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The Marketing Dilemma of Cannabis vs. Weed

Most dispensaries prefer to call their products “cannabis” because it sounds more professional than “weed.” However, the most common search term for dispensary-specific terms on Google and other major search engines is “weed.”

So that presents a challenge in marketing and branding for marijuana dispensaries. How do we reconcile these two things? Here, we will explore the difficulties of market­ing and doing search engine optimiza­tion (SEO) for an online cannabis retailer that wants to use the word “cannabis,” but must compete for potential clients searching for the term “weed.”

Cannabis vs. Weed, a History

First, There Was Marijuana

The term “marijuana” first appeared in American newspapers during the 1890s, via international news outlets, from Mexico.

Marijuana was called marihuana in Mexico since the 1840s. It caught on in the United States in the late 1800s when American newspapers started publishing articles from Mexico written in English. Marijuana was considered taboo in Mexico long before it was in the United States because of its association with perceived “low-class” Mexicans like soldiers or prisoners


The word “weed” was first used to describe cannabis in America by the early 1900s, but it has also referred to any noxious plant going back at least as far as the 1400 and tobacco dating back to 1601.

The term may be a derivation of the Mexican plant species known by the name “locoweed” (or “weed”), which thrives in southwestern and northern Mexico. Marijuana was often used interchangeably with weed in late nineteenth-century America, so the two plants became conflated when stories about weed began to reach the United States.


Cannabis is the scientific name of the hemp plant, from which marijuana is derived. The name was established in the 1700’s.

With the legalization of recreational and medical cannabis becoming increasingly popular across the United States, many legislators were uncomfortable using the word “marijuana” and wanted to stick to its scientific name because of the controversy surrounding the plant. It’s no doubt influenced the growth of the phrase in recent years.

Many dispensaries and industry groups have adopted the term cannabis instead of weed, marijuana, or even pot. They likely did so to emphasize the drug‘s medicinal benefits and to project an image of sophistication.

The Weed Stigma

Due to the history and association with the word “weed,’ it makes sense that dispensaries might want to avoid using the word in their branding and marketing efforts. “Weed,” which has a negative connotation, is often associated with buying drugs on the street in a baggy.

This stigma can be difficult to shake, even with the increasing acceptance of the cannabis plant across the United States. Some studies have shown that using words like “weed” can actually decrease people’s perceptions of the product‘s quality.

Continued Popularity

Despite this, ‘weed’ continues to be the popular word for the plant in the U.S. This is changing as “cannabis” becomes more popular, but from the perspective of using keywords to help a website get found on Google, it puts dispensaries in a bind.

One of the most common solutions used by dispensaries for this problem is to put the word cannabis in prominent locations, such a title and heading, and then sneak weed into the text where it’s less likely to be seen but is still picked up. Most dispensary owners don’t want the “weed” word anywhere on their websites, but they’re willing to put up with it if it means they get better rankings from Google.

The Last Toke

The good news for everyone is that this problem is probably temporary. As cannabis becomes increasingly popular, “weed’ will gradually become less common. As can be seen by the growing popularity of the term “cannabis” among Internet searchers, this is already happening.

Meanwhile, dispensaries and industry groups will have to use a variety of different strategies to try and rank high in search engines for both keywords.