Pot, dope, weed, bud, herb, ganja, flower or Mary Jane; there are probably a few hundred more euphemisms for cannabis in the English language. Yet, within modern society’s lexicon, the most commonly referred word for the plant is “marijuana,” a term which brings with it many negative, illicit and even criminal connotations. Some might even argue that the term has a racist history. “Marijuana” has been what law enforcement, the legal system, mass media, public schools and the general public has come to know the cannabis plant as, for decades now. CULTURE decided to do a bit of digging to find out why, and explore the roots of this term.
During 19th century “marijuana” was a nonexistent term, as it was known as cannabis, a plant that was used as a main ingredient in many medicines, oils, ointments, elixirs and syrups for pain, cough, insomnia, indigestion and more. However, after the upheaval of the Mexican Revolution which started in 1910, an influx of Mexican migrants crossing into U.S. territories to flee the war, introduced the custom of smoking dried cannabis recreationally, referring to the plant as “mariguana,” which later morphed into “marijuana.” Many American citizens felt threatened by this unfamiliar, foreign method of ingesting cannabis which led to the marginalization of immigrants and the creation of America’s first cannabis laws. The first bill criminalizing cultivation of cannabis plants was passed in 1913 in California, some 20 years before the hysteria of “Reefer Madness.” Between 1910 and 1930, when the Great Depression was under way, Americans were looking for scapegoats, and many Caucasian Americans held deeply racist and prejudice sentiments against non-Caucasian immigrants.
With the hype and propaganda of the Reefer Madness film, many began to view cannabis as a drug that caused crime and violence, and particularly effected the lower class fringes of society, and even incited sexual perversion, violence and mental illness. By 1930, a full on firestorm against cannabis and all things hemp was burning strong.
The Federal government had just created the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, led by Harry Anslinger, who waged a full on assault against the plant, using fear, hysteria and racism as his tools to motivate the public against cannabis. He is now considered to be the father of the modern day “war on weed” and the larger “War on Drugs.” Anslinger was quoted as testifying in Congress in the 1930s, “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.”
To many, the idea of racism used as a conspiracy against a plant, known as cannabis (and hemp), is outlandish, but to others it fits into the pieces of the puzzle and makes sense as to why and how this nation switched from embracing the medicinal properties of cannabis to outright banning it for all uses, making cultivation and possession a federal crime.
Fast forward to today. Here we are in 2016, and 24 states in the U.S. have sanctioned and decriminalized medicinal cannabis possession and use. Out of those 24 four (Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Washington) and the District of Columbia have made it legal for recreational purposes for adults. As the racial and ethnic culture lines and divisions that make up this melting pot of a nation grow larger in this country, the status quo of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) being the major population in the future are slim to none. The data already projects that more of today’s minorities, including African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic Americans will also show rises in their population causing a major shift in the demographics.
As many can see, the 2016 Presidential candidates have all tried to pander to the Latino vote, as they see the influx of many new Latino/Hispanic American voters eager to cast a ballot in November. But, how does the Latino/Hispanic community weigh-in on cannabis and the laws regarding prohibition and decriminalization of the plant?
To date, many prominent artists, musicians, celebrities and even politicians have all come out in public support of cannabis and a reformation of the current drug laws and the failed war on drugs, and the prosecution and imprisonment of non-violent offenders.
The list of prominent members of the Hispanic/Latino community who have come out in public support of cannabis legalization for medicinal and recreational use include celebrities like George Lopez, Carlos Santana, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, Cypress Hill, Juanes and even former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who came out as an unspoken critic of cannabis prohibition in the U.S. and Mexico. It is certain that this is a future trend that will increase in its size, as more and more prominent Latinos in sports, entertainment, media and even politics will come out in support of decriminalization and ending cannabis prohibition.