legality concerns until later in history. Because of this, the plant and its extracted oils were embraced warmly within the US — unfortunately, not for much longer.
The 1910s through the 1920s brought immense change in the US. During this time, an over 600,000 Mexican immigrants traveled from Mexico to the United States, fleeing from the horrors of the Mexican Revolution. With the arrival of immigrants came an increased idea of enjoying cannabis recreationally.
Prior to this, as we established, cannabis was primarily utilized within medicinal practices and alternative medicines. The plant’s psychoactive properties were known; however, the idea of enjoying just for fun wasn’t seen frequently in the US just yet. As the country gained almost a million new members, the practice of recreational cannabis became quite popular. Soon, smoking was practically a regular sight, especially for those coming from the South.
Enjoying cannabis recreationally was not as accepted as using it medicinally, and in 1913, the US saw the first criminalizing weed in California. During this time, reports that this drug, “marijuana,” caused superhuman strength, violent actions, and even a “lust for blood” incited panic, effectively blaming Mexican immigrants for the introduction of such substance. Thus, the term “marihuana,” or “marijuana” was born out of hate.
From this point on, the US saw (and continues to see) a disproportionate amount of people of color suffering from marijuana-related crimes, and the term itself demonstrates its racist history. Before the Mexican Revolution, the plant was revered and praised; after the Revolution, the same plant was demonized and gained a term meant to play on fear and prejudice. Numerous organizations have been formed in order to fight against the injustices that the war on drugs has caused. One of these organizations is called The Last Prisoner Project . They are fighting to “redress the past and continuing harms of these unjust laws and policies”.
Just as “reefer madness” was beginning to take hold, the United States fell into the midst of the Great Depression. With so much anger, fear, and uncertainty within the country, white citizens wanted someone they could blame. During the 1930s, both Mexican immigrants and Black jazz musicians were targeted for their “roles” in the collapse, all while white Americans claimed marijuana was causing mind-altering effects in the lower-class .
Jazz music, especially in the 30s, did have suggestive content pertaining to enjoying cannabis. Because of this, jazz musicians were unfairly attacked and punished for marijuana consumption along with Mexican immigrants. As years passed, these fear tactics continued, and the idea that the cannabis plant caused minorities to become violent stayed systemically present until the modern-day.
Today, the history of the word “marijuana” is lost on most of us, and it is used interchangeably with cannabis, pot, weed — you name it. At the turn of the 20th century, the US finally began to see a bit of relaxation on cannabis criminalization, with various states choosing to legalize cannabis both medicinally and recreationally.
Though cannabis plants with more than 0.3% THC remain federally illegal, the US is seeing a shift towards acceptance, as well as importance being placed on scientific research. We no longer have an overt war on drugs in some states; however, cannabis-related convictions are still handed out to people of color at an alarming rate. While some people can easily enjoy a few puffs worry-free, a few puffs can land others in jail.
With the recent easement of cannabis prohibition, we’ve seen a historically black-market economy go mainstream. Cannabis is big business today. For the most part, this is a great thing. The healing properties of cannabis are more accessible to those who need them, and companies are freer to research growing techniques and cannabis consuming technology. Take for example: thanks to this quasi-legalization, we’ve been able to merge ground-breaking technology with centuries-old medicine to create a state-of-the-art CBD delivery system that revolutionizes the industry. However, while some of us are free to profit on cannabis, many others are languishing behind bars for doing the same thing.
This begs the question, then: is marijuana an acceptable term for us to still be using? Or is it only contributing to the problem?
When it comes to cannabis terminology, figuring out what to say can be tricky. The word “marijuana,” is so loosely thrown around nowadays, it seems as though its racist past has been swept under the rug. Though, for many, that past cannot be forgotten, as it’s still permeating in American society today. Right now, it’s best to be more technical with your cannabis terms, and educate others on the history of marijuana.
If you can avoid using the term “marijuana,” you should. The term “cannabis” is a great technical name you can rely on, or even just “weed” or “pot” when referring to the psychoactive form of the plant. When talking about hemp, it’s crucial to use the word “marijuana,” as that word is usually used to describe psychoactive cannabis plants, not non-intoxicating ones such as hemp. This is most likely due to the numerous campaigns against “marijuana and its supposed mind-altering effect.
All in all, being aware about the history behind the word “marijuana” is essential in being a part of the cannabis community. We haven’t always been where we are now, and it is important not to forget the pain caused in the past. This is why education and proper vernacular is vital. Take the time to truly learn about where your precious plant came from, and what you can do today to continue to make the community more inclusive. Get comfortable using other terminologies and try leaving “marijuana” out of your cannabis vocab as much as possible — “weed” is a lot more fun to say, anyway.