What's In A Name?
And how does what we call something define our perception of it? Anyone who has been called a mean nickname or teased by peers understands that while sticks and stones may break bones, words actually can hurt.
Cannabis has been a controversy for almost a century. Some consider it a miracle of nature, while others the work of the Devil. As modern mainstream culture becomes increasingly plant-friendly, our naming conventions and terminology have started to take center stage. The term “Marijuana” has deep roots, but are these roots steeped in racism and fear?
Happy Days: The 1850’s
The magical plant known as Cannabis became popular among the elite in Europe and America in the late 1800’s. It was revered as a natural healer and “designer drug” attracting literary celebrities and Royalty alike who used the herb for a multitude of applications.
“Throughout the 19th century, Americans used the word “cannabis” when referring to the plant. Pharmaceutical companies like Bristol-Myers Squib and Eli Lilly used cannabis in medicines — widely sold in U.S. pharmacies — to treat insomnia, migraines and rheumatism. From 1840 to 1900, U.S. scientific journals published hundreds of articles touting the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.”
Immigration And The Rise of American Xenophobia
In the wake of the 1910 Mexican revolution, the U.S. saw mass migration of Mexican immigrants. Along with it they brought the cannabis smoking habit and the word “Marijuana”.
At the same time the U.S. was starting to see an increase in immigration, the California Board of Pharmacy began to crack down on narcotics. Originally aimed at Opiates, the bill passed in 1913 included Marijuana to “prevent the spread of cannabis use by ‘Hindoo’ immigrants”. While Cannabis was still the term widely used at this time, “Marijuana” began creeping into American vernacular along with its racist undertones.
The Racist Angle
Here’s where things get kinda crazy. In the 1930’s America experienced The Great Depression. At the same time, the U.S. saw a continued influx of immigrants.
As we’ve seen in more recent history, with great strife come fear, chaos, and the search for someone to blame. Americans let fear take hold and began to associate cannabis with a low-class, immigrant, corrupt image, calling it “Marijuana” to drive home its “exotic” nature.
The Original Gangsters: Harry Anslinger, William Randolph Hearst & The Dupont Family
Playing off public fears and racism, and to help push his prohibition agenda, FBI Director Harry Anslinger created a campaign against the plant, solidifying its identity as a foreign invasion of American borders.
"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.” – Harry Anslinger
When campaigning against the plant, he would exclusively use the term “Marijuana” in order to drive home the herbs “foreign” identity.
At the same time, the tyrannically racist Wiliam Randolph Hearst began using his publishing power to campaign against the “evils of Marijuana”. In concert with the Dupont family, who wanted to prevent the cultivation of hemp in order to secure their monopoly of plastics and paper manufacturing, Hearst used his empire to create hysteria over “Reefer Madness”.
These smear campaigns lead to the successful passing of the Marijuana act of 1937, officially criminalizing the plant and classifying it as a schedule 1 drug, along with Heroin and LSD. It has remained a Schedule 1 drug ever since.
Only today, in 2016, are we starting to see the paradigm shift back toward the acceptance and understanding once held by Kings, Queens and the intelligencia of old. But there is still so much more to do.
Knowledge is power. The more we understand about this amazing plant, the more good we, and it, can do.