Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute

Why ADAI is Using “Cannabis” Instead of “Marijuana”

Words matter.

And that’s why we’re working to replace the term “marijuana” on ADAI websites and resources with “cannabis,” following the recent passing of Washington State’s HB 1210.

This new law makes Washington State a pioneer on removing discriminatory language from cannabis-related official documents in the United States. The term “marijuana” came into popular usage in the U.S. in the early 20th century as anti-cannabis factions sought to leverage anti-immigrant sentiments by associating cannabis use with Latinx communities. Prior to that, throughout the 19th century, the plant was most commonly referred to by its scientific name, cannabis. Cannabis plants, particularly hemp, were primarily grown for commercial use at the time and had replaced cotton as the major cash crop in southern states by 1890.

During the Mexican Revolution of 1910, many Mexicans immigrated to the U.S. to escape the conflict. Not only did these immigrants use cannabis for textile and medicinal purposes, but they also smoked it recreationally. Prejudice and fears of these immigrants quickly became associated with their cannabis use. Politicians took advantage of this prejudice by adopting the foreign-sounding word “marijuana,” playing off public xenophobia as one way to boost support for prohibiting the drug. Anti-drug campaigners leveraged this association as well, creating campaigns that claimed cannabis turned users into killers and addicts, which further perpetuated prejudiced ideas against Mexican and Latin American immigrants.

The use of stigmatizing language has known harmful effects. Negative attitudes about substance use can adversely impact all aspects of an individual’s life, including health care quality and outcomes. As an organization committed to its mission to advance research, policy, and practice in order to improve the lives of individuals and communities affected by alcohol and drug use and addiction, we at ADAI believe strongly that stigmatizing language has no place in our work. The word “cannabis” is the scientific term for the plant, as well as a more neutral term that doesn’t perpetuate this harm, and therefore will be the word we use across ADAI’s websites and resources.

This change most significantly impacts our LearnAboutCannabisWA.org website, a state-funded resource with the mission of providing scientifically based education and information about cannabis for Washingtonians. This website is widely cited and used, with over 20,000 page views in 2021. We have now updated the site’s content and its URL to remove the term “marijuana” wherever possible (note: we are unable to update the content of resources we link to that are produced by other organizations). Similar changes have been made throughout this website as well.

Interested in learning more about this issue? Check out these resources: