Getting into a debate with your older sister that ends in “mari-hoo-wana, Canada, mari-ja-wana, America!” while the minivan your dad is driving creeps ever-closer to the border stop at the Thousand Islands is maybe not the greatest idea — but it happened. And though that was a good decade ago, I am still not sure what to call weed, other than… well, weed. So I decided to look it up.
Marihuana was the Canadian spelling of marijuana until the government decided to get with the program and convert it to marijuana (for the most part). But there’s actually a bit of an insidious history to that word, whether you use a j or an h.
In the US, in the 1930s, as the government moved toward prohibition, and worked to uphold supremacy against immigrants, Blacks, and Mexicans, ‘marijuana’ became a scary thing, with a name chosen to play on Mexican/Spanish origins, appearing as a foreign substance that would easily give way to reefer madness.
Cannabis is part of the scientific terms for the plant — Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, Cannabis ruderalis. It seems the government, and the medical industry, have grabbed hold of this term over any other options, maybe because of how clinical and neutral it sounds. You don’t smoke weed anymore, and you’re not in possession of marijuana — you’re consuming cannabis, or you’re medicating with a cannabis product.
Marihuana, marijuana, cannabis — or one of the million slang terms — whatever you want to call it, it’s clear that the language around this plant is evolving just as attitudes toward its use are evolving.