Published: May 24th, 2016
Categories: Cannabis Info
The word “marijuana” has a firm place in the English language today although it has a relatively young history. However, referring to cannabis as marijuana still carries with it a certain societal stigma. Because of this negative image, the term is still somewhat controversial in cannabis culture, at least in our humble opinion.
Some organisations and news outlets have now even suggested that the word marijuana might be outright racist. What is the reason for the name’s bad reputation that, it can fuel such a heated debate in the first place? Where does the word marijuana come from? Let us find out by looking at its rather interesting history.
Many believe that the word marijuana originates from Latin-America, more specifically Mexico. However, there are a few theories to suggest it goes back a little further. Sure, the word marijuana certainly has strong Mexican roots, but it is thought to be the Chinese that gave it to them. It is believed that Chinese settlers arriving at the West coast of South America may have brought cannabis with them, calling it “ma ren hua,” meaning "hemp seed flower". Resident Mexicans that interacted with these settlers are likely to have taken on their own pronunciation of this, turning it into “mariguana.”
So how did ma ren hua develop into the word marijuana we know today in the West?
The word marijuana hasn’t existed in Western culture for very long. Before 1910, the year of the Mexican Revolution, the common word was cannabis. This was at a time where doctors prescribed cannabis tinctures and extracts for treating various ailments. Cannabis was considered a medicine.
A dedicated sub-culture for using the herb for recreational purposes did not yet exist, although cannabis and hashish started to become a fad among the wealthy intellectual elites of the time. Civil war broke out in Mexico in 1910. Almost 900,000 Mexicans immigrated to the United States, seeking refuge from the chaos and havoc back in their homeland. It was Mexican immigrants fleeing the war bringing the word mariguana with them.
The high numbers of immigrants at the borders of the United States stirred up fears and prejudices through most of the Southwest. This anti-immigrant sentiment, with its prejudices and bigotry, was responsible for the United States instituting the first marijuana laws as their way to control the immigrant population. It is no coincidence that the first US states that outlawed the use of marijuana are all border states.
The US media started to associate cannabis with everything evil under the sun, not only demonising the herb, but even also those who used it. American newspapers flaunted headlines on the dangers of “locoweed”. Marijuana, the “murder drug,” has become the substance corrupting the mind and the body. After just a short time, 29 states in the US had banned the drug.
So how did this lead to the spread of the word marijuana that is so commonly used today, while the common English word was cannabis? Well, the actions of one Harry J. Anslinger should explain all.
At the time, Harry J. Anslinger was the director of the FBI, and he not only hated drugs, but was also quite an extreme racist. He used this opportunity to vilify cannabis and migrant minorities at the same time. By starting a fear campaign against cannabis, and only using the Mexican word marijuana (the American pronunciation of the mariguana), he successfully played on people’s fears of immigrants to demonise the drug.
Marijuana sounded strange and dangerous, as opposed to the more scientific sound of cannabis. By using this word, and putting fear behind it, it spread throughout the Western world with a negative edge. The fact we use it today, despite it losing its anti-immigrant sting, shows just how successful he was at manipulating a word to become associated with hate and fear.
"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 usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and many others.?"
"Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.?"
"Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.?"
The word marijuana had humble and quite literal origins, yet over time, it was twisted and leashed to be used as a way to demonise both a drug and a people. This is the reason we prefer to use the word cannabis as opposed to marijuana here at Zativo. It is an interesting past, but one full of hate and fear.