Please Stop Calling it “Marajuana”
While even our government struggles with labeling and defining the plant with many names, there is one correct term: Cannabis! For decades enthusiasts have rewarded this plant with endearing names such as weed, pot, reefer, ganja, and grass. However, one nasty title seemed to stick above the rest, Marijuana. Unfortunately, while the term may seem completely neutral, it’s far from it. In fact, prohibitionists used this term to weaponize a plant and cause mass hysteria based on misconceptions and xenophobia.
Cannabis Prohibitionists Relied on Racism and Ignorance
In order to demonize and eradicate the use of Cannabis, a large scale propaganda operation was necessary to sway the public. Prohibitionist figures such as Henry Anslinger used the term “Marijuana” to scare those individuals who feared miscegenation, or the mixing of different racial groups. Henry Anslinger acted as the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The Department of the Treasury founded the FBN in 1930 by to assume enforcement of the provisions of the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914.
As Johann Hari explains in his book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, Anslinger’s office was focused on cocaine and heroin, but there were relatively small numbers of users. In order to ensure a promising future for his bureau, “he needed more,” Hari writes. Marijuana was Anslinger’s golden ticket.
The Metamorphosis from Cannabis to Marijuana
Anslinger related Cannabis or “Marijuana” to violence, crime and depravity. He once stated “You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother”. McWilliams explains that in this effort, “Anslinger appealed to many organizations whose members were predominantly white Protestant.” From the beginning, Anslinger conflated drug use, race, and music. Anslinger warned of terrifying statistics “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., 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.” His claims relied purely on racism and xenophobia to sway an entire nation. It did.
Anslinger even wrote short excerpts to appear in popular magazines that blamed “Marijuana” as an “Assassin of Youth”. Anslinger’s appeal to fear appeared to be working. Articles proclaiming the dangers of pot ran in papers all across the country. It was during this time that anti-drug zealots swapped the term “cannabis” for “marihuana” or “marijuana,” hoping that the Spanish word would conjure anti-Mexican sentiment. Newspapers, whether they believed it or not, went along for the ride, running headlines like “Murders Due to ‘Killer Drug’ Marihuana Sweeping the United States.” Anslinger’s efforts culminated in the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, which effectively made marijuana illegal.
Anslinger remained at the helm of the Federal Narcotics Bureau until the Kennedy administration. Even after this successive administrations adopted his ideas. (Always disproportionately to the detriment of people of color.)
The Educated Option
While many people have become accustomed to the term “marijuana”, it’s just not correct. Even our politicians have a hard time creating legislature with proper terminology and definitions. Cannabis is Cannabis, and while there are different strains and phenotypes they are all still Cannabis. If the plant contains 0.3 % THC or lower, professionals consider it “Cannabis Hemp Sativa”. Cannabis with higher than 0.3% used to provide relief for medical conditions is Medical Cannabis. Additionally, some individuals utilize Recreational Cannabis, or Cannabis with higher than 0.3% THC used for recreational enjoyment. Marijuana is just a nickname. One that has been used to prohibit the use of Cannabis by playing on racism and xenophobia in a country.
Using the term Marijuana continues to demonize the plant and to put it plainly, it’s incorrect. However, getting rid of the nickname may be far out of sight. Either way, we encourage you to learn more about the plant and its history before making up your mind!