Drop ‘marijuana’ moniker

Published on January 27, 2019 by Special to the oz.

From the 1930s film Reefer Madness: "Marijuana… the burning weed with its roots in hell"

By Gary Johnston

The Cannabis Potcast

Please… stop calling it marijuana!

Maybe you use that name because you think it’s a cool name. Maybe you call it marijuana because it’s what you’ve been hearing for years. Today I want to share some good reasons why you should never again refer to cannabis as marijuana.

Whether you spell marijuana with a ‘j’ or an ‘h,’ the negative aspects of that word are buried deep in the culture of the United States in the early 1900s. Throughout the 19th century, news reports and medical journal articles almost always use the plant’s formal name – cannabis.

Many accounts say that “marijuana” came into popular usage in the U.S. in the early 20th century.  Anti-cannabis factions of the time were trying to underscore the “Mexican-ness” of cannabis, playing off the anti-immigrant sentiments prevalent then – and apparently still prevalent for some. This helped create the background for propaganda films of the time like Reefer Madness where they imagined far fetched outcomes from the “marijuana menace.”

While pre-1900 cannabis had been mentioned for its medical usage or as an industrial textile, post-1900 marijuana was being quoted in stories like this from a 1905 Los Angeles Times report: “People who smoke marihuana finally lose their mind and never recover it, but their brains dry up and they die, most of times suddenly.”

It was like we were talking about two separate drugs.

It got worse in 1937. That’s when U.S. Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger testified before congress in hearings that would eventually conclude with federal restrictions on marijuana. Those restrictions exist nationally to this day.

Anslinger used the term marijuana to reinforce the plant’s foreign identity wanting to radicalize the plant for white audiences. His testimony included this: “Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind. Most marijuana smokers are negroes, hispanics, filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage.”

Probably most today who call cannabis “marijuana” have no idea of the origin of the phrase and use it interchangeably with cannabis.

Marijuana has too many connections to a dark and dangerous past. We should mark legalization in Canada by taking a bold step. Let’s remove marijuana from common vernacular and proudly extoll the virtues and benefits of cannabis.

Hear more about what’s happening in Canadian Cannabis Culture. Join me every week on The Cannabis Potcast – available wherever you get your podcasts. Or go to cannabispotcast.com. (Resources for this article included The Ottawa Citizen, Leafly.com and National Public Radio.)

Gary Johnston is the creator and host of The Cannabis Potcast. Listen to Episode 9 now:

Glossary: 1940s slang


The word marijuana is of Mexican origin and means “the weed that intoxicates.”

Jive slang for cannabis

Muggles, mooter, Mary Warner, Mary Jane, Indian hay, loco weed, love weed, bambalacha, mohasky, mu, moocah, grass, tea or blue sage. Cigarets made from it are killers, goof-butts, joy-smokes, giggle-smokes or reefers.

The roach

When he has smoked a reefer down to a half-inch butt, he carefully conserves it in an empty match box. In this condition it is known, in Mexican, as a chicharra, or in English, as a “roach.”

Time Magazine from 1943