U.S lawmakers have deemed the word ‘marijuana’ to be racist and have removed it from state bills
The bill, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on 11th March in Washington, is set to come into effect in June and it’ll mean that the drug can no longer be referred to as ‘marijuana’. The term ‘cannabis’ will be used instead.
With cannabis legal in many states across the U.S, Melanie Morgan – a Washington Democrat – describes the word marijuana as “pejorative and racist.”
During a testimony in June 2021, Morgan, who sponsored the bill, said replacing the word is merely one way to create change.
She explained that the word is originally Spanish, claiming that it has become increasingly associated in a negative way with Mexican immigrants.
Racism claims behind the word ‘marijuana’
“It was… Anslinger that said, and I quote, ‘Marijuana is the most violent causing drug in the history of mankind. And most marijuana users are Negroes, Hispanic, Caribbean, and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz, and swing result from marijuana usage,'” said Melanie Morgan.
Harry Anslinger was the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and later the Drug Enforcement Administration, in America in the 1930s.
Morgan added, “It was used as a racist terminology to lock up Black and Brown people”.
“As recreational cannabis use became more popular, it was negatively associated with Mexican immigrants.”
She continued, “Even though it seems simple because it’s just one word, the reality is we’re healing the wrongs that were committed against Black and Brown people around cannabis.”
It’s also worth mentioning that Washington lawmakers established the “Washington Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis” in 2020, intending to bring more diversity to cannabis store owners by offering minority cannabis license applicants grants and further financial assistance.
State Rep. Emily Wicks agrees with the change of terminology. She said that while it is deemed a ‘technical fix’, the new law “does a lot to undo, or at least correct in some effort, some of the serious harms around this language.”
Joy Hollingsworth, the owner of Hollingsworth Cannabis Company, said the term ‘marijuana’ comes with a burden for people of colour in the industry.
Hollingsworth added, “It had been talked about for a long time in our community about how that word demonises the cannabis plant.”
“We have a lot of people, especially in the Black community, that went to prison over cannabis for years. They were locked up, separated from their nuclear family, which is huge. It’s really painful for people to hear that word and it triggers them,”
While she appreciated the win, she also noted there is still more to be done in terms of actual legislation and policy. Hollingsworth hopes that more cannabis taxes will be reinvested into the communities of colour in the future.
But other historians have their concerns about the effort, saying that those who support it are leaning too heavily on a version of cannabis history that’s seeped into popular culture.
They also claim that Melanie Morgan and other reformers who are coining the word ‘marijuana’ to be racist have based that assessment on an incomplete reading of cannabis history.
Isaac Campos, a professor of Latin American history and has also studied the story of weed, said “The idea that the word marijuana is racist, I just think it’s nonsense. Marijuana is just the Mexican word for drug cannabis.”