Why we need to stop saying marijuana

Marijuana is not the correct term for cannabis, originally it was popularized in the U.S to foster negative views on the plant.  Cannabis in the U.S has had a long and winding history but this year it has reached an important tipping point.  Medical cannabis is legal in 25 states and Washington D.C. This November 5 states will be voting to legalize cannabis recreationally and 4 states medical cannabis.  Conversations surrounding cannabis are changing.  Unprecedented a major political party came out in support of a pathway to legalizing cannabis. Most notably  U.S Attorney General Loretta Lynch admitted cannabis is not a gateway drug debunking a commonly held notion.  As cannabis continues to have a spotlight the word ‘marijuana’ should not be used.

History of ‘Marijuana’

In the early 1900s, the word ‘marijuana’ did not exist in American speech. During this time cannabis use was for medicinal purposes.  Although not yet illegal recreational use of cannabis was not common. In 1910 the U.S saw a large influx of Mexican migration due to the civil war the country was facing. Mexicans did consume cannabis leisurely calling it ‘marijuana.’ The 1930s Great Depression saw those affected demonizing cannabis and those who used it (mostly Mexican immigrants and other minorities). Cannabis use by migrants in New Orleans lead the media to align jazz music with ‘marijuana’ further fueling anti-cannabis sentiment. It was no surprise then that by the early 1930s 29 states had banned cannabis.

Henry Anslinger’s war on cannabis

Henry Anslinger Director of the Federal Bureau (1930-1962) can be credited for all the stigma surrounding cannabis.  He set out on a mission to ban it in the U.S. It was Anslinger who first began to use ‘marijuana’ as a means to make cannabis sound  Mexican and foreign. Aslinger leads the charge with anti-cannabis propaganda the infamous ‘Reefer Madness’ film served to demonstrate to the masses the horrible effects of  ‘marijuana.’ He spoke publicly against cannabis often. His work materialized laws around the time began to reflect the negative view on cannabis. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 succeeded in criminalizing cannabis at the federal level placing a dollar tax on any cannabis product and to cultivators.  What would follow would be the decades-long criminalization of cannabis and its users. (Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’, mandatory sentences, and George Bush’s renewal of Nixon’s war).

Marijuana was a term denied by the scientific community when Anslinger first used it as it should be now.  The research available has demonstrated the scores of benefits that come from cannabis consumption. Although the DEA failed to remove the schedule I  classification it allowed for more research, a small step forward in the right direction. Perhaps it will be with new findings that those on the fence about cannabis will realize there is nothing to be worried about. Understanding that ‘marijuana’ was used as a means to vilify cannabis by further fueling anti-immigration sentiments is reason enough to never utter ‘marijuana’ again.


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