Pot. Weed. Dope. Grass. Ganja. Herb. And, of course, Mary Jane. Marijuana has many names. In fact, the word “marijuana” itself is a slang term for what is known the world over as cannabis. Only people in the good ole U.S. of A. refer to the plant by this moniker. How that came about is a little history lesson as to why cannabis became illegal in the first place.
During the 19th century, Americans actually did use the word cannabis when referring to the plant. Big pharmaceutical companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly sold widely used drugs that contained cannabis to treat everything from insomnia and migraines to menstrual cramps and rheumatism. If you flip through U.S. scientific journals from 1840 to 1900, there are literally hundreds of articles touting the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. So what happened?
Enter the Mexicans. After the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910, Mexican peasants started migrating to the States bringing with them their funny tobacco. Their migration caused a lot of anti-immigration fervor especially in border states (hmm…sounds familiar, right?). That bigotry intensified during the Great Depression when getting steady work was not easy for the Average Joe.
Not long after, cities began enacting anti-cannabis laws, which coincidentally happened first in these border states. It is believed when “reefer madness” reached its peak in the 1930s, narcotics agents opted for the more exotic and evil-sounding “marijuana” when creating federal drug laws to frighten the masses. After all, you don’t want to be inflicted by the ways of those foreign freeloaders.
As to the actual origin of the word marijuana there are several theories. Chinese immigrants in western Mexico combined syllables that may have referred to the plant in Chinese (ma ren hua) that was eventually pronounced by the Spanish as marijuana. Another theory is that it derived from a colloquial Spanish way of saying “Chinese oregano”— mejorana. Or it could just simply have come about as a slang term from South America as a hybrid of the girl’s names Maria and Juana. (That’s Mary Jane to you and me.)
With all this in mind, you can see why those in the industry prefer the scientific term cannabis. Not only is marijuana a slang term, it is also a slang term with a checkered past.
Do you think we should stop referring to cannabis as marijuana? Tell us what you think.