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The word “marijuana” comes from Mexico, but its exact origins remain unknown. According to the book Cannabis: A History by Martin Booth, it may derive from an Aztec language or soldiers’ slang for “brothel” – Maria y Juana.
According to The Guardian, the practice of smoking it arrived in the US during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Mexican laborers and soldiers carried and introduced cannabis to the American south-west
Sailors brought it from Brazil and the Caribbean when they docked in New Orleans, where it’s told Black jazz musicians originally adopted it.
From 1910 to 1920, the United States saw tens of thousands of Mexicans immigrating to the southwest in the wake of the Mexican Civil War.
The influx of immigration escalated anti-Mexican immigrant sentiment and a campaign of “reefer madness” among white Americans, most commonly by America’s resident xenophobe and the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger.
Anslinger’s propaganda campaigns created racist narratives, like those who smoke marijuana are of an “inferior race” and are more likely to engage in sexual promiscuity, loss of self-control and violence.
By adopting the Spanish word “marijuana,” rather than the already widely-used “cannabis,” Anslinger and other prohibition activists of the early to mid-20th century were intentionally connecting the use of cannabis by Black and Hispanic people, to dangerous, fabricated side effects of the drug.
WA Lawmakers strike the word ‘marijuana’ from all state laws
In Olympia, Washington, legislators passed a law in 2022 that changes every Revised Code of Washington with the word “marijuana.” The change gets rid of the term, swapping it out for the word “cannabis.”
“The term ‘marijuana’ itself is pejorative and racist,” said Washington state Rep. Melanie Morgan during testimony in 2021. Morgan is a Democrat representing the 29th Legislative District and sponsored the bill — House Bill 1210.
“As recreational marijuana use became more popular, it was negatively associated with Mexican immigrants,” Morgan said.
KIRO 7 reports Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill that passed unanimously into law March 11, 2022. The changes took effect last June.
“Even though it seems simple because it’s just one word, the reality is we’re healing the wrongs that were committed against Black and Brown people around cannabis,” Morgan said.
“It was used as a racist terminology to lock up Black and brown people,” Morgan said.