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Marijuana vs. Cannabis vs. Marihuana – What’s in a Name?

March 15, 2017

Marijuana vs. cannabis vs. marihuana, what’s the difference? In an industry struggling to set standards, there are a lot of conversations over what types of laboratory testing should be conducted, what equipment can/should be used, how to develop/implement programs, what use restrictions should be imposed, and even what types of standard operating procedures (SOP’s) and good manufacturing practices (GMP’s) are appropriate for operations to adopt. Something I seldom hear discussed in my endeavors is how to correctly identify the Cannabis plant; so what do we know about marijuana vs. cannabis vs. marihuana?

Cannabis, is the genus that includes all three of the plant types; Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis, and is less commonly used by the public, legislators, and users alike. Cannabis is most commonly referred to throughout the United States (and abroad) as Marijuana… and no one really knows why. Some say the word was derived from Mexico, while other scholars believe that it came from China, Spain, or even the U.S. Whatever the case, it’s clear that there’s no single classification that is being used to describe it throughout the industry. However, Cannabis is the correct way to identify it.

The word Cannabis comes from Cannabaceae. which is a small family of flowering plants. As now circumscribed, the family includes about 170 species grouped in about 11 genera, including Cannabis (hemp), Humulus (hops) and Celtis (hackberries).

Pharmaceutical companies like Bristol-Myers Squib and Eli Lilly used Cannabis in medicines — widely sold in U.S. pharmacies — to treat insomnia, migraines, and rheumatism. From 1840 to 1900, U.S. scientific journals published hundreds of articles touting the therapeutic benefits of Cannabis.

In my profession, I spend a lot of time reading proposed legislation and regulatory measures that all pertain to Cannabis. But the use of the word varies depending on the jurisdiction. I have seen the word CannabisMarijuana, and Marihuana used in different Federal, State, and local documents that all refer to the legalization effort. In Ohio, the term “Marijuana” is what’s most widely used. In Michigan, they commonly refer to it as Marihuana and in Georgia, it is commonly referred to as Cannabis.

There has been some controversy over the correct name of the Cannabis plant, and most industry professionals either already know, or have come to learn that “Cannabis” is the most appropriate word to use in describing it. There are some groups throughout the world that consider the word Marijuana to be pejorative and racist, due to the classification given by drug enforcement agencies and government hacks in the 1930’s. They used the term in place of the scientific terminology (Cannabis), as a scare-tactic to convince the public that Mexicans were flooding our innocent communities with a plant that had the power to drive people mad and ultimately cause the downfall of our society. In their eyes, the term Marijuana sounds way better than using the correct terminology, which has been widely used by the scientific and medical communities for decades.

Several individuals have been pushing to classify an industry standard term for the plant. Steve DeAngelo, the founder of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California included in his book The Cannabis Manifesto a push to remove the negative name of Marijuana from the industry based on its racist history.

One state lawmaker Sen. Mike Gabbard (D-Oahu), introduced Senate Bill 786, which would replace “Medical Marijuana” with “Medical Cannabis.” This bill would require the Department of Health to change the terminology on all documentation, web, and print materials. The State of Hawaii would also be required to change the wording in all related pieces of “passed” legislation and rule-makings. Gabbard said that the word “Marijuana” creates “prejudicial implications rooted in racial stereotypes.” he went on to say that Cannabis has “no such negative connotations.” The bill has recently passed the House and will now crossover to the Senate side for further review.

In a time where this industry is still developing, it seems a bit irresponsible of us not to acknowledge and address this issue. Considering all the media attention given to the lack of diversity within the Cannabis industry, and the push to end Cannabis prohibition (based on the notion that it is destroying urban youth), shouldn’t we all do our due-diligence to ensure that racial prejudice is prevented from carrying over from a senseless drug war?

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