As marijuana becomes widespread, people are reconsidering the term, arguing that we should abandon "marijuana" because it is racist and, on the other hand, say "cannabis". People should say whatever they want, but this rule is too simplistic for such a complex drug. We should develop more, not less, words for what we need to say.
It makes sense that some want to avoid "word m". Marijuana has always had a unique place in American history and politics, according to academic Emily Dufton, author of Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana Activism in America. No other drug has inspired this type of debate and has been linked to issues ranging from war to racism and criminal justice. (Dufton is an "equal opportunity user" of words, which says that part of the fun of writing about this medication is the ability to use many different terms).
But the word "marijuana" is not racist. It was once a means of rebellion, says Santiago Iván Guerra, professor of southwestern studies at the Colorado College. When Europeans first arrived in present-day Mexico, they ordered indigenous residents to convert to Christianity and stop cultivating their own psychoactive drugs (bell, peyote, and psilocybin). In contrast, Mexican indigenous people were told to grow hemp to get rope.
It is difficult to imagine the teenagers saying: "let's make some cannabis of pharmacological type"
It was then that residents discovered that this hemp plant could be psychoactive. To hide that they were using it, they began coding the language, Guerra says. Many plants in Mexico have some version of "Maria" in the name, to please the Spaniards who promoted Christianity. And then the plant became "marijuana."
In the 1930s, US government officials like Harry Anslinger used "marijuana" as pejorative to make the drug sound exotic and link it to poor Mexicans, even though many whites smoked as well. (Anslinger was influenced by elite Mexicans, who also considered the plant to be low class, according to Guerra). Nowadays, there is still a division of the language. People who support legalization tend to call the drug "cannabis", and those who do not call it "marijuana": just look at Attorney General Jeff "Good people sessions do not smoke marijuana." So, the idea is that "good people" with chronic pain use "cannabis" as medicine, and it should be legalized to help them. Calling something "cannabis" gives it scientific legitimacy and respectability.
Yes, cannabis is the scientific name. But it is not very precise, and even plant biologists get stuck in terms of language. Cannabis actually refers to a category of plants, says Jonathan Page, an associate professor in the Department of Botany at the University of British Columbia and executive director of startup Anandia Labs, a specialist in cannabis detection. The plant that people know and love (or hate) is Cannabis sativa. (The jury discusses whether there are other cannabis species, such as Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis, although, in a confusing way, people use words such as "indica" to describe Cannabis sativa varieties). And there is more: "cannabis" means both the drug that people smoke to get high, and hemp, which is not psychoactive and is used for fabrics. The same plant, different purposes, same word.
Moving on to scientific and medicinal single "cannabis" does not necessarily make it clear that it is okay to use cannabis for non-scientific and non-medicinal reasons
In Page's lab, cannabis in uppercase refers to the genus and the minuscule refers to the plant. He also uses "hemp" to describe cannabis that is grown for seeds for food or textiles. The psychoactive plant is called "pharmacological type cannabis" and will then use "cannabis" to describe only the part of the flower.
This is uncomfortable! It's hard to imagine teenagers saying, "Let's smoke some drug-type cannabis," right? "He will want to use language that corresponds to the way ordinary people use medicine," says Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist who teaches at the UC Berkeley Information School. "I do not think that cannabis is going to drive out marijuana in the general lexicon." In addition, he adds, words always change their meanings.
With "marijuana," there was always "a kind of humorous furtiveness about the drug," says Nunberg. The jargon word "pot" probably comes from the Spanish "potiguaya" (seeds), and the terms like "herb" and "herb" were meant to be ironic terms, getting into propaganda against marijuana as Reefer Madness. There will always be a variety of words used to describe drugs.
Getting rid of "marijuana" probably will not make a big difference to stigma, says Guerra. "I do not think changing the word 'marijuana' for marijuana serves to silence the stigma of what really happened and what happened during the war against cannabis and the people it targets," Guerra says. "I would not change the motives or arguments of either side."
There are benefits to keeping it. Not only is it a simple way to describe "the floral part of pharmacological type cannabis", but it reminds us that the plant is not just medicine. Moving on to scientific and medicinal single "cannabis" does not necessarily make it clear that it is okay to use cannabis for non-scientific and non-medicinal reasons.
And replacing "marijuana" with "cannabis" can erase its history. "The term should continue to be used so that people have to remember this problematic history and the problematic relationship we have with this plant and the kind of relationships that are created between different populations," Guerra says. As Page points out, the UBC botanist, it is rare that there is a different name for a part of the plant, such as the flower, in addition to the plant itself. That is the result of how wrapped marijuana is in different areas.
So, we do not have to discard the term completely, but we must remember its history. And we should use the best term for the best purpose. It makes sense to talk about "cannabis" when it comes to scientific study, and "marijuana" when talking about recreational use. And the words are still changing. For example, the term "dabbing" refers to a way in which people consume marijuana, but it has also been used to talk about a type of concentrate, according to Guerra. "We need academics to document and see where the patterns are that would allow us to understand these nuances," he says. This is a living discussion in a living language.