The word marijuana, along with many other slang terms like pot, weed, grass, herb, smoke and even dope, will probably always be used at various times in the future as a term to designate the plant. However, the extremely popular use of the name “marijuana” has only been in use for just a little over 80 years in comparison to the scientific term that had been used for thousands of years prior… cannabis.
Throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries Americans used the word cannabis when describing the plant of discussion here. Pharmaceutical companies still in existence today like Bristol-Myers Squib and Eli Lily used the word cannabis in some of their medicines that were being sold in many pharmacies across the country to treat multiple ailments. During the same time multiple scientific journals published articles that boasted of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for the human body. Most people in Europe and in many areas of Latin America still refer to the plant as cannabis and to be fair many in those countries now even use the term “marijuana” while still having local names for it, so why has the name “marijuana” been more synonymously used in the United States?
This is the area where the talk of racism comes into play with the way the term marijuana had been coined, promoted and used primarily in the US effort of illegalization of the plants possession and use. As early as 1914 it is believed that the city of El Paso, TX was the first city in the US to ban the sale or possession of cannabis. However, it wasn’t until 1937 that the United States Congress officially placed a ban on the sale and possession of the plant. That effort was fought by the United States Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, the nation’s first “drug czar.” The reasons behind his effort to feel the need to eradicate cannabis from the US seems to have racist links when he was credited with stating…” 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.” This is really the main reason why cannabis was banned in the US!
Anslinger has often been referred to as the great racist of the war on drugs so his coining of the term marijuana was done primarily as a racial slur against Mexicans that had been coming into the states during the Great Depression in the Southwest regions of the US. The term made the plant sound scary and foreign to white society which only led to even more growing racism and xenophobia in the area. Many Mexican soldiers after the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910, had migrated to US border states and many had brought with them what they had termed “mariguana.” These fears of Mexicans and their “mariguana” continued even more after the Great Depression and by 1930 twenty-nine states had banned cannabis even before the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act.
Many of these Mexican migrant workers also traveled to areas like New Orleans which was a way of the plant spreading to the local jazz scene which was being led mainly by African Americans. Jazz, swing and other forms of “black” music was already starting to infiltrate white society, so the use of cannabis by white women being around black musicians quickly became a threat. Anslinger was said to have kept very detailed written files on jazz musicians titled “Marijuana and Musicians” where he monitored those who played along with the likes of Louis
Armstrong, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, along with quite a few others. Anslinger’s federal campaign report in 1937 was titled…”Marijuana: Assassin of Youth.”
No matter what false propaganda was initiated in the past only through proper re-education backed with accurate confirmed information, testing and studying will we be able to get future generations the statistics they need to really make determinations on how beneficial the cannabis plant can be for man-kind. We may never be able to make everyone call the plant by its botanical name of cannabis, but we can eradicate the ignorance that has been associated with cannabis use that has only been perpetuated since the early 1900’s.
By Tracy Jerome Chisley (@PoeticPanther)
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