The dawn of cannabis prohibition is wrought with underhanded acts of subversion. Both political members and agents of the media worked to manufacture a stigma around a plant that had been openly serving medicinal uses for centuries and even millennia. So what happened? The underlying cause of prohibition, for all intensive purposes, appears to be racism. Cannabis got linked to Mexican immigration and the public were fed hysterical nonsense in order to create a stronger cause for deportation and the refusal of Mexicans in America. It’s not a pretty picture and disturbingly, language itself was changed in order to incite more fear from the public.
Why Many Prefer the Term “Cannabis”
“Cannabis” is the proper botanical name for both the plant genus and the compound that serves as a powerful medicinal aid. Cannabis sativa, cannabis indica and cannabis ruderalis are the proper technical names for the different kinds of cannabis plants. In the body of mammals, there is a cannabinoid system that is made of CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors play a big role in the health of the body on multiple levels. Cannabinoids are the compounds responsible for activating the CB1 and CB2 receptors to encourage health. Mammals naturally produce these cannabinoids but over the years they can stop being generated as well. If there is any kind of illness, this can also interfere with the production of the compound. The cannabis plant in particular cannabis sativa and cannabis indica strains contain cannabinoids that, when consumed, can bring the body back into health.
The Term “Marijuana” Steeped in Racism and Prohibitionist Propaganda
So where did the term “marijuana” or “marihuana” come from? No one seems to know. It first started to be used at the end of the 19th century and its roots are basically untraceable although it appears to have spread to the U.S. through Mexico. The Mexican slang word refers to the use of cannabis for recreational purposes and is distanced from the botanical term that implies its medicinal uses. In this way, it became the perfect word to use for prohibitionists looking to separate cannabis from its more commonly known therapeutic properties. But the true selling point of using “marijuana” instead of cannabis is its racial connotations. The Mexican word was used to incite racial bigotry. That if the “devil’s weed” could be associated with a certain group of people, seen to be bringing in a dangerous substance, there would be more incentive to enforce deportation.
Quotes Showing the Contrast of the Terms
Harry Anslinger was the head of the freshly made Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He was one of the central people involved in demonizing marijuana and interjecting racial associations. In one of his statements on the subject, he said, “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.”
Dr. William C. Woodward, legislative counsel of the American Medical Association, protested Anslinger’s incorrect use of the word, stating “I use the word ‘cannabis’ in preference to the word ‘marihuana,’ because cannabis is the correct term for describing the plant and its products.”
These days, the racial associations have disappeared. Many are not even aware of the racist origins of the word but it’s important to understand its origins so that, in time, the correct name for the plant will be used again.