The racist roots of the term "marijuana"

Originally published at:


A weed by any other name would smell just as sweet.


As we say here in Brazil

They used the racist slur because no Philip-Morris profit over it.


I’ll no longer reefer to it that way


Wacky tabcky it is then? Weed? Herb? Devil’s lettuce?

seth meyers GIF by Late Night with Seth Meyers

my little pony rimshot GIF


The word ‘marijuana’ just means “Mary Jane” from Spanish. (and that’s exactly what a lot of my middle school aficionados of its use used to call it) [shrug]

marijuana (n.)
a preparation of Cannabis sativa for use as an intoxicant, generally by smoking, 1918, altered by influence of Spanish proper name Maria Juana “Mary Jane” from mariguan (1894), from Mexican Spanish marihuana, which is of uncertain origin. As the plant was not native to Mexico, a native source for the word seems unlikely.


Excited Season 3 GIF by The Simpsons


The word “marijuana” comes from Mexico, but its exact origins remain unknown. According to the book Cannabis: A History by Martin Booth, it may derive from an Aztec language or soldiers’ slang for “brothel” – Maria y Juana.

Urban legend, on the other hand, states that Tía Juana, which means “Aunt Jane” in Spanish, was a real person whose inn provided food and lodging to travelers

marijuana in tijuana. sounds like a cheech&chong never made.

mary jane from aunt jane as the alternative title?


So just call it MJ?

I tend to use cannabis, edible, or even THC as a name. No particular reason except perhaps I associate “marijuana” with the smoked version, but now I may have additional reason not to use it. (For now, I’m taking this article with a grain of salt, although it seems plausible because of course it’s probably racist. :rage: )


To be clear, cannabis is not the same thing as marijuana. Cannabis is a term that encapsulates both intoxifying and non-intoxifying (e.g. hemp) plants, while marijuana always referred to the intoxifying stuff.


I know people who call it that, with a direct nod to spiderman in their mind.



I mean, when that was written it may have been scary and exotic, but by now its blase and has so many syllables that there are a dozen (s?) of other terms for it.


Ironically lots of people still call it “weed”, which is derogatory by definition.

We don’t know the exact origin of the word “marijuana”, but it sounds like it was common Mexican slang. So a hundred years ago some asshole American bureaucrat comes along and tries to make it sound sinister because it’s “ethnic”, and now we’re resurrecting that connotation?

I have no problem using a different word* but it seems like we’re just playing by the rules of a long dead politician; it’s good to be aware of what he was doing but don’t give him a win.

(* as long as I don’t have to call it “doobage.”)


It’s interesting to see a word with racist roots in its usage that is not, itself, racist. It’s not even a word that was made problematic by being turned into a slur. It’s simply appealing to racists because, for other racists, it’s scary purely due to its Mexican origin. The way MAGAts started using “taco truck” - if you’re not approaching it from a racist perspective, it’s neutral (and potentially a source of delight), not horror.


The 1999 documentary “Grass” dives into this and traces not just prohibition, but specific laws and how they specifically targeted Mexican Americans at first, and then Black musicians by weaponizing a product that was widely cultivated before.


Like the word “queer” and so many others, I think it’s time to reclaim the word marijuana!
Mary Jane Weed GIF by Creative Courage


I like the old jazz term for it, “gauge,” as in blow your gauge!


I’m quite partial to the term jazz cabbage, but that also has racist tones.

Usually when it comes to terminology, if someone says not to use a term because it’s offensive, I’m easily convinced.
Something about the marijuana thing isn’t hitting me the same way, though. Maybe it’s because the people saying not to use it aren’t the actual offended people, due to racism or oppression, but people marketing the stuff.




Unless you’re part of the group that was in part smeared by specific terminology, you yourself can’t “take it back”?

Yeah, especially if it’s not a term that was used against ME specifically.

yeah, maybe… But of course, there has been an ongoing discussion around how it’s been primarily white entrepreneurs who’ve benefited from legalization, while the primary people STILL impacted by jail and surveillance around it are POC…

I don’t know… lots to think about here.


Let’s not forget Hearst and DuPont’s roles in conspiring with Anslinger to demonize cannabis for their own selfish financial and racist reasons. Hearst was denied access to Mexican lumber for paper production due to the Mexican Revolution (also hemp paper was cheaper to produce than wood pulp) and DuPont’s monopoly on nylon manufacturing was threatened by hemp cultivation used for rope and textiles.