I was talking to a cannabis business owner I’ve known for a while and respect. The man, who is white, told me he refused to use the term “marijuana” because it’s racist.
It was one of my first conversations on the cannabis beat, which I’ve been on for a month now. And my mind was bursting with questions.
Should I be offended by the word marijuana??!!
This Chicana journalist has been on a mission to get answers ever since.
Immediately, I turned to Google and realized that he was talking about the numerous accounts saying that in the 1930s, American politicians leading the charge of prohibition popularized the term “marijuana” in the U.S. to paint the drug as a “Mexican vice” and to have an excuse to persecute Mexican immigrants.
Yet now after talking to scholars, lawmakers, fellow Latino journalists and even my parents, I’ve learned that — yes — race is involved, but not in the way I expected.
First, I spoke with Isaac Campos, a professor of Latin American History at the University of Cincinnati and author of Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs.
About a month ago, Campos published findings online of his long study on the history of cannabis terminology, and it’s compelling work.
Bottom line: He said the claim that politicians intentionally popularized the term during prohibition is false — because the word was being used decades before then in the United States.
And in his view, people shouldn’t have a problem using “marijuana.” In fact, erasing the word brings its own problems.
The first reference to the intoxicant “marihuana” was found in 1842 in Mexican newspapers, and then the term made its way to the United States in the 1890s.
After looking through thousands of American newspaper articles between 1910 and 1919, Campos found that “hashish” was by far the most common word used for intoxicant cannabis during that time — and “marihuana” …