Ryan Alexander-Tanner

WHAT DO YOU call your herb?

Pot? Weed? Bud? The chronic? Sticky icky? Or maybe you use the most common everyday term: marijuana. After all, our state has the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, not the Oregon Medical Dank-Kind-Nugs Program.

But there's a growing movement to phase out the word "marijuana" and replace it with "cannabis." And there's some important history that makes a case for doing so.

Let's start with how common the word "marijuana" is. Until recently, the full title of this column was "Cannabuzz: The Week in Marijuana." But last month, I attended a meeting for the Oregon Growers Association, and one of the speakers said the term; an audience member corrected her by shouting out "Cannabis!" The speaker immediately made her mea culpas, saying, "Sorry, of course—cannabis, not marijuana."

Okay, but why not marijuana?

Brief history lesson time: Cannabis, as it is formally known, was the term used by medical journals and in news coverage for many years. It was a legal ingredient in numerous potions, elixirs, and medicines.

But in 1937, Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger (currently burning in hell) took it upon himself to get marijuana prohibited in the US by listing all the horrible things it did to people of color, turning them into raping, murdering maniacs. He introduced a number of disgusting, hateful, and racist falsehoods regarding marijuana use, setting into motion our failed War on Drugs.

He wasn't the first. In 1920, Mexico also prohibited marihuana or mariguana—"marijuana" being just a white-people-ized version of the word. Go back further, and you will see stories in the LA Times, which in 1905 wrote, "People who smoke marihuana finally lose their mind and never recover it, but their brains dry up and they die, most of times suddenly."

Some argue that the term isn't even an Americanized version of the Spanish word. Anthropologist Weston La Barre puts forth the theory that Chinese immigrants in Mexico at the turn of the century are responsible for the word, as one of the possible terms used by the Chinese for cannabis at the time was ma ren hua.

But while there's confusion over just how the word "marijuana" came into regular parlance, it's clear that it was originally used almost exclusively by plant prohibitionists—and the policies they supported for decades jailed hundreds of thousands of people, ruined lives, and resulted in misinformation that terrified the general public.

So while it's not a hanging matter to use terminology that's outdated and may hold connotations of a less enlightened time (i.e., the United Negro College Fund), you might want to consider upping your lexicon game and working to remove "marijuana" from your usage. The word evokes a period of ignorance, prohibition, and racism. The word "cannabis," however, is more closely associated with where we are now in terms of the plant—in a time of growing global awareness of its myriad uses to treat, heal, and soothe.