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The Difference Between Saying “Cannabis” and “Marijuana”

1 minute Read

Grass, pot, reefer, 420, ganja, green, herb, Mary Jane — the list goes on, with regard to all the names for weed. But the two most official are still cannabis and marijuana, each of which have very different connotations.

The word marijuana is derived from the Spanish term mariguana, which Mexican immigrants to the United States used as slang. The use of the term marijuana today is largely founded upon race and politics in the early 20th century. Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and Harry Anslinger, director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 to 1962, used the term marijuana as a racist act in order to associate the plant and drug more closely with Mexicans.

Hearst published a great deal of propaganda about marijuana, the “killer weed” that Mexican immigrants and African American jazz musicians smoked, while Anslinger promoted reefer madness and and legislation, such as the Marijuana Tax Act, stigmatizing the plant. He testified before Congress that marijuana was the most “violence-causing drug” in human history and that “most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage.”

Today the term marijuana is used mostly in legal contexts, such as to charge someone with “possession of marijuana for sale,” or to refer to it as a Schedule I drug. However, the term is fading out of popularity, as more and more industry folk have begun instead to use the word cannabis.

Cannabis first and foremost refers to the plant, as in Cannabis sativa. It is also more widely used internationally than marijuana is. Today, it refers to the cannabis industry and the wellness movement surrounding the plant. Without the politicized baggage of marijuana, the cannabis industry celebrates plant medicine, a new excitement around product ingenuity and horticulture, and a lifestyle that more holistically integrates nature into well-being, recreation, and community. Many brands in the industry hence use the prefix “canna” in naming their companies.

Even lawmakers have caught on. The Congressional Cannabis Caucus esteems the term cannabis over marijuana, while using the same terminology that lawmakers use in other countries. “Politicians that are more prohibitionist definitely use the word marijuana,” says Oregon trademark lawyer Sean Clancy. “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.”

The Difference Between Saying “Cannabis” and “Marijuana”