I was talking with a colleague the other day about the advent of legal recreational marijuana in Illinois when out of my mouth came words that horrified me the minute they emerged.

“I’ve never really liked dope,” I said.

I wasn’t horrified to admit I don’t like dope — I’m not embarrassed to say I prefer other paths to an altered state — but I cringed to hear myself call it that.

Mary Schmich


I mean, dope?

Did saying “dope” make me look old?

The minute I said it, I knew it did. It was like wearing a halter top, flowered bell-bottoms, a string of love beads and a middle part in my hair. All of which, I regret to say, I used to do, even though I’ve never really liked dope — or whatever it’s cool to call it now.

Is it still cool to say “cool?”

Whatever the word — marijuana? cannabis? weed? pot? — everybody’s talking about it these days, but as we talk, the question grows more urgent: What are we supposed to call this stuff?

Some of the groovy old words for it seem as outdated as “groovy.”

“I use ‘marijuana’ because that is the most common, widely understood term for it,” says my aforementioned colleague, Bob McCoppin, who’s covering the state’s legalization for the Tribune.

Many media organizations still use the word “marijuana.” It’s the generally preferred word in the AP Stylebook. But it, too, could soon seem outdated, stained as it is by racist associations.

If you said, “Really?” you’re not alone.

I didn’t realize until recently that in the early 1900s, “marijuana” — aka “marihuana” — came to be associated in racist ways with Mexican immigrants to the United States, a connection that played a role in the move to ban it.

There remains debate about the word’s racist roots, but there’s no doubt that the rise of the word “marijuana” — for a substance previously known as “cannabis” or “Indian hemp” — came attached with ugly racial attitudes.

One Prohibition leader even blamed marijuana for “Satanic music,” by which he meant jazz and swing.

But that was another century. Now the medicinal uses of marijuana are more widely accepted. The cultivation of the cannabis plant from which the drug is derived is big business. Laws are changing, and so are words.

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“We call it cannabis,” Illinois state Sen. Heather Steans, a leader in the state’s legalization movement, said when I asked for her preferred term. “‘Marijuana’ has a pejorative history.”

In the vernacular, Steans said, the current common terms are “weed” or “pot.”

But here in 2019 even “pot” comes with a whiff of Grandma’s attic.

“Well, I used to say ‘pot’ until my daughters upbraided me and instructed me that it is now ‘weed,’” says a friend with millennial children. “Does anyone still call it Mary Jane?”

Sorry, Granny, I don’t think so. But how would I know? I’m still saying, “dope.”

Reefer. Ganja. Grass. The slang for dope is vast, much of it redolent of distant times.

“Because it’s such a widely consumed substance and it’s been illegal for almost a hundred years, there had to be code words for it,” says Dan Linn, executive director at the Illinois chapter of NORML, which is the acronym for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Despite the organization’s name, Linn, too, prefers the term “cannabis” these days, though sometimes he’ll say “weed” or “pot” when talking with high school and college friends.

“Nostalgic terms from my youth,” he said. He means the 1990s.

And “dope?”

“If I’m talking amongst friends or purposely being tongue-in-cheek, then I might call it ‘dope,’” he says. “You’d have to go back to the ’80s or 1990s to find it referred to as that with consistency.”


The legalization trend raises more pressing questions than what to call this weed. Questions like: Who will reap the profits of the booming business? Have the potentially harmful effects been sufficiently explored?

But the smaller questions like what to call it matter too. The etiquette guru Lizzie Post addresses nomenclature in her new book “Higher Etiquette: A Guide to the World of Cannabis, From Dispensaries to Dinner Parties.”

Her answer is: Call it cannabis.

But don’t be surprised if the prediction by my friend who still calls it “pot” comes true:

“I’m betting that some of the truly old lingo will be reclaimed and repackaged as vintage. Reefer madness! If it was good enough for 1936, it’s good enough for 2019.”

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Mary Schmich writes for the Chicago Tribune.


(7) comments

Rick Czeczok

How did I know that Jonny would write about this first. Just look at his jumbled posts and you can tell he would be a proud expert on the subject matter. Now if he would only move out of his mommies basement. But then again where can you go on a Dj's pay, and have to pay for dope. What a mess this socialist is, No wonder he is a socialist he needs the government to hold his hand once mommy dies.


Now you have done it, Ricky! I defy you to prove that anybody, including johnny, has multiple mothers. It seems biologically impossible to do so. But I am always open to learning new things, so have at it with your explanation.




In the '20s we called it muggles. In Wisconsin you may as well call it heroin.


Are you that old, Jo? You called it "muggies" back in the '20s? I thought I might be the oldest of the denizens on these boards. Maybe the new cannabis marketeers ought to put it into chewable tablets and sell them as "Gummy Muggies". It has a certain alliterative ring. In states where they are illegal, they could be labeled as "Capone's Gummy Muggies". I, like this columnist, will not be a customer. Though I came of age during the drug revolution of the 1960s, and though over a long but sporadic time in my life I sampled the weed four times -- in Madison, Vietnam, Chicago and Paris -- it made me paranoid and I never liked it, much preferring even more dangerous drugs -- alcohol and cigarettes. Glad those days and vices are behind me, though my nights are not nearly as interesting as they were back in the day.


Sorry. I see it was called muggles, not muggies. The error does not change the gist of my comment, however.


Lol! No, "we" called it muggles back in the 20's. My friends and I have always heard it was an elixir that promoted long life. Sadly, we will never know.

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