Recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made worldwide news with his proclamation that “Good people don’t smoke Marijuana”. It was a moral judgement on tens of millions of American citizens which was wholly undeserved. It also highlighted the word “Marijuana” again in our American social consciousness. This country is in the midst of a social revolution with one of it’s primary aims being to end racism in America. An admirable goal in almost anyone’s estimation. Plain and simple, America has decided to root out racism wherever it may be and purge it from our society. However, along the way, we missed one of the most bigoted and divisive terms of all, “Marijuana”.
It’s a racially biased slang term and that’s all it is. It is not the proper or scientific name of anything. And it’s appearance in American society has origins that are beyond suspicious and wholly racist in nature. Do you think you know this word and what it represents? You may not.
When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it – always.
– Mahatma Gandhi
While its’ exact origins are unknown, the term “Marijuana” was suddenly thrust into common usage during a hearing by a congressional panel in 1937. The nation’s new and first drug czar, Harry J Anslinger, during testimony said “We seem to have adopted the Mexican terminology, and we call it marihuana.”. This was no minor or innocent oversight. This was an attempt to associate the plant with poor Mexican immigrants who smoked it recreationally. At a time in the United States when fear of immigrants was high, putting a demon in their midst and calling it “Marijuana” was just what they felt they needed to drive immigrants out.
You might think that is overstated, but sadly it is not. This is a direct quote from that testimony where Anslinger was appearing before Congress a mere 80 years ago. Let me warn readers, when we say this term is steeped in bigotry and prejudice, we don’t mean a little bit of it either. Please remember when you use the word “Marijuana” you are using a term associated with the kind of thinking that prompted this congressional testimony from Harry Anslinger:
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use,” he said. “This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”
Adding to the frenzy, William Randolph Hearst also assailed cannabis in national headlines of the times with front page story titles like this: “Was it marijuana, the new Mexican drug, that nerved the murderous arm of Clara Phillips when she hammered out her victim’s life in Los Angeles?… Three-fourths of the crimes of violence in this country today are committed by dope slaves—that is a matter of cold record.”
Don’t you wish there was a knob on the TV to turn up the intelligence? There’s one marked ‘Brightness,’ but it doesn’t work.
This frenzy continued until the Marijuana Tax Act was finally passed, making cannabis illegal for Americans to possess. It provided law enforcement with a tool which they used to round up scores of Mexican immigrants and send them to jail for long periods or deport them from the country entirely.
What most Americans at the time did not know is “Marijuana” was known to them as cannabis when used in a variety of effective medications, and hemp, when used for the production of seed, fiber and oil based products. Most voting for this “tax act” were not aware when voting “yes”, they were wiping out the cannabis/ hemp industries with their votes.
Dr. William C. Woodward, legislative counsel of the American Medical Association, showed up to the same 1937 hearing to protest Anslinger’s feigned semantic innocence, accusing him of switching the name to fool groups that would have otherwise been opposed to the bill.
“I use the word ‘cannabis’ in preference to the word ‘marihuana,’ because cannabis is the correct term for describing the plant and its products,” Woodward said. “It was the use of the term ‘marihuana’ rather than the use of the term ‘cannabis’ or the use of the term ‘Indian hemp’ that was responsible, as you realized, probably, a day or two ago, for the failure of the dealers in Indian hempseed to connect up this bill with their business until rather late in the day.”
So, not only was it a term of racial hatred and derision, it was also a term used to fool and wipe out entire industries with the stroke of a pen. From it’s arcane mindset to the enormously destructive effect on people’s lives due to the baseless fear it created, the term “Marijuana” is anything but good. We invite you to really think about whether you want to continue to use this term on a daily basis.
Harborside Health Center, one of California’s largest and most influential dispensaries, has a page on its website devoted to the issue.
“The word ‘marijuana’ or ‘marihuana’ is an emotional, pejorative term that has played a key role in creating the negative stigma that still tragically clings to this holistic, herbal medicine,” it reads. “Most cannabis users recognize the ‘M word’ as offensive, once they learn its history. We prefer to use the word cannabis, because it is a respectful, scientific term that encompasses all the many different uses of the plant.”