Karilen Mays, Soulful Cannabis contributor

Cannabis or marijuana? Which one is right?

In our introductory post we touched on some of the thinking behind this series and some of the terminology around medical cannabis, more commonly known as medical marijuana. 

It is worth recapping that the term cannabis refers to the botanical or formal name of the plant. All other names, including marijuana have historically come from cultural creations, often with negative connotations. 

From our original Language Matters post:

“Pot, weed, dope, ganja and marijuana are all slang terms for cannabis.   Cannabis is the botanical name of the plant. All of the other names were assigned by street culture and then mis-assigned by law enforcement authorities and government officials seeking to prohibit access to the plant.  Today, the language used around cannabis has been used to perpetuate a propaganda campaign to continue prohibition of the plant.”

The state of Pennsylvania itself in law defines its program as a “Medical Marijuana” program, but does not formally define marijuana. 

Are you curious about marijuana or cannabis? Why does the state itself use the term marijuana? What is your experience and impression of marijuana?

Without definitive research or speaking to the people who introduced it, I can only infer that the word marijuana is used because that is the most common term, even among other states that are changing laws around cannabis. 

The medical marijuana program defines medical marijuana for medical use, so it includes all of the forms available via cannabis dispensaries.

According to Penn Medicine marijuana actually refers to the dry leaf, which is only one available product for patients in Pennsylvania, even though medical marijuana does include all of the formats available, not limited to dry leaf. 

There are so many definitions, from the state law, medical institutions, and even the dictionary. 

What can we do?

We may use different language in different contexts. How can we communicate a genuine truth while using concepts others know? What can we do about such different views on cannabis? It takes connection and curiosity. 

For example, do we as advocates call someone out if they are referring to registered medical marijuana card holders or patients as druggies, stoners, or otherwise speaking negatively? 

Not necessarily. They may have had prior experience that has led them to have these views. It takes a relationship built on mutual respect to come to terms, so to speak, with a new reality, such as medical cannabis in Pennsylvania. First, we must cultivate honest, truthful, transparent relationships to be able to face these broader issues within our communities and governments, and even within the same family at times.

Be an advocate for medical cannabis and creating awareness of what this plant truly is, rather than reinforcing stereotypes. 

When and where you can, use the word cannabis. Try it.

“I am a medical cannabis patient.”

“I can share what I know about medical cannabis with you.”

“Yes, the state has a medical cannabis program.”


Then get curious about other’s experience. What do they know about cannabis? Are they still holding common misunderstandings? Is someone else interested in what we know?  

With curiosity and a commitment to expressing our true reality then a new shared understanding can take shape, free from harm and the baggage of the past.