Given this dark past, most cannabis users try to shy away from the “M word,” once they learn its history. It’s not that there’s anything inherently racist in the word marijuana. It’s just the case that it’s then-exotic, “Mexican-sounding” name exploited racist attitudes and fears. And that’s why we should say “cannabis,” not “marijuana,” when we’re spreading ideas about the medical and recreational influences of the plant.
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” So said legendary philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. And he’s right. Language is important because it defines our ideas. Words have a power that transcends their formal meaning. When we change words, we can also change the thoughts that underlie them.
For almost a century, the word “marijuana” or “marihuana” has been used as an emotional, pejorative word. The negative images and associations of the word has played a key role in creating the negative stoner stigma that still tragically clings to cannabis culture.
At the root of those negative feelings and stigmas? Racist stereotypes mobilized to instill fear and ignorance about a plant.
By changing the words we use to describe cannabis and herbal medicine, we can help our fellow citizens understand the truth about it, and see through the decades of propaganda and negative stereotypes.
The word “cannabis” is a respectful, scientific term that encompasses all the many different uses of the plant.
Say “cannabis,” not “marijuana,” brief history lesson…
The word “marijuana” comes began it’s notorious career as a Mexican folk name for cannabis. It was first popularized in the United States by the notorious yellow press publisher, William Randolph Hearst.
Hearst was a racist. He was also quite committed to the prohibition of marijuana, which threatened his timber investments.
He used his control of hundreds of newspapers to orchestrate a vicious propaganda campaign against cannabis. Print ads featured lurid (and completely false) stories about black and brown men committing outrageous acts of murder and mayhem under the influence of the drug.
That campaign took advantage of the then-predominantly racist public opinion, ultimately leading to the federal prohibition of “marijuana” in 1937.
Ever since, “marijuana” has come to be associated with the idea that cannabis is a dangerous and addictive intoxicant. It’s exactly this stigmatizing image which has played such a huge role in blocking cannabis legalization efforts throughout the U.S.
And today, the legal, medical world of cannabis is still battling these long-lasting impressions. But there are signs the battle is being won.
The image of medical cannabis as a holistic, herbal medicine that can effectively combat the symptoms of serious diseases, treat neurological diseases and soothe pain is gaining greater momentum every day. And for tech-savvy investors, the legal cannabis industry is forecasting windfall profits.
This stigma has played a big part in stymying cannabis legalization efforts throughout the U.S.. So, the next time you’re going to speak about about the plant, say “cannabis,” not “marijuana.”
(Photo Credit: Visualizeus)