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Why We Call It Cannabis


Why We Call It Cannabis, By Pete Treebumrung

Dope. Pot. Reefer. Weed. Mary Jane. Marijuana.

Born out of pop culture or used out of necessity, cannabis goes by many names. But as the industry evolves and becomes more legitimized, what we call the plant should evolve with it. To call it anything else would lend more credence to a flawed, propaganda-fueled perception of the plant, and not what it really is.

It used to just be called cannabis.

Before cannabis became marijuana, reefer, or dope, it was just a plant being used in everyday life. Cannabis has been used to make food, textiles, and medicine, among other things. Ancient Scythians, who resided in what is now Iran, would throw the flowers onto hot stones during steam baths. Ancient Greeks and Romans were smoking it as well, and cannabis, in the form of hemp, was being used to make paper, rope, and clothing. Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who was familiar with hemp being grown in plantations all across Europe, first classified the plant as cannabis sativa in 1753.


The term is so old that many never question why we call it cannabis.


Where does the term marijuana come from?

The term marijuana has a Spanish sound to it, and there’s a reason for that. In 1910, the Mexican Revolution resulted in a massive wave of immigrants to the United States, and with them came the widespread use of recreational cannabis. At the time, the term “Mary Jane” was being used among certain subcultures within the US when referring to the plant, and marijuana became the Spanish adaptation of the slang term among Mexican immigrants.

Institutional racism became an outlet for frustration during the Great Depression, and the US government passed the Harrison Act, which criminalized marijuana, among other substances, as a way of controlling the influx of Mexican immigrants entering the US, while also persecuting other minority groups. The name stuck, and we’ve been calling it marijuana ever since.

Legislators and politicians use the term marijuana to the point where it has almost entirely replaced cannabis as the official name. But to call it marijuana when we’re trying to fight for its legitimacy is not only a misnomer, but is counterproductive. It’s hard for anyone to take the industry seriously when we’re using a term used by the very people who are fighting it.

Even meth gets to keep at least part of its true name. Let’s throw out the slang and call it what it really is.


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