Marijuana, Cannabis, Pot, Weed, Bud: the plant of many names

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Some of the most common slangs for cannabis are bud, pot, weed, grass and ganja. But is any single name “correct”? And how did one plant earn so many starkly different and unique names?

Each cannabis nickname has its own unique origin backstory, some stories more interesting and in-depth than others.

The name “ganja,” for example, is simply the Indian name for cannabis in Sanskrit.

Many people don’t fully understand what part of the cannabis plant is consumed for recreational and medical purposes. The most potent part of the plant is actually the flower bud. Knowing that users smoke the actual flower bud of the plants, it makes complete sense where the slang word “bud” comes from.

The origins of the name “marijuana”

The name “marijuana” is a word still commonly used today, but the term actually originates from Mexico, from the Mexican-Spanish word “marihuana”.

The story of how the majority of the United States population switched away from the then-popular name “cannabis” and began calling it “marijuana” is a controversial story of propaganda and racism.

In the 1930s in the United States, cannabis was legal and used in many homes as part of common health regimens (although these home remedies technically were not backed by the FDA). The American people were comfortable with using cannabis responsibly, and it was widely known as “cannabis”.

Then came a radical shift, fueled by Harry Anslinger, Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. A handful of high government officials took on a propaganda campaign to vilify cannabis, starting first by rebranding it away from “cannabis” and referring to it only as “marijuana” – a Spanish word that most people weren’t familiar with.

Not by coincidence, this naming rebrand came at the same time that the US was receiving an influx of illegal Mexican immigrants coming into the country. Many educated historians speculate that the US government’s name change of the plant was part of a larger scare tactic, creating fear around the plant by rebranding it to a name that made most Americans uncomfortable and directly associating it with illegal Mexicans, non-caucasians, and the poorest of the poor.

Harry Anslinger, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Director and a prominent figure leading the national anti-cannabis propaganda campaign, rebranded cannabis to marijuana while actively tying marijuana to non-caucasians and who he viewed as “low class” citizens.

One of Anslinger’s more famous quotes while speaking to Congress was:

“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind… Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage.” – Harry Anslinger

And one of Aslinger’s more famous racist public comments against cannabis disgustingly referred to non-caucasian citizens as “darkies.”

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men…the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.” – Harry Anslinger

Fast forward to present day, as the legal cannabis industry is making a comeback, industry professionals, educated lawmakers, and many others who are familiar with the origins of the word “marijuana” are making an active effort to have the plant’s name changed back to “cannabis” on legal government documents, bills and websites (effectively undoing Aslinger’s racist smear campaign).

Among those individuals is Hawaiian State Senator Mike Gabbard. In 2016, Gabbard wrote the following legislation that became law:

SB 786 (Act 170), change all references to “medical marijuana” and “medical use of marijuana” to “medical cannabis” in state law and Administrative Rules. The term marijuana has no scientific basis and carries prejudicial implications rooted in racial stereotypes from the early 20th century.

Many cannabis supporters no longer use the word “marijuana” once learning about the word’s ties to 1930s racism and other negative connotations.

Which is right: marijuana or cannabis?

In short, cannabis is the correct formal name.

Cannabis is the plant’s scientific name, or genus. While the word “marijuana” is commonplace and arguably the most widely used name, it carries negative connotations for those who are familiar with the plant’s origins and still remember the fear-mongering propaganda campaigns carried out by the US government.

Many people who are medical or industry professionals believe the word “marijuana” has deep roots in racism, whereas the plant’s scientific name, cannabis, does not hold these racist stereotypes.