Is It Okay To Use the Word “Marijuana”?

Cannabis. How many people do you know actually use the word ‘cannabis’ when talking about marijuana? It is usually weed. Sometimes ganja or herb, grass, dope, reefer … and the list goes on. But lately, in the news, there has been a little “white” washing of marijuana. As though using the “M” word is a social faux pas.

It might be an offensive word, depending on who you ask. Some people feel that ‘marijuana’ conjures up decades of racism. Back in the days when cannabis was an ‘evil thing’ transported by Mexicans to America. With the specific intention of corrupting white youth. It’s not an exaggeration. The health education videos for teens and parents starting back in the 1930s portrayed weed with a racist agenda.

Now, after thirty-six states have legalized medical cannabis, has anything changed? While it sounds strange, you could be offending someone if you call it marijuana. And while calling it cannabis makes you sound like a doctor (see below), should you be worried about semantics?

Since marijuana is going mainstream in the United States, some people would like to ‘take the word back.’ After all, the healing herb didn’t do anything to create the negative narrative. Many people still don’t know what to call it, in polite company. Or even at a high-end dispensary.

Would a rose still smell like a rose if it were weed or marijuana? Finding the root of the problem isn’t hard. Cannabis has endured a long-term relationship with bad publicity.

Medical Marijuana or Prescription Cannabis?

State legalization of cannabis has only been around for a few years. And so, doctors are, for the first time, learning how to recommend patients for medical marijuana. But will you ever hear a doctor call it weed? Or one of the other pop culture names? Unlikely. Well, at least not around patients or in their office.

Of course, there is an exception to every rule. You may have a cool doctor who feels comfortable slinging the “M” word around. But in the interest of malpractice and civil liability, chances are they will treat weed with a clinical formality.

On January 17, 2019, WISN (ABC) reported a Milwaukee neurologist who stated his opposition to the word ‘marijuana.’ The President-Elect of the Wisconsin Medical Society (Dr. George Morris) said that the term ‘medical marijuana’ did not make sense to him.

However, the American Medical Association (AMA) uses ‘marijuana’ in their physician ethics guide. So, there’s no problem for healthcare organizations to use the term. And if weed helps physicians fulfill the Hippocratic oath? More power to them.

What Do You Call Weed at a Dispensary?

Inquisitive? Exciting? Tasty or fragrant? Describing the characteristics of weed doesn’t offend anyone. Smell those citrus notes? Everyone who loves cannabis appreciates the terps. But let’s say you are walking into a dispensary somewhere fancy. Not your usual budtenders. Are you worried you might call cannabis something offensive?

If you aren’t sure about a dispensary culture on your first visit, check out their website. Medical and adult-use dispensaries often have products online. And in the descriptions of whole flower strains available, you’ll find your answer.

Also, if someone works in a dispensary, chances are you can call it whatever you like. And they aren’t going to care. Their job isn’t to judge; it’s to help people find therapeutic solutions for symptoms. The budtenders are not going to look at you weird if you use “the wrong” name.

What Word Should You Use at a Headshop?

Imagine walking into a recreational pot-shop and saying: “Excuse me, sir, can you point me to your best Cannabaceae?” If you are strolling into your local head shop, you probably want to stick with the term “weed.” Or you just start asking questions about specific strains available at the dispensary.

Even if you have a medical card or access to a more clinical dispensary, it’s fun to visit a traditional headshop. Not only do they have better quality glass pipes (and creative designs), but they are passionate about the weed they sell. Guaranteed, you’ll get a better backstory at your local licensed smoke shop.

Some of the most frequently used alternative names for cannabis include:

  • Reefer
  • Grass
  • 420
  • Ganga
  • Herb
  • Mary Jane (MJ)
  • Buds
  • Chronic
  • Stinkweed
  • Nuggets (Nugs)

It is incredible that after thousands of years, marijuana hasn’t developed an identity crisis. There are so many colloquialisms and terms used to describe cannabis. Not to mention that half the time, people use the name of the strain. I.e.,” I’ve got to pick up some Girl Scout Cookies.” That strain in some places can be as rare as finding those chocolate mint cookies in December.

The Negative Racial Relationship to the Term ‘Marijuana’

Back in 2018, The Guardian published an article that read what everyone else was thinking. In “Marijuana: is it time to stop using a word with racist roots?” Alex Halperin talks about ‘cannabis’ as the name of preference. An attempt to distance Sativa and Indica from the post-Anslinger racist propaganda campaigns.

Some sociology experts have stated that if Anslinger had never created the racist narrative, that arrest rates would be different. Currently, in the United States, a person of color (POC) is almost four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published an analysis. In the “American Civil Liberties Union, A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform, 2020,” the statistics were startling. One of the report’s key points was that in thirty-one states studied, racial disparities were getting worse (not better).

When the influx of cannabis into the American culture began to increase, it was first blamed on Mexican migrants. Some public safety and health advertisements from the 1930s refer to it as ‘marihuana’ or ‘mariguana,’ which are Spanish terms for cannabis.

Federal agencies still use the word ‘marihuana’ today. A bias that may extend back to the American-Spanish war of 1898, when resentment against Mexican immigrants was at an all-time high. The association between marijuana and black Americans may have started with immigration from the Caribbean and Rastafarians.

Cannabis or Marijuana? It Depends On Personal Preference

Americans who are persons of color (POC) are divided on using the word ‘marijuana.’ Typically, the term has been used as a black suppression tool. And with it, incorrect assumptions about black Americans and assumed criminality.

Suppose you are a person of color who has witnessed acts of judicial bias from police officers to prosecutors. In that case, you may hate the word ‘marijuana.’ In fact, you may not smoke it or know anyone who likes cannabis, and that prevailing assumption may still cause difficulties for you. If cannabis is too formal and marijuana is offensive, there are quite a few other names to choose from with zero racial bias.

Because of the contentious history of racist propaganda in the United States for Black Americans, cannabis is a clean slate. Public relations wise. It is also acceptable to the medical community, including physicians who prefer a clinical reference.

But some people prefer to use the word marijuana as a statement. Taking the word back, not by burying its dark racial history, but demonstrating that there is nothing wrong with it. That the plant itself has never (and will never) be racially exclusive. Or a reason to culturally or legally penalize anyone for using it, where it is currently legal to do so.

Bio: Bio: Lori Reese is from Toronto, Canada, and a passionate advocate for patients with rare and chronic diseases, and access to alternative medicine. She has a background in pharmaceutical and health regulation in Canada and the United States.  Lori is the Content Marketing Manager for, America’s leading medical cannabis online resource since 2010.

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