The Time Has Come to Retire the Word ‘Marijuana’;
Marijuana is a dirty word. Stop using it. The proper term is cannabis.
Cannabis is a plant genus that produces three species of flowering plants: Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis. All three species are used to produce medical cannabis.
While we are fine with the numerous slang terms associated with cannabis such as dope, grass, herb, reefer, chronic and cheeba – to name a few – it is the word marijuana which we refuse to use.
Prior to the prohibition of cannabis in 1937, cannabis had never been referred to as marijuana.
That is because the word ‘marijuana’ was introduced as a propaganda tool meant to confuse the masses into believing that a new drug named marijuana was causing the downfall of American society. This could not be blamed on cannabis because it had been readily available with no issues and society had flourished.
“Marijuana” was a term coined by Harry Anslinger, the bureaucrat who led the original cannabis prohibition effort in the 1930s. This term was actually a derivation of the word marihuana which was a Mexican word for cannabis.
Whereas a new drug, brought by immigrants who were also stealing Americans’ jobs and Americans’ women, would be an easier sell for the public.
Marijuana comes from the mexican word marihuana. But where did the Mexicans get this word from?
The conclusion of Alan Piper in his paper “The Mysterious Origins of the Word Marihuana” is quite fascinating:
If marihuana is not just a folk term of unidentifiable origin, a nineteenth-century
neologism with no recoverable etymology, then it is certainly a loan word influenced in form
by the euphonic combination of the Spanish girl’s names maria-Juana. We must also ask
why, given that the Spanish introduced hemp into South America in the sixteenth century, is
the Spanish canamo not the universal term for hemp in Spanish America? Canamo, however,
generally refers to hemp cultivated for fibre, while the term marihuana is used specifically to
refer to the resinous flowering tops of the cannabis plant, preferred for smoking because this
part ofthe plant contains the highest concentration ofpsychoactive compounds. This suggests
that any search for the etymology of marihuana lies within the language of a culture familiar
with the psychoactive effects of the flowering tops of the cannabis plant. Three major
possible alternatives exist. Firstly a pre-Columbian Spanish word of which mejorana,
possibly as slang mejorana chino for marihuana, seems a significant contender at least for
influencing the form of the word. Secondly one must consider the possibility of a pre- or
post-Columbian loan word from another ethnic group present in South America. Foremost
amongst these must be the Chinese because of their association with the drug trade and the
importance of hemp in all its forms in their culture. The Chinese rna (ren) hua, ‘hemp (seed)
flowers’, may at least have influenced the form of the word marihuana. Thirdly we must
consider the possibility of a loan word into Spanish from a native South American language,
such as Nahuatl or Quechua, particularly if further evidence is found to support the preColumbian
presence of cannabis in South America. Ideally the biological data of Balabanova
et aL needs to find supporting paleobotanical evidence. All these speculations beg the
question ‘at what point did hemp start being cultivated and used in the Americas as an
intoxicant and by whom?’ This is particularly important where the strains imported by the
Spanish or Portuguese were for fibre production and therefore probably low in psychoactive
compounds. What ethnic groups may have been familiar with the psychoactive properties of
cannabis, either prior to its introduction by the Spanish or after, and initiated its cultivation
and exploitation of its psychoactive properties? Moorish peoples, the Arabic and North
African former conquerors of Spain? Slave labourers brought from Africa? Chinese sailors,
merchants or immigrants? Or, especially if it can be established that hemp was present in
South America before Columbus, native South American peoples?
Before we look at how the head of The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger, introduced the term marijuana to the American public, let’s first get a better picture on how cannabis was viewed and used prior to his crippling propaganda campaign of this amazing plant.
History of Cannabis in USA:
Cannabis was mainly utilized as an extract or a tincture and had been since its introduction into Western medicine in the midst of the 19th century.
The medical indications of cannabis, in the beginning of the 20th century, were summarized in Sajous’s Analytic Cyclopedia of Practical Medicine (1924) in three areas:
1) Sedative or Hypnotic: in insomnia, senile insomnia, melancholia, mania, delirium tremens, chorea, tetanus, rabies, hay fever, bronchitis, pulmonary tuberculosis, coughs, paralysis agitans, exophtalmic goiter, spasm of the bladder, and gonorrhea.
2) Analgesic: in headaches, migraine, eye-strain, menopause, brain tumors, tic douloureux, neuralgia, gastric ulcer, gastralgia (indigestion), tabes, multiple neuritis, pain not due to lesions, uterine disturbances, dysmenorrhea, chronic inflammation, menorrhagia, impending abortion, postpartum hemorrhage, acute rheumatism, eczema, senile pruritus, tingling, formication and numbness of gout, and for relief of dental pain.
3) Other uses: to improve appetite and digestion, for the ‘pronounced anorexia following exhausting diseases’, gastric neuroses, dyspepsia, diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, nephritis, hematuria, diabetes mellitus, cardiac palpitation, vertigo, sexual atony in the female, and impotence in the male.
In the first decades of the 20th century, the Western medical use of cannabis significantly decreased. This may have occurred, among other factors, because of the difficulty to replicate the effects, due to the extreme varying efficacy of different samples of the plant. At that time, the active principle of cannabis had not yet been isolated and the drug was used in the form of tinctures or extracts whose power was dependent on different factors, such as origin, age, and mode of preparation.
Introduction of the Term Marihuana:
Harry Anslinger wanted to push the agenda of criminalizing cannabis. The problem was that in order to push the public towards prohibition, Anslinger had to change the narrative on cannabis, which was widely available as a very common over-the-counter medication which people used for numerous ailments ranging from tuberculosis to insomnia. The public had no issues with keeping it that way.
In eerily similar tactics as that of the current US President’s campaign for office in 2016, Mexicans were targeted by Anslinger as illegally immigrating to the US and bringing with them their demon weed known as marihuana. Since the public knew cannabis as cannabis and not marihuana, there was no connection made that these two referred to the same plant.
Hence cannabis changed from a tincture available at your local pharmacy to a plant material called marihuana was smoked by Mexicans looking to corrupt white people in America. The timing of this coincided with the conclusion of the Mexican Revolution. This had caused an influx of immigration from Mexico into states like Texas and Louisiana. These new Americans brought with them their native language, culture and customs. One of those customs was the smoking of cannabis as a relaxant.
Anslinger decided he would follow the playbook used in San Francisco when a similar immigration surge had occurred from China which resulted in opium dens popping up all over San Francisco. Between 1870 and 1880, the Chinese population of San Francisco more than doubled. This population boom, which was by no means limited to San Francisco, inspired a fear that amounted to a crisis amongst whites up and down the West Coast. Soa as a way to control this immigration boost which had scared the white people of California, the first drug law in the US was passed which made opium dens (known as vices of the Chinese) were made illegal.
Anslinger simply applied this tactic to the Mexican immigrants and their vices of smoking the demon weed known as marihuana.
Anslinger famously stated:
“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.”
In the United States, as the result of a campaign of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the Marihuana Tax Act law was passed in 1937, according to druglibrary.org.
Under this Act, anyone using the plant was required to register and pay a tax of a dollar an ounce (28.35 g), for medical purposes, and 100 dollars an ounce for any other use. Despite the low value for medical use, the non-payment of this tax, however, resulted in a 2.000 dollar fine and/or 5 years imprisonment.
This law brought difficulties for the use of the plant due to the excessive paperwork and the risk of severe punishment. When cannabis transaction regulations, including prescriptions, were transferred to the tribute area, this law circumvented a decision of the Supreme Court which gave the States the right to control commercial transactions and, in practice, meant banning the use of cannabis in the whole American territory. Cannabis was removed from the American pharmacopoeia in 1941.
Why did Anslinger make cannabis illegal? Most think it was because he and other racists could have a tool to keep minorities “in their place”.
In the second half of the 19th century, over 100 scientific articles were published in Europe and the United States about the therapeutic value of cannabis. Yet it still remains illegal on a federal level despite that as of the time of this writing: 29 US States have legalized medical cannabis, in addition to Washington D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico. Furthermore, nine states have legalized it for recreational use along with Washington D.C. Finally, thirteen more states have decriminalized its use along with the U.S. Virgin islands.
So next time a friend refers to cannabis as marijuana, politely tell them that they are pushing the propaganda that caused the prohibition of cannabis by using that term.