For many cannabis consumers, "marijuana" and "cannabis" are mere synonyms used to indicate the same plant. Many people don't know, however, how varied the histories of cannabis and marijuana truly are. As cannabis becomes more widely accepted, the way that the plant is referred to in the public sphere becomes more critical to consider. While this is true with anything that represents a changing social norm, referring to cannabis properly is one of the most sure-fire ways to earn acceptance for the plant in the future. While there are many slang terms used to refer to cannabis, aficionados everywhere are beginning to agree that changing the way consumers talk about the plant is one of the most direct paths to changing public viewpoints on it as well.
Cannabis has a long history of serving human beings. For the last 10,000 years, hemp and hemp derivatives have been used in textiles, rituals, burials and medicines. In Egyptian civilizations, hemp also has a long history of use as a food source, lamp oil and paper material. While the cannabis plant has boasted many titles throughout history (cannabis, marijuana, hashish and hemp, to name a few) the name of the herb itself wasn't a point of focus until the 1930s, when narcotics agents began to cast aside the scientific term "cannabis" in favor of the more pejorative Mexican word "marijuana."
According to well-known marijuana scholar H.L. Mencken, there are actually no known uses of the term "marijuana" until the late 1800s, when prohibitionists began to use terms like "marijuana" and "devil's weed" to discourage the general public from using the plant. While the word "marijuana" may not seem sinister to modern-day consumers, it's important to remember that prohibitionists began using the Mexican-Latino term as a way to associate the herb with Mexican immigrants. These immigrants were responsible for the first introductions of cannabis into American society, and many Americans during that time regarded these immigrants as dangerous, sinister and thieving. Because of this connection, many current cannabis aficionados interpret the word "marijuana" to be pejorative and discriminatory.
In 1937, the name-game surrounding cannabis became heated thanks to something called the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. This act was the first piece of official legislation to expressly prohibit marijuana. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 outlawed all parts of the Cannabis plant except for the stalks and oils, which could be used for industrial purposes. During hearings surrounding the act, the assistant attorney of the Treasury Department made a widely-publicized statement, claiming that the tops, leaves and seeds of the hemp plant were home to a dangerous and addictive drug that went by the name of marijuana. This statement, combined with the prior efforts of prohibitionists, is where much of the pejorative weight of "marijuana" comes from.
While many modern consumers understand that the words "marijuana" and "cannabis" are used to refer to the same plant, many are unaware of the pock-marked history of the word "marijuana." While the word "marijuana" does not pack any sinister weight in and of itself, many cannabis users take issue with the negative historical implications of the term. Because of this, "cannabis" has become the preferred lexicon. In addition to being perceived as more elegant, "cannabis" manages to escape negative historical connotations and contributes to the effort of aficionados and researchers alike to lead the public to regard this plant in a scientific and evidence-based fashion.