Don’t Use the Word Marijuana. 

Why we do not use the word Marijuana at 

Origins of the Word Marijuana

“What’s in a name”, says Shakespeare. We say “Much is in a name”. Though it is for the same entity that we refer from both “Cannabis” and “Marijuana”, we are in a dilemma which one to use (and which one is offensive). Most people are not even aware of the reason why ‘Marijuana’ is an offensive word. Being in a time when more and more countries are making it legal for even recreational use, it is high time to know the history of the word Marijuana and why we should not use it. That is exactly what we are going to deal with in this article.

The Etymology of “Marijuana”

Here are how linguists explain the origin of the word “Marijuana”.

Some linguists suggest that the word came from the Chinese Ma Ren Hua (‘Hemp Seed Flower’) from the Semitic root “mrj hemp”. The same root gives words like mejorana in Spanish and marjoram (oregano). Also, it is noteworthy that in Mexico, cannabis is known as “Chinese Oregano”.

History of the Word Marijuana

Here we get to know how the word became famous.

The Mexican Revolution

During 1840 and 1900, even before the Civil War, Cannabis had a very different use, definitely not for recreational purposes.

Before 1910, “marijuana” word did not exist, at least in America. Very few people knew it as Cannabis which was used only for medicinal purposes. Even pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly used cannabis extracts in their medicines.

The rich upper-class people, however, were going through the hashish culture. They had already started experimenting with cannabis plant.

In the first decade of the 20th century, there was a large-scale immigration of the Mexicans, thanks to the Civil War. The Mexicans already had the culture of smoking cannabis and they brought the practice with them. For the first time in the history of the US, people conceived the idea of smoking cannabis for recreational purposes.

In the 1910s, smoking of ‘locoweed’ was banned in California to regulate the use of opiates and psychoactive pharmaceuticals. This, apparently, did not come from the racialized understanding (“reefer-madness”) which caused its complete ban during the 1930s.

By the 1930s, the Great Depression had taken place and the Mexican immigrants became the natural and most vulnerable victims for the people who were looking for someone to blame for this devastation. As in any other culture, the native American people started to see Marijuana, jazz music, etc., which came with the immigrants as a foreign substance which corrupts the minds and bodies of low-class people.

Just before Marijuana was criminalized, 29 states out of 57 states in the US banned herb called “Marijuana”.

This Marijuana history becomes incomplete without the mention of Harry Anslinger. The man who started what is known in the United States as “The War on Drugs”, essentially to save his job and his department during the Great Depression. 

Many political personalities started opposing the Mexican immigrants for the protection of their individual interests. Harry Anslinger was one of those people who contributed to the stigmatized use of the word “Marijuana”. He was the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which was set up in 1930. After the legalization of alcohol in 1933 and the financial desperation of the United States after the Great Depression, Harry’s department suffered a huge budget cut and was potentially going to be out of a job. At this time, Harry started a huge campaign criminalizing cannabis under the name Marijuana.

He has given a lot of provocative speeches against cannabis consumption for recreative use. He termed Marijuana as the most violence-causing drug. He also said that only “foreign” people use it and that their “satanic” music and culture comes from using marijuana.

Anslinger and his propaganda were the primary ways how the word “Marijuana” became famous among the common Americans. This made it more foreign and alien. 

In the later years of the 1930s, 1937 to be specific, the Marijuana Tax Act came into force as a result of Anslinger’s efforts. It criminalized cannabis plant in every state of the US. And further to discourage the production of cannabis, it imposed a $1 tax on anybody who sold or cultivated cannabis.

In addition, all the citizens of America had to comply with a few provisions. Any violation of these provisions would attract imprisonment and a fine of $2,000.

No doubt “Marijuana” is more famous than “Cannabis” itself, even in the age of innovative fruity cannabis. But we now know that its roots lie deep in racism, politics, and cultural revolution.

According to some people, the word ignores (or reminds) of oppression against the Mexican immigrants and the African Americans. But some broad-minded people say that it has lost its offensive value. The introduction of the word Marijuana, without doubt, has caused immense magnitude and racial implications, both psychological and cultural.

Listen below for a piece on Harry Anslinger that was produced by National Public Radio (

So, the next time you use the word “Marijuana” or even go to buy cannabis online, just remember this long history of the word and be very cautious about using it. Whether to use it or not actually depends on you and the people around you. We should never deny that the erstwhile Mexican immigrants and other such oppressed people have become the part and parcel of our country and it is actually meaningless to discriminate them based on their past. News

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