Law & Politics

Wordplay and Stigma: An Appeal Against the Word Marijuana, Source: out and about, or talking with friends, one may notice that many people use a collection of different words to identify cannabis. These include names such as reefer, ganja, weed, pot, herb, dope, marijuana, Mary Jane, sinsemilla and grass. There are also the names for cannabis’ products, such as bhang, hashish/hash, joint/doobie, and the list goes on.

But when using terminology that can span a global scale, what name should we all call it?

As a botanist myself, I always look for the proper names of things — especially plants. There is a reason for this, and any first year plant biology student will learn this. From state to state, and country to country, names change.

With name change comes stereotypes, and connotations emerge that are associated with a particular word or title. Here in Colorado, the debate seems to mainly center around the terms ‘cannabis’ and ‘marijuana.’

Wordplay and Stigma: An Appeal Against the Word Marijuana, Source: a botanist standpoint, cannabis is a genus of plant, and comes in various species such as sativa, indica and ruderalis (or sativa, indica and afghanica depending on the research you reference) and thus ‘cannabis sativa’ and ‘cannabis indica’ (or ‘c. indica and c. afghanica) are the correct names when dealing with the various forms of the “pot” plant — not ‘marijuana.’

However, in U.S. society, marijuana (or “marihuana” as once spelled) is used in the context of our laws. This cannot upset me more, because it is mostly based on The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 alone, and we see it carried over even in today’s laws, such as the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2005.

This all stems from racist policies where the word marijuana, ‘marihuana’ or ‘mariguana’ was used as a way to control and stigmatize Mexican and other immigrants in this country. Some say that use of the word is solely based on the slang words used for cannabis during the time of cannabis prohibition. On the other hand, many other countries, including most of Europe, use the word cannabis to describe the plant, as well as the medicinal benefits of use.

I personally take offense to the word “marijuana” when it is used because it is so deeply linked to a negative shadow of fear tactics, racism and prohibition over the medicinal benefits of the plant, cannabis. Some simply don’t care what it is called as long as it remains legal, or illegal for that matter.

Whatever the reason for the prevalence of the word “marijuana,”  is this negativity what we want associated with our medicine and new legal rights?

Why doesn’t the U.S. change this?

I cannot answer those questions myself. But I would like everyone else to start asking themselves the same questions, and then possibly we will see some change since re-scheduling of cannabis has been a hot topic lately.


I read somewhere marijuana is a Spanish derivative of Maria and Juanita two lovely ladies I'm sure.


I don't use the word "marijuana", has too many negative connotations, just cannabis and weed.