What the H— is up with spelling marijuana as ‘marihuana’?

Cops are different than most people.

Along with enthusiastically enforcing ludicrous laws that prohibit the use of a perfectly good plant, they do weird things like wear mustaches unironically, pretend texting at stoplights is dangerous, and regularly shoot unarmed black men.

They also have a habit of spelling the word marijuana with an H.

I’ve worked in a lot of different newsrooms over the years and have received countless press releases from police departments boasting about their latest big “marihuana” bust. It was always jarring, a bit like how Ricky from Trailer Park Boys pronounces jalapeno.


To be fair, they aren’t the word police, they’re the police police. These are people who named their annual charity fundraiser Cops For Cancer rather than the more accurate Cops Against Cancer.

But choosing to misspell marijuana seems almost willfully ignorant. A bit like the laws themselves.

Even Google thinks it’s strange.


People roll and spark up J’s, not H’s. Cannabis is nicknamed Mary Jane, not Mary Hanna. Which is probably for the best since a Tom Petty song called Mary Hanna’s Last Dance wouldn’t be nearly as catchy.


Nobody seems entirely sure the reason why Canadian and U.S. governments went with the more phonetic Spanish spelling although it seems to predate prohibition. It could just be one of those enduring errors of history, like still calling Indigenous people “Indians” because Christopher Columbus thought he’d landed in India back in 1492.

Here is how Health Canada explains the haziness surrounding the spelling:

The common way to spell marijuana is with a “j” – however, the legal name and the way it is used under the program is with an “h”. As a result you will often see marijuana spelled two ways from Health Canada:

  1. When referring to it in general terms “j”
  2. When referring to the Program (Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulation).

But attitudes and laws surrounding cannabis are changing fast. There’s no reason spelling can’t too. As our own former pot-smoking Prime Minister might say: Because it’s 2017.

Alternatively, we could all just agree to call it cannabis and be done with it.