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Cannabis vs Weed vs Marijuana: Understanding the Difference

Cannabis vs Weed vs Marijuana: Understanding the Difference

What’s in a word? Sometimes, quite a bit. The terms cannabis, weed, and marijuana raise essential questions about the language we choose. Do they mean different things? In what context were they used historically? Can different words for something make you perceive it differently? This article will explore these questions so that you can answer the most important question for yourself: What’s the difference between cannabis vs weed vs marijuana?

What is Cannabis?

Let’s take a short stroll through cannabis history so we know what cannabis is before we get to what the other two terms mean.

The term Cannabis refers to plants from the Cannabaceae family. It has been cultivated by humans for at least 10,000 years. We have used its fibers for over 5600 years, and the psychoactive flowers of female cannabis plants have been used for religious, medicinal, and recreational purposes for at least 2700 years.

In 2019, researchers from the University of Vermont finally placed the plants’ origins in northeastern Tibet. From there, Cannabis was initially spread globally by hunter-gatherers who foraged the seeds. Then, at some point, humans wised up and domesticated the plant. From then on, cannabis evolved through artificial selection as humans bred plants with desired traits. 

It was used as medicine 4900 years ago in China and 3600 years ago in India. As time passed, the seeds were heavily traded, and humans expanded the plant’s habitat throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. Cannabis arrived in the western hemisphere sometime in the 1600s.

Today, most canna-connoisseurs say there are two species: plant Cannabis Sativa and plant Cannabis Indica. These categories have different physiological effects. For example, Sativas are described as uplifting and mood-boosting, while Indicas offer calm, sedative effects. However, according to a genetic study on cannabis published in the journal PLOS ONE, this classification methodology is inaccurate. Moreover, if you ask a botanist how many species there are, you will get very different answers. Uh oh.

Some botanists believe that the cannabis genus comprises three distinct species, Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis. Others believe that all cannabis plants fall under one species because every type of cannabis plant, whether labeled hemp, weed, marijuana, C. Sativa, or C. Indica, can breed and produce viable offspring.

In reality, thousands of years of widespread domestication resulted in the extinction of unaltered, wild cannabis. The plants we see today have been heavily cross-bred for preferred traits, resulting in a complicated mixture of genes. The legal status of our favorite plant adds another layer of complexity. Cannabis studies have been restricted for decades, so there’s scant research on genetic origins. About the only thing that we seem to agree on is that it’s all cannabis.

So where does that leave weed and marijuana? Did you notice those words were not used in this synopsis? Did you wonder why? 

What is Weed?

Human beings don’t like weeds. We pull them up, tear them out, and otherwise uproot them. Weeds are a pest. A nuisance. We hate weeds so much that we made a chemical spray that kills them but leaves our lush green laws intact. It’s called Roundup. Never mind that Roundup may cause cancer. We hate weeds way more than cancer. 

Dictionary definitions vary, but they all agree that a weed is any undesired, uncultivated plant. Especially one growing or propagating so efficiently that it crowds out the preferred crop or disfigures your lawn (We really love our lawns. Drought? What drought?)

Is Cannabis A Weed?

So, is cannabis a weed? As a matter of science, there’s considerable debate. But as a matter of common sense, it seems like the answer’s gotta be a resounding no. Cannabis is a highly beneficial plant with a high commercial value. We typically do not tear them out or uproot them unless it’s part of a law enforcement effort to eradicate an illegal garden, and those days, thankfully, are coming to an end.

The cannabis we use today is not uncultivated or self-propagating either. If we woke up in the morning and our lawn was magically overtaken by uncultivated self-propagating cannabis plants, we would be delighted. We should all be so lucky. 

Instead, we spend billions of dollars cultivating and propagating in state-of-the-art facilities that look more like laboratories than farms. In the final analysis, this term is reserved for nuisance plants with no substantive beneficial use. Cannabis does not fit this definition.

Where Does The Word Weed Come From?  

So if cannabis is not a weed, why do we call it that? It’s possible that the word has origins in the word “locoweed,” a Mexican slang term for cannabis. This theory is a bit murky, but a common version of how cannabis was criminalized in the United States in the 1930s involves spreading the anti-Mexican sentiment and propaganda that Mexican “locoweed” caused rampant criminality in minorities. It’s a formula that worked so well Nixon later emulated it with the Controlled Substances Act, which placed cannabis on Schedule 1. 

One problem with this theory is that the word didn’t really grab as the slang of choice in cannabis culture until the last decade. If locoweed was the Mexican influence and inspiration for the vernacular, it seems reasonable to think that we would have seen the word used in the previous 100 years, particularly in the cannabis propaganda. But we don’t.

Should We Use The Word Weed?

Maybe it’s just this simple. Weed is slang for cannabis in the way that brew is slang for beer. While that certainly untangles things, it ignores the unique place cannabis occupies in our society: Cannabis is still federally illegal, and the stigmas around cannabis persist. Is it the best word considering those circumstances? You decide.

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a far more controversial word than weed because its origins are clear. We don’t see the word marijuana in American culture before 1910. Back then, cannabis was used as an ingredient in many medicines. Cannabis was also a term in common usage.

Where Does The Term Marijuana Come From?

Beginning in 1910, the United States experienced a massive influx of Mexican immigration from refugees fleeing The Mexican Civil War. By 1920, close to one million Mexicans had come to the U.S., and they introduced smoking cannabis recreationally. 

In the 1930s, the Great Depression hit, and Mexican immigrants were perceived as a threat to “American” jobs (sound familiar?). Harry Anslinger, the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, fed these nationalist fears with a racially motivated campaign to demonize Mexican immigrants and cannabis. A crucial part of his strategy to stoke anti-Mexican sentiment was to change the language. Anslinger used marijuana, the Mexican term for cannabis, to vilify the marijuana plant and the Mexicans and minorities that used it. When you control the language, you control the narrative.

Outspoken and incendiary, Anslinger is quoted as saying: 

“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind…The primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”

William Randolph Hearst also played a key role in Anslinger’s anti-marijuana crusade. At the time, he controlled a media empire that would dwarf Comcast or Fox. The Hearst media machine’s sensationalized yellow journalism linked “marijuana” use by minorities with insanity and violence.

Marijuana Tax Act of 1937

The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 (“MTA”) codified Hurst and Anslinger’s propaganda when it became the law of the land. However, the law didn’t actually outlaw marijuana but instead implemented a tax burden so onerous it worked as a de facto ban. Then, in 1969, the MTA was found unconstitutional in a famous case involving Timothy Leary, the Harvard professor turned counterculture icon.

The Nixon administration responded with the Controlled Substances Act, an even harsher continuation of Anslinger’s policies. One of Nixon’s senior advisors, John Ehrlichman, was later quoted as saying:

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”

What The Term Marijuana Came To Stand For

As a result of Anslinger, Hearst, and the continuation of their marijuana policies advanced by Nixon and the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana became a word that associated cannabis with criminality, violence, and negative racial stereotypes. Cannabis was no longer the beneficial plant found in medicines used by Americans for wellness. It was now Marijuana, and it was bad, and so were the people that used it. 

Should We Use The Term Marijuana?

Marijuana remains the most common word for cannabis used in the United States. But does using it support a history of racism and oppression? Feelings about the word seem to reflect the polarization we see across issues in today’s culture wars. 

For some, dropping racially charged language is always a good idea. Others roll their eyes and mock that it’s now legal to smoke marijuana but not OK to say marijuana. The fact that most people are likely unaware of the word’s history adds a layer of complexity. The history of cannabis is not taught in American Civics, but it should be. It is inseparable from the civil rights movement that still marches forward today.  

As recently as 2020, an American Civil Liberties Union analysis found that “Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, notwithstanding comparable usage rates.” When the law itself still expresses racial prejudice in marijuana arrests, the favored argument that the term marijuana is no longer racially charged is questionable. 

So, What About The Word Pot?

The term pot is more generic than marijuana, so it may be less weighted with the racist baggage associated with cannabis. It also has a long history of use in literature (i.e., Alice B Toklas), film (Cheech & Chong), music (Bob Marley) and even legislation. 

At least as early as the 1930s, the term “pot” has been used to refer to smoking cannabis. In a 1938 short story, author Chester Himes referred to smoking pot. Other dictionaries attribute the term to the 1930s as well, saying it probably comes from a Spanish term for cannabis leaves. In more modern times it became a more general term for cannabis, be it smoked or eaten.

While this reference generally avoids the racial connection, it still implies a level of recreational use with slightly different shading. Whether or not this is problematic depends on the context and personal preference. 

The Importance of Understanding the Difference

What’s in a word? Turns out quite a bit. On the surface, weed and marijuana are both just different words for cannabis, but both carry additional meaning when viewed in their historical context.

Should cannabis culture unite to reject these two slang terms? Beyond the practical impossibility, censorship is not the answer. You can’t have freedom without freedom of speech. The marketplace of ideas should remain open and without restriction.

A sound middle path is to be mindful of language. Remember that the words you choose may mean more than you think they do and that meaning has consequences. Cannabis is your community. Your language controls the narrative about it. Choose your words wisely. 


What Are Other Terms For The Word Cannabis?

While there are 1,200 nicknames for cannabis there are a few that stand out:

  • Hemp
  • Ganja
  • Bud
  • Sticky ick
  • Mary Jane
  • Kush
  • Reefer
  • Herb
  • Skunk
  • Chronic
  • Za

Why Is It Important To Be Mindful Of Language When Referring To Cannabis?

It’s important to be mindful of language when referring to cannabis because words have the power to influence public perception and shape our understanding of the plant. By using more neutral language like “cannabis” instead of words with racial or negative connotations, we can help to create a more positive image and understanding of the plant. Additionally, using less controversial terms may help to avoid potential legal troubles in jurisdictions where cannabis is still criminalized.

What Are The Implications Of Using Racially Charged Language When Talking About Cannabis?

Using racially charged language when talking about cannabis can be damaging to both individuals and the entire cannabis community. It reinforces the false idea that cannabis use is primarily a problem among communities of color, which has been used in the past to justify discriminatory practices such as unequal enforcement of drug laws.

Additionally, using racist terms could make people who do not feel comfortable with them less likely to join the cannabis conversation and/or industry, potentially preventing progress toward more equitable representation in the space. It is also important to avoid terms that may have been created by or popularized by certain racial groups as a way of maintaining respect for their culture and history. This can help ensure that everyone feels welcome and included in the conversation.

King’s Crew Loves California Cannabis

King’s Crew is grateful to everyone on the front lines and underground culture who stood up to injustice and fought for legalization. The truth survived the lie. Cannabis is not harmful to society. On the contrary, it is a beneficial plant that helps people. This magical plant stands for human wellness, compassion, and community. 

At Kings Crew, we never take the privilege of providing safe access to recreational and medical marijuana to our Long Beach community for granted. We are committed to providing the best cannabis products, atmosphere, and customer service in all of Long Beach. Visit us anytime, or order online for discrete delivery!

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