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Cannabis vs. Marijuana: Which is Correct?
Updated November 2023.
Modern cannabis industry professionals are caught in the middle of a vernacular debate regarding whether the term "marijuana" or "cannabis" best serves as a label for this controversial and increasingly common and legal herb.
The term cannabis gains the favor of many professionals, particularly medical doctors and researchers, because it is the official Latin-derived scientific name and has been in use for hundreds of years—well before the emergence of "marijuana" in the United States in the late 19th century. The Oxford English Dictionary reports that the first usage of the word "cannabis" was in 1548.
The Oxford English Dictionary reports that the first usage of the word "cannabis" was in 1548.
Which begs the question: What is the true origin of the term marijuana? Is it really rooted in racist intentions, as some cannabis proponents suggest? Or is it merely another way of saying cannabis (like pot, weed, ganja, dagga, muggles, etc.)?
To help our students and readers make an informed and intelligent decision on this topic, we have below included an excerpt from our Deep Dive Collection article "Deep Dive: How Cannabis Became Illegal" that explains the origins of the term "marijuana."
Another educational article is Cannabis vs Marijuana Debate: Richard Rose Comments.
Paramount Protectionism: Anslinger & Hearst
Cannabis vs. Marijuana: Which is Correct? Two men are primarily responsible for the modern federal-level legal prohibition of cannabis that has been in existence for the past 80 years: Harry Anslinger and William Randolph Hearst.
"Hearst was a publishing and timber mogul who owned major newspapers and popular magazines (think of him as the Rupert Murdoch of his day)."
Anslinger was an ambitious government bureaucrat who, in 1930, became Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (the precursor to today’s Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA).
Nepotism was in full force: Anslinger was appointed by his wife’s uncle, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon (of Mellon Bank, one of the most powerful financial institutions in the world at the time). Hearst was a publishing and timber mogul who owned major newspapers and popular magazines (think of him as the Rupert Murdoch of his day).
Hearst, according to one biography, "...hated minorities, and he used his chain of newspapers to aggravate racial tensions at every opportunity." His motives were understandable: Hearst lost 800,000 acres of timberland to Pancho Villa during the Mexican revolution. His means of institutionalizing his bigotry, however, were arguably less deserving of empathy.
The term "marijuana"—derived from the Mexican slang "marihuana" (either purposefully or accidentally misspelled)—was first coined in the U.S. in the 1890s.
The Source is Marihuana
The term "marijuana"—derived from the Mexican slang "marihuana" (either purposefully or accidentally misspelled)—was first coined in the United States in the 1890s. It was popularized in the early 1930s by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and in articles appearing in magazines and newspapers owned by Hearst.
Hearst, via his publishing empire, continually attempted to taint public perception of the plant by leveraging then-popular prejudice against Mexican-Americans. The term marihuana was used to elude the public's existing familiarity and comfort level with hemp and the medicinal application of cannabis tinctures (it was not a commonly smoked recreational substance at the time).
In fact, the terms "marihuana" and "marijuana" weren't even included in official dictionaries at the time. If not for the efforts of Anslinger and Hearst, the herb would almost certainly be referred to as cannabis (the name that’s most common in Europe, the United Kingdom, and Australia), not marijuana.
"The terms 'marihuana' and 'marijuana' weren't even included in official dictionaries of the era."
Satanic Music & Weed
Anslinger drew upon the social stereotypes and prejudices of the day to stigmatize cannabis. "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, results from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others," he said.
This nefarious anti-progressive also made highly inflammatory and provocative statements involving significant fear mongering, such as "Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death." His racist side is revealed by statements such as "Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men." He also proclaimed, "You smoke a joint and you're likely to kill your brother."
Hearst and Anslinger were supported by Lammot du Pont of the DuPont Chemical Company and a variety of pharmaceutical corporations, all of which held a financial interest in defeating hemp to promote their own products.
For example, DuPont began selling rayon (the first man-made fiber) in 1924 and invented nylon, a synthetic competitor to hemp, in 1935. One reason pharmaceutical and petrochemical companies disliked cannabis was because people could grow it themselves. (It should be noted that Andrew Mellon, the Treasury Secretary who appointed Anslinger to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the wealthiest man in America at the time, was—along with Mellon Bank—a financial backer of DuPont.)
[End of excerpt.]
"Marihuana" Predates Reefer Madness
Cannabis vs. Marijuana: Which is Correct? Despite the bad reputation given to the word marijuana by the Reefer Madness era and the diligent opposition of prohibitionists such as Anslinger and Hearst, it is important to note that the term "marihuana"—slang in the Mexican language and the origin of the "American version" featuring a "j" instead of an "h"—appears in Mexican culture decades before it was leveraged by American prohibitionists in their smear campaign.
An example of this is the appearance of marihuana in the Pharmacopoeia Mexicana in the 1850s. This proves wrong the urban legends that Anslinger and Hearst coined the term as part of their anti-cannabis campaign.
An example of this is the appearance of marihuana in the Pharmacopoeia Mexicana* in the 1850s. This proves wrong the urban legends that Anslinger and Hearst coined the term as part of their anti-cannabis campaign and to encourage racist sentiment toward Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. The Reefer Madness campaign merely appropriated the terms marihuana and marijuana for its own use and presented them in a negative contest.
*A pharmacopoeia is "a book describing drugs, chemicals, and medicinal preparations. Especially: one issued by an officially recognized authority and serving as a standard" according to Merriam-Webster.
Washington State Leads the Way
In March 2022, Washington passed House Bill 1210, which changed every Revised Code reference in the Everygreen State from "marijuana" to "cannabis." "The term 'marijuana' itself is pejorative and racist," Washington state Rep. Melanie Morgan said during testimony in 2021.
"As recreational [cannabis] use became more popular, [the term 'marijuana'] was negatively associated with Mexican immigrants," said Morgan. "It was used as a racist terminology to lock up Black and brown people," she said.
"Although we call it a technical fix, I think it does a lot to undo or at least correct...some of the serious harms around this language," Washington state Rep. Emily Wicks told the press after the unique law's passage.
You Get to Decide
So there's the facts. Higher Learning LV is an education company, not an activist organization. We do not officially make suggestions about what readers should decide on this topic. We merely want you to have all of the facts before making your own decision.
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