Is it Marijuana or Marihuana? The Reasons Behind the Two Spellings

The 2018 Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act decriminalizes the possession and use of marijuana by adults ages 21 and older in the state. The legalization of cannabis has prompted several legal questions for municipalities, employers, business owners, and residents and has become a hot topic among legal professionals.

While there are far more important legal issues to address when it comes cannabis, one small detail often leaves people scratching their heads: What’s with the “h?” Is the word spelled “marijuana” or “marihuana?”

“J” or “H?”

According to the Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA) both spellings are acceptable. To avoid confusion, the MRA suggests using the term “cannabis,” which is the botanical term for the plant. The word “cannabis” has a long history, when its use was first recorded in 4th Century BC.

“Marijuana” is a newer term, dating back to the late 19th century before it gained popularity in the 1930s. It has a Spanish origin, which explains the pronunciation of the “j” in the term.

The 1930s were a divisive time and the majority of cannabis users were minority populations. When the federal government passed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, it used an alternate spelling so readers of the time could best understand its Mexican origins and to give the newly scheduled drug the appearance of being dangerous and foreign.

Today most people use the original Spanish term because it provides distance from the fear-mongering of the era and Americans are less likely to mispronounce marijuana than they were in the past.

Why is the word “marihuana” still used?

While it is far more likely to find and use the word “marijuana” in everyday language, it is common to see “marihuana” used in legal contexts. That is because in 1937, the Act codified the spelling of “marihuana,” establishing a legal precedent to use the same spelling for all future laws to reduce ambiguity.

To change the spelling of a word used in legal statutes, Michigan and other states would have to pass a legislative act that codifies the change. This is a tedious process and few lawmakers have expressed an interest in making the change.

The attorneys at O’Reilly Rancilio are available to help employers, business owners, municipalities, and individuals with issues surrounding marijuana laws. For more information, visit our website or call 586-726-1000.

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