Illustration by Emma McAdams.

Illustration by Emma McAdams

Published November 2, 2023

Marijuana or mary jane?

Cuestiones con Cruz: Is ‘marijuana’ more than just a word?

By Alyssa Cruz | Culture Editor

Weed. Pot. Cannabis. Dope. Tree. Mary Jane. All these words are essentially used interchangeably to refer to marijuana. With Issue 2 on Ohio’s ballot this election, there has been a lot of discourse about the psychoactive drug, but where did it come from, and is it racist?

The cannabis plant has been used in Mexico for centuries but actually originated in central Asia as far back as 500 BC. The purpose of the plant was not necessarily to get high, rather, it was used medicinally.

Cannabis is a Latin word that derives from the Greek word kannabis, meaning hemp. Hemp fiber had many purposes including its use to make clothes, paper, sails and rope. Additionally, the seeds were consumed as food.

After its cultivation levels grew in Asia, it was introduced to Africa, Europe and then the Americas. Thanks to Spanish missions, the crop did well in colonial America.

Of course, these hemp plants were not the cannabis we know today. It had very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC. This is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid extracted from the marijuana plant, according to the National Institutes of Health. This component is the chemical that makes people feel high.

Marijuana was not used widely for recreational purposes until the 1900s in the U.S. Thanks to the Mexican Revolution, many immigrants from Mexico came to the U.S. and were credited with introducing smoking recreationally to American culture.

Marijuana has long been accepted as the more appropriate and formal term along with cannabis. However, did you know marijuana is slang itself? Looking at the word plainly, it reads as Spanish. That is because it is and is dubbed as a “Mexican Spanish” word.

According to The Guardian, the origin of the word marijuana is disputed, and its exact origins are unknown. However, a widely accepted origin story cites the slang of Aztec soldiers. The plant was commonly found at brothels, and the slang word was “Maria y Juana,” and “marijuana” is merely a product of that.

Right now, there are disputes over whether the word marijuana is racist due to its Mexican connotation.

According to NPR, the term rose to popularity during the 20th century by anti-cannabis campaigns in order to highlight the “Mexican-ness” of it to align with anti-immigrant sentiments. Powerful interests further played into this narrative by combining the fear of brown people with the fear of drugs, which eventually led to restrictions in states and federal prohibition.

American society was not the only one that tried to market marijuana as a dangerous and harmful drug, the American press and government were doing it years before, and it was actually made illegal in Mexico two decades before negative notions about the plant broke into U.S. opinion.

Looking at the usage of the word “marijuana” now, some people say they refrain from the word saying its use is racist. Others claim the word is such a part of society and does not inspire a racist association.

Isaac Campos is one of these people and the author of “Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs.” He said Mexicans were the first to introduce the act of smoking it through cigarettes. Because of this, he claimed this is the reason the word stuck and why it is politically correct. He used the example of the word “salsa” and how it is unique to a Mexican sauce but still a common part of popular vocabulary to reinforce his claim.

Despite it being slang, cannabis and marijuana are used interchangeably on the Issue 2 ballot. Part of the proposed law is to enact Chapter 3780 of the Ohio Revised Code. Enacting Chapter 3780 would “define adult use cannabis to mean marijuana as defined in Section 3719.01 of the Revised Code.”

There has been a call for marijuana to be universally referred to as cannabis, but many claim that would be factually incorrect. Scientifically, cannabis sativa L refers to the entire plant and consists of different strains, which includes hemp. However, marijuana refers to the psychoactive strain, or the THC strains.

So, what’s the solution? Continue to use marijuana? Only use cannabis? Create a new word? Whichever school of thought you subscribe to, now you know the history of the word.

Alyssa Cruz is a junior studying journalism and Spanish at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Alyssa by tweeting her at @alyssa_danccruz.

AUTHOR: Alyssa Cruz

EDITOR: Meg Diehl

COPY EDITOR: Arielle Lyons