What’s in a Word
Paul Paul, Nimbin Hemp Embassy
Weed is the most popular slang word for marijuana, by definition, a weed is an uncultivated, unwanted plant to be pulled out and destroyed before it spreads.
So why is it we call one of the oldest cultivated, most wanted, selected and improved plants on the planet, weed?
The word weed’s earliest association with marijuana was thru the newspapers of the late 1800’s in relation to hashish madness. It was then attached to marijuana from Mexico and gained traction with the rise of marijuana madness. Mexico was ruled by a brutal dictatorship in the late 1800’s, which would lead to a general breakdown of law and revolution. The Mexican government responded by declaring marijuana the source of the problem, with increasingly strict and unsuccessful controls.
Hashish was the main form of cannabis available in the US at the time and mostly imported. Then marijuana began to be reported to grow abundantly on the US, Mexican border and is regularly denigrated as the devil’s weed, loco weed, dope weed, noxious weed, the dreaded “Mexican Weed that inspires many Killings” (1922), in a racist war against the herb by the US newspapers, blaming marijuana for the troubles on the border. It was seen as the new hashish, stronger, worse, easier to produce.
Calling it weed denies its long history of cultivation, selection, improvement and use for medicine, religion, food and craft. As one of the original domesticated crops, the herb we consume is as far from being a weed as it could be.
Calling it weed implies that it’s a plant that should be destroyed like any weed that encroached on the nation’s farms and gardens and on your families. Weed is the white man’s insult. Bob Marley and Peter Tosh never called it weed.
Despite this history, people are going to say it forever, it’s OK to say it, it’s part of the language. There’s always context, there’s moments weed fits the conversation, the song or the joke but everyone says it all the time, everyone and all the media, both mainstream and alternate media and no-one considers why we say it. We forget that our grandparents were hammered with fear of the “Mexican Weed of Madness” and encouraged to weed it out.
Technically a herb is a short-lived plant but in general terms a herb is widely considered a cultivated plant with long standing tradition of either culinary, medicinal or spiritual use. A herb is not a plant we specifically aim to eliminate like a weed. When we know a plants value, it ceases to be a weed and becomes a valued herb. So maybe you might consider using it, just every now and then, to raise the vibe around the plant, to remind people that it really is a long cultivated, medicinal herb, because we really have kept this plant by our side for a very long time.
P.S. Ironically, hemp cropping can be used to smother out weeds.