Cannabis Word Cloud - Long Beach Cannabis

Kush. Bud. Herb.

What is appropriate to call marijuana in 2020?

As marijuana becomes more mainstream, the terminology for it is evolving and as entrepreneurs seek to capitalize on new laws legalizing recreational and medical marijuana, they too are grappling with what to call it.


Origins of the Term Marijuana

The word marijuana was created to stigmatize the drug and its effects. Born of the need for secrecy, pop culture references to marijuana have leaned towards slang phrasing; from mary jane and reefer in the 1950s and 60s; dope in the 70s; grass in the 80s; pot in the 90s; and more recently cannabis in the 2000s. You can tell what age people are by the word choice they use. Over the last ten years CBD (cannabidiol, cannabinoid) has also taken root in popular culture.

Why has there been such a large roster of terminology for the product, and what does the language of marijuana symbolize regarding its place in, and acceptance by, society.


Over the Decades

Early in the 20th Century at the end of prohibition, cannabis became stigmatized to replace alcohol, which was no longer illegal. As part of the federal push to demonize the substance, “marijuana” became its new nomenclature, due to its exotic (and therefore “dangerous”) sounding phrasing. The word is of Mexican Spanish origin and means “the weed that intoxicates”.

The main driving force behind the constantly changing terminology for cannabis is the change in attitude towards it. (Criminalization, pop culture, medical, and the beginning of societal acceptance in the 1950s and 60s). As legalization battles spread across the country in the 1990s, “marijuana” became an outmoded shibboleth; the use of ‘cannabis’ indicating someone who is more or less pro-normalization; whereas someone who uses ‘marijuana’ being anti.

The term “weed” has maintained consistency in usage over the years, whereas pot has degraded to a less serious phrasing than cannabis. Terms like cannabis and ganja date back centuries and have long been used to describe the plant and its medicinal properties, hence their increased usage as legalization has spread.

In 2013, NPR wrote an explanation where people said the word marijuana had racist and anti-immigrant implications.


2020s and Into the Future

Now in the 2020s the canna-business vocabulary is taking marijuana away from its roots as the term is viewed as having a pejorative meaning that dates back to the American anti-drug movement.

These days marijuana language is beginning to come clean as a result of its legalized recreational and/or prescription use in dozens of states including Massachusetts, Colorado, Washington, plus the District of Columbia. A kind of barometer of the drug’s political fortunes will be if in 20 years calling marijuana “weed”, or even “marijuana,” may sound as antiquated as was asking for a glass of “hooch” after Prohibition ended.

Heading to a Long Beach dispensary to buy a few nugs or dabs? This $10 billion industry would prefer that you just called it cannabis.


The Myths of “4/20”

Let’s dispel some myths which have taken root about this unofficial holiday that celebrates marijuana:

1. Celebrity deaths – some believe 4/20 was inspired by Bob Marley who they presume died on this day. Actually, he died on May 11, 1981 (and BTW, his birthday was February 6, so 4/20 is unrelated there as well). Similar myths are often repeated for Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison.

2. Police code – untrue is the rumor 420 is the police code for calling all units and marijuana smoking in progress. Neither is 420 the penal code for possession of marijuana. In actuality, 420 is the radio code for homicide.

3. Bob Dylan – who’s lyric “Everybody must get stoned” in the song “Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35” has led some to deduce that 420, as the summation of 12 multiplied by 35, mathematically connects Dylan to 420. While cute to believe, this is false.

4. Chemistry – the presumption of 420 chemical compounds in the flower is another myth. There are actually only 315 chemicals in cannabis.

5. Grateful Dead – the myth that the band’s musicians insisted on staying in rooms numbered 420.

The Actual Meaning of “4/20”

In 1971, a small group at California’s San Rafael High School would meet at a designated location every day at 4:20 p.m. to smoke weed. Why 4:20 PM? Some of them had sports activities after classes ended at 3 PM, so they decided to schedule their meet-ups afterwards, at 4:20 PM. The group — the Waldos, began using the expression “420” as their code for toking when they would see each other in the hallways during the day. The reference ultimately spread across the country, incorporating the date 4/20 (April 20) as a date for celebrating cannabis.

Flyer Origin 4/20 Holiday

Flyer Origin of the 4/20 Holiday


In Film

Blockbuster movies featuring smokers include 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, 1993’s “Dazed and Confused”, and 1998’s “The Big Lebowski”. In 2008’s “Pineapple Express,” starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, marijuana was central to the plot.


The Language of the 2020s

Names will continue to multiply as new products enter this market. Doobies, muggles, stoner, and Mary Jane are out replaced by newer product terms like dabs, vape and pre-roll, which is a pre-rolled joint.