Pot, weed, bud, green, ganja…the endearing synonyms for cannabis are virtually endless. But marijuana certainly is not one of them.
Cannabis, the scientific name for the plant that we all know, is a genus of a flowering plant family called Cannabaceae. This term encompasses the entire plant, from the cannabinoids it produces, to the flower we smoke, to the hemp fiber used for industrial purposes. Cannabis has been used for nearly 10,000 years for medicinal purposes, burial ceremonies, and much more.
So, when did we start calling cannabis ‘marijuana’ instead of its true, scientific name? We will have to travel back to the early days of prohibition and anti-mexican immigration feelings in the United States.
Until the late 1800s, cannabis was a widely accepted and useful crop. Even some of the founding fathers grew cannabis on their plantations. Nearly every farmer in America was required to grow hemp products on their land. But by the end of the 1800s, prohibition was gaining steam and recreational cannabis use was a target.
Marihuana in the United States
According to a “Marijuana Timeline” created by PBS, recreational use of cannabis was introduced by Mexican immigrants who came to America after the Mexican Revolution of 1910. They called this “marihuana”.
Increased Mexican immigration left many Americans, who were buried under the poverty and distress caused by the Great Depression, angry and resentful towards these newcomers.
Prohibitionists looking to circumvent the popularity of cannabis and hemp products began using terms such as “marihuana” and the “devil’s weed” to discourage the public from using the plant for recreational purposes.
These early prohibitionists were very aware that using the Spanish-Latino term for cannabis, marihuana, would aid in closely aligning this plant with Mexican immigrants, a widely-detested group during that time in America. This tactic proved to be very effective.
Even though Americans were long familiar with and approving of cannabis and hemp, using this new foreign term gave prohibitionists the ability to claim certain parts of the cannabis plant as a “new Mexican drug”.
By 1930, as the prohibition on alcohol really started to crumble, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics came into being and would be responsible for the creation of the current-day Drug Enforcement Agency. In charge of the newly-minted Federal Bureau of Narcotics was Harry Anslinger, who made it his mission to add “marijuana” to a list of illegal substances that included cocaine, heroin and opium.
The campaign against recreational “marijuana” use was so successful that by 1931 29 states had outlawed parts of the cannabis plant.
In 1937, we saw the first use of the term “Marijuana” in official law. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was the first piece of federal legislation that prohibited cannabis, except for the stalks and oils used for industrial purposes. It was during the hearings surrounding this law that government officials claimed the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant were the home of a dangerously addictive drug called “marijuana”.
It was also during the passing of the 1937 marijuana legislation that Harry Anslinger claimed, “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.”
The idea of “racially inferior” groups using this new “dangerous and addictive drug” that turns men and women to violence and lewd behavior became generally accepted by the public and has fueled the war against legal cannabis ever since.
We are far past the ignorant ideas of Harry Anslinger and many cannabis advocates and industry participants are looking to get back to calling cannabis by its real, scientific name.
Why is it so important to change and standardize our terminology when it comes to this plant? Because the plant needs a rebrand after the damage caused by alarmists.
It is impossible to rid the term “marijuana” from its racist roots and the inaccurate propaganda surrounding the term. As we move into a new era for legal cannabis, it’s important to stick to the truth and rid the industry of the wholly inaccurate portrayal of cannabis’ effects.
Isn’t it time we leave the prohibition behind and call this plant by its real name?