Cannabis. Not Marijuana.
Cannabis is the correct scientific name for the genus of flowering plant often referred to as Marijuana. Many Cannabis supporters find the “M” word offensive once they learn the history of the word. Let’s take a closer look at where the term Marijuana originated as well as the role this term played in it’s prohibition.
Cannabis was widely used as a remedy for many common ailments throughout history, and was an effective and widely used ingredient in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia prior to prohibition. Anyone who lived prior to the 1930’s almost certainly used Cannabis as medicine.
‘Marijuana’ was a slang term that followed the many Mexican immigrants who were seeking refuge from civil war in the early 1900’s. Most people at that time didn’t realize that Cannabis and Marijuana were one and the same. The term ‘Marijuana’ was adopted by the propagandists of the time in an attempt to attach a racist and negative stigma to its public perception.
One such propagandist was William Randolph Hearst, a yellow press publisher, who popularized the term Marijuana in an effort to make hemp illegal along with its intoxicating cousin, because hemp paper threatened the profitability of his timber holdings. He used his newspapers to launch a vicious anti-Cannabis propaganda campaign, publishing false stories about black and brown-skinned men committing murder, rape, and other atrocities and accredited them solely to their use of “Marijuana”.
The Secretary of Treasury and wealthiest man in America at the time was Andrew Mellon. Mellon had major investments in the Du Pont family’s new synthetic fiber, nylon, who’s biggest competitor was (you guessed it) hemp.
Harry Anslinger was the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which eventually became the DEA. Anslinger was instrumental in the criminalization of Cannabis. He drafted the Marihuana Tax Act with the intention of making both hemp and it’s flowering cousin Cannabis illegal in the United states. This effectively separated the scientific name from the legal name of the plant, and physicians could no longer use it for medicinal purposes. Anslinger attached blatantly negative racial stigma to his propaganda to further marginalize the plant as a harmful drug.
His rhetoric on the topic of Cannabis included:
“Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind… Most Marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing, result from Marijuana usage.”
“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men…the primary reason to outlaw Marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”
The last witness to be heard was Dr. William C. Woodward, legislative counsel of the American Medical Association (AMA). He announced his opposition to the bill, seeking to dispel any impression that either the AMA or enlightened medical opinion sponsored this legislation. Woodward argued that Anslinger’s claims that Marijuana was as addictive as Opium, violence-causing, resulted in overt sexuality, and caused death by over-dose were false and unfounded. The AMA issued strong criticism that Marijuana was not the proper term for the plant and prevented the medical profession from realizing that it was their long-used wonder-drug Cannabis that was actually being prohibited by the Act.
Dr. Woodward (AMA Doctor and Counsel Representative):
“There is nothing in the medicinal use of Cannabis that has any relation to Cannabis addiction. I use the word “Cannabis” in preference to the word “Marihuana”, because Cannabis is the correct term for describing the plant and its products. The term ‘Marihuana’ is a mongrel word that has crept into this country over the Mexican border and has no general meaning, except as it relates to the use of Cannabis preparations for smoking. It is not recognized in medicine, and I might say that it is hardly recognized even in the Treasury Department. ….. I shall use the word “Cannabis”, and I should certainly suggest that if any legislation is enacted, the term used be “Cannabis” and not the mongrel word ‘Marihuana.”
“Marijuana is not the correct term… Yet the burden of this bill is placed heavily on the doctors and pharmacists of this country.”
Further opposition from the AMA claimed that the bill had been prepared in secret, keeping the AMA from preparing a substantial opposition.
Despite the efforts made by the AMA to overturn the legislation, Anslinger was ultimately successful and Cannabis became illegal in 1937. The legislators took Anslinger’s racially charged and unfounded testimony over that of physicians and scientists. The total amount of time spent on these hearings was under 2 hours and the Senate discussion lasted less than 2 minutes. What resulted not only made Cannabis illegal but created the false stigma of Marijuana, the narcotic killer. The legislation chose to keep the word ‘Marijuana’ in it’s language, and it has remained in legislative language ever since. Mainstream society adopted this label of evil Marijuana rather than healing Cannabis, most not realizing they were one and the same. This clearly demonstrates the deep unscientific and racist foundation of Cannabis prohibition.
Today, the racist undertones of incarceration for possession remain. African Americans are incarcerated for Cannabis possession at a significantly higher rate than whites, even though there is insignificant difference between their respective Cannabis use. A study by the ACLU found a huge disparity between those who serve time in prison and those who do not.
At Yerba Buena, we choose to use the correct scientific term for Cannabis and hope that Oregon and other states will follow suit. We choose to use a name that demonstrates respect for the plant, but perhaps more importantly, respect for our fellow humans. We believe that using the proper term for this plant, rather than using racially-charged slang originating from a dark time in history is a progressive step towards legitimizing this healing plant.
© 2017 Yerba Buena