Thursday, July 4, 2019

Why Do We Call Cannabis Marijuana? How Language Matters...

Image result for Cannabis vs Marijuana word history
Credit: The Stranger

There is no such thing as a "Marijuana" plant, Cannabis is the plant's actual name. The plant name Cannabis is derived originally from a Scythian or Thracian word, which loaned into Persian as kanab, then into Greek as κάνναβις (kánnabis) and subsequently into Latin as cannabis according to the Etymology Dictionary.


From the standpoint of a botanist , 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 “cannabis” plant — not ‘marijuana.’

Language is important because it defines our ideas. Words have a power that transcends their formal meaning. When we change words, we can also change the thoughts that underlie them. By changing the words we use to describe cannabis and herbal medicine, we can help our fellow citizens understand the truth about it, and see through the decades of propaganda.

That understanding will convert cannabis opponents into supporters, and bring closer the day when all our prisoners go free, and nobody else is ever again arrested for using or possessing “marijuana”. 

We prefer to use the word cannabis, because it is a respectful, scientific term that encompasses all the many different uses of the plant and true history of the sacred plant.

The word "marijuana" or “marihuana” is an emotional, pejorative term that has played a key role in creating the negative stigma that still tragically clings to this holistic, herbal medicine. Most cannabis users recognize the "M word" as offensive, once they learn its history.

Harborside, which is among the oldest and largest dispensaries in California, says on its website: “‘Marijuana’ has come to be associated with the idea that cannabis is a dangerous and addictive intoxicant, not a holistic, herbal medicine ... This stigma has played a big part in stymying cannabis legalization efforts throughout the US.”

The word marihuana used in the title of a 1936 drug exploitation film


The “marijuana” term started off life as a Mexican folk name for cannabis, but was first popularized in the US by the notorious yellow press publisher, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was a racist, as well as being committed to the prohibition of marijuana, which threatened his timber investments. He used his control of hundreds of newspapers to orchestrate a vicious propaganda campaign against cannabis, which featured lurid (and false) stories about black and brown men committing outrageous acts of murder and mayhem. That campaign played on then-predominantly racist public opinion to make cannabis illegal at the federal level in 1937. Since then, “marijuana” has come to be associated with the idea that cannabis is a dangerous and addictive intoxicant, not a holistic, herbal medicine for helping people deal with the effects of cancer, AIDS, wasting syndrome and other conditions. This stigma has played a big part in stymying cannabis legalization efforts throughout the U.S.


Pot probably comes from the Mexican ‘potiguaya,’ which is a word for seeds, which may come from the expression ‘potacion de gauays,’ which would mean ‘a sorrow soup,’ which was some kind of concoction involving marijuana.. How it got shortened to ‘pot’ is unclear, but it was probably around the 1930s that Americans started using that word. (1)

And yes Hemp is part of the Cannabis plant family, Cannabaceae.  Cannabaceae is a small family of flowering plants. As now circumscribed, the family includes about 170 species grouped in about 11 genera, including Cannabis (hemp), Humulus (hops) and Celtis (hackberries). 



Language is important because it defines our ideas.


Related Articles To Read: 

The Word "Marijuana" Versus the Word "Cannabis" | APR 13, 2016 | The Stranger | by Tobias Coughlin-Bogue | https://www.thestranger.com/news/2016/04/13/23948555/the-word-marijuana-versus-the-word-cannabis

Here’s Why We Should Probably Say ‘Cannabis’ Instead of ‘Marijuana’ | July 23, 2016 | AlterNet | by April M. Short | https://www.alternet.org/2016/07/word-marijuana-has-ugly-history/

Marijuana: is it time to stop using a word with racist roots? | Mon Jan 29 2018 | The Guardian | Alex Halperin | https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/29/marijuana-name-cannabis-racism


(1) -  (Source : Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at UC Berkeley and NPR "Fresh Air" contributor.)


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