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It’s Time to Strike The Racist “M” Word From Our Vocabulary

It's Time to Strike The Racist "M" Word From Our Vocabulary

Why do we use the term “marijuana” so freely and abundantly?

The word “marijuana” or “marihuana” in the 1930’s was a word that expressed contempt and disapproval for the plant which has played a key role in creating the negative stigma that still tragically clings to this holistic, herbal medicine. Most cannabis users today recognize the “M word” as offensive, once they learn of its racist history.

If we instead use the word cannabis, it is a respectful, scientific term that encompasses all the many different aspects and uses of the plant.

“Marijuana’s” racist history

William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst

The “marijuana” word started off as a Mexican folk name for cannabis, but was first popularized in the US by the notorious yellow press publisher, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was a racist, as well as being committed to the prohibition of marijuana, which threatened his timber investments. He used his control of hundreds of newspapers to orchestrate a vicious propaganda campaign against cannabis, which featured lurid (and false) stories about black and brown men committing outrageous acts of murder and mayhem. That campaign played on then-predominantly racist public opinion to make cannabis illegal at the federal level in 1937.

1930s anti-marijuana movie poster A file photo from the Drug Enforcement Administration

1930s anti-marijuana movie poster A file photo from the Drug Enforcement Administration

This stigma has played a big part in stymying cannabis legalization efforts throughout the U.S.

As the nation’s nearly 80-year history of pot prohibition slowly begins to crumble, starting with Colorado’s recent implementation of taxed and legalized recreational marijuana, critics of the increasingly popular policy shift are jumping to denounce the move. A number of white pundits and newspaper columnists have been among the most vocal, claiming that marijuana must remain illegal, despite their own prior use of it, because it supposedly makes people dumber.

The columns themselves served as the most persuasive evidence of that point. And while such a correlation between pot use and intelligence has yet to be proven, one must be willing to ignore the racist roots of marijuana prohibition and the manner in which this unjust system of anti-drug enforcement still plays out today to make such a shallow argument in the first place.

Harry Anslinger – America’s first drug czar.

In a column for The Fix, Maia Szalavitz reminds us that Harry Anslinger, the father of the war on cannabis, fully embraced racism as a tool to demonize marijuana. As the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a predecessor to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Anslinger institutionalized his belief that pot’s “effect on the degenerate races” made its prohibition a top priority. Here are just a few of his most famous (and most racist) quotes:

“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.” “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

Between Anslinger’s ruminations on the need to keep marijuana away from minorities — especially the entertainers! — were countless other fabrications about the health effects of pot. It was “more dangerous than heroin or cocaine” and “leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing,” he claimed.

“If the hideous monster Frankenstein came face to face with marijuana, he would drop dead of fright,” 

Anslinger declared in a line that underscored the type of extreme anti-marijuana hysteria that served as a catalyst for the 1936 propaganda film “Reefer Madness.”

Anslinger was not only a prohibitionist, he was the epitome of a con artist and liar. As the drug war got going in the early 20th century, the bureau published surveys showing its efforts to combat drug use had led to dramatic declines over the decade of the 1920s. But drug historian David Courtwright, through a Freedom of Information Act request, got his hands on the actual surveys and found the data to have been fabricated. He also found a private memo from Anslinger admitting the numbers were made up. Nevertheless, Anslinger used that success to argue for an expansion of the drug war to weed in 1937.

Words define us and our history

Language is important because it defines our ideas. Words have a power that transcends their formal meaning. When we change words, we can also change the thoughts that underlie them. By changing the words we use to describe cannabis and herbal medicine, we can help our fellow citizens understand the truth about it, and see through the decades of propaganda.

Let us all vow, people who use, are proponents of, and respect cannabis for all of its many resourceful uses, and its miraculous abilities, to strike the racist ‘M’ word from our vocabulary, and begin to foster in a new era in which we give cannabis the respect it truly deserves.

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  • Warren Klofkorn

    Please provide citations for the original sources of all of your Anslinger quotation? Not secondary sources, actual primary sources please?

  • Bruce Dean

    “Why do we use the term ‘marijuana’ sparingly?” That is a presumptuous statement not born in fact.
    Who uses it sparingly? It’s the main word used to reference marijuana. It’s a neologism that has become identified with the plant as its primary descriptor.
    Worrying about this is beyond silly.
    Is the neologism racist? No. Was Anslinger a racist? Yes.
    Nobody is going around using it in a racist or discriminatory fashion, and they never had. It’s embarrassing when fellow medical marijuana patients try to make this an issue. It’s not.

  • Dick Hertz

    Most people don’t realize that the slang word for Cannabis, which is Marijuana, is a biblical reference from Mexico. Of course Mary was the Mother of Jesus, and Juan is Spanish for the name John (the best friend of Jesus, John the Baptist). Way back when none of us were even a twinkle in our ancestors eyes, and they were naming this healing plant.They thought so highly of it that they gave it a very religious and meaningful name. Mary + Juan = Marijuana, symbolically your Mother and your best friend all at the same time!

    • Ahsan Sunny

      wow its so beautiful

  • cristala

    “By using the word cannabis, it is a respectful, scientific term that encompasses all the many different uses of the plant.” I hope you realize the word cannabis predates the invention of science by about 10,000 years and science does not even have the courtesy to acknowledge the brilliance in traditional medicine that came before them. Cannabis is not a scientific term, it is ancient in its origin. Don’t give the glory to science they did not discover this medicine, they are what we are trying to get away from, and in fact have only come on board in the last few years ..a mere blip in comparison. besides this I thought the article well well researched. 🙂

  • one4All

    Cannabis = Canvas; because that was what sails were made of as Hemp is a Strong and rot resistant cloth that man has been making for thousands of years along with Hemp rope. They found Cannabis Flowers in the ‘medicine pouch’ of the Iceman that was found frozen for thousands of years.
    Queen Victoria used an elixir of Cannabis as Medicine and George Washington wrote in his Diary that he was sad that his Hemp was too ‘seedy’ – which is only a concern of someone SMOKING it.

  • Réal Guy

    More exactly, Queen Victoria consumed cannabis because of her royal menstrual cramps and yet in the province of Québec it turns out “Chanvre Indien” (“Indian Hemp”) was added to a “POISON” list (annexe/schedule) by the “Loi de Pharmacie” of 1885, while Canada was still a dominion of the British Empire under authority of Her Majesty…

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