Pubdate: Fri, 03 Nov 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Jacquie Miller
Page: A2


Is the word marijuana racist?

It's a long-standing debate in the cannabis world, but the question is
now slipping into the mainstream as the drug is on the edge of
becomingly legal for recreational use. Many people aren't aware of the
history of the term marijuana, which is linked to campaigns in the
U.S. in the 1930s to demonize the plant by associating it with Mexican

Halifax Coun. Shawn Cleary recently created controversy when he
declared he would no longer use the word. "Let's do what we can to not
perpetuate racism," he said on Twitter.

The response from some was a big eye roll.

"Next year it will be legal to smoke it. But not say it. Only in
Canada!" replied fellow Coun. Matt Whitman on Twitter.

Whitman ended up apologizing for the language he employed when he
tried to explain his stance on CTV. Whitman said the term marijuana
can't be racist because "Mexican" is not a race.

The intensity of the debate is an indication of a growing controversy
over the word. Some users, activists and business people deliberately
choose "cannabis," the term for the plant, instead. It doesn't have
negative connotations.

Health Canada, which has regulated medical marijuana since 2001,
stopped using the word marijuana in its most recent set of rules, the
Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations, adopted in 2016.

Some argue that the word marijuana will fade, a relic of a
soon-to-be-forgotten "reefer madness" world that demonized pot.

But others defend its use, saying the term no longer has pejorative

The word marijuana has Mexican- Spanish roots. It wasn't commonly used
in the U.S. until the 1920s and '30s, when states began to pass laws
against the cannabis plant. At the time, there was a growing wave of
sentiment against Mexican immigrants entering the country. The
immigrants brought pot smoking with them.

The term "marijuana," sometimes spelled "marihuana," sounded foreign.
It was used by "racist politicians who first criminalized cannabis
because they wanted to underscore that it was a Latino, particularly
Mexican, vice," according to the National Hispanic Caucus of State
Legislators, a group that represents the interests of Hispanic state
lawmakers in the U.S.

During the Depression, Americans were searching for someone to blame,
says an article about the origin of the term in Leafly, a cannabis
news and review website.

"Due to the influx of immigrants (particularly in the South) and the
rise of suggestive jazz music, many white Americans began to treat
cannabis (and, arguably, the Blacks and Mexican immigrants who
consumed it) as a foreign substance used to corrupt the minds and
bodies of low-class individuals."

The use of the term increased dramatically in the '30s, when it was
systematically employed by Harry Anslinger, the director of the
Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who waged a three-decade long campaign
against cannabis.

Anslinger used the term "marijuana" to reinforce the plant's "foreign"

"Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of
mankind," Anslinger said in testimony before Congress. "Most marijuana
smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their
satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage."

The word marijuana has become a slur, writes Erik McLaren in Herb, an
online magazine covering cannabis news and culture. It's time the word
is dropped, he argues. "It's not as though people today who call weed
'marijuana' are racist. But, that word is a celebration of
prohibition, and a gross reminder of racial prejudice. Plus, it's
victory for Harry Anslinger."
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