Marijuana is Racist?

It goes by many names: dope, herb, grass, weed, reefer, chronic. Without a doubt it’s proper, scientific name is Cannabis, but one of the most well known names for the dried flowers of the cannabis plant is marijuana. 

Today the terms “cannabis” and “marijuana” are terms used interchangeably in the up and coming cannabis industry. But there has been an cry from the cannabis movement to use the term cannabis and leave the term marijuana to the wayside. Making the claim that the term “Marijuana” is actually a racist term. 

There is no doubt that use of the term “marijuana” in America comes from a racist past.  The prohibitionist who worked to make cannabis illegal nearly a century age used the exotic sounding word, “marijuana”, to emphasize the herbs foreignness to white Americans and appeal to the bigotry of the time. The thought was the use of the word would scare white America to make the herb illegal in fear that Mexicans would get your white daughter to smoke it and then get her pregnant (no exaggeration). 

Henry Anslinger, the bureaucrat who spearheaded the charge to make cannabis illegal, is credited with saying:

“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. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

The word “marijuana” comes from Mexico, but its exact origins remain unknown. The practice of smoking it arrived in the United States from southern countries during the late 1800s. Mexican laborers and soldiers carried it into the American south-west. Brazilian and Caribbean sailors brought it to New Orleans, where black jazz musicians adopted it. 

Statistics show that there is an even amount of usage among different races in the US.  However, in 2016, there were almost 600,000 arrests made in the US for marijuana, most of which were for low-level possession.  Although different races are known to use the herb at the same rate, the vast majority of these arrests were minorities. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, between 2001 and 2010, if you are black and living in America you were four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession. Few of the 600,000 arrested served extended prison sentences; however, having a past conviction can make it difficult to access housing, student loans, and employment.

The term marijuana has its racist roots, and cannabis remains illegal for racist reasons. This is why many cannabis activists are working to discourage the use of the term “marijuana” and replace it with its proper and scientific term “cannabis”. 

I tend to think that striking the term “marijuana” from our language is a bit overboard. I find that many patients who need this medicine legalized, don’t tend to care what you call it. They just want access to their medicine! In my travels to Spanish speaking countries they use the word “marijuana” for cannabis in their everyday dialect. Use of the term “marijuana” by an American who is not using the term with racist intent is certainly not a racist act. 

And let’s face it… what a beautiful word… Marijuana!

 One thing I can agree on is when lawmakers use the spanish term “marijuana” to make laws in English speaking countries there may be some racist intent.  Truth of the matter is, if you are crafting laws in an english speaking country, you should use the proper english and scientific term “cannabis” when referring to the plant and its dried flowers. Failing to do so may be indication of some sort of racist agenda.  

What do you think? Is Marijuana racist?