There are so many different names for Cannabis. Like anything fun or popular, Cannabis has so many nicknames it deserves a thesaurus of its very own. With all of the possible names to choose from, may I suggest the one word to avoid: Marijuana
The word “marijuana” didn’t even exist in American culture in 1900. The scientific moniker, “cannabis” was used, primarily in reference to medicines and remedies for common ailments. In the early 1900s, herbalists and medical concerns that became the pharmaceutical powerhouses of today (i.e. Bristol-Meyer’s, Squibb and Eli Lilly) used cannabis in many of their medicines.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites the word marijuana may come from the Nahuatl peoples’ word for “prisoner”: mallihuan. This odd word with its different spellings and negative connotations was embraced by Harry J. Anslinger during his campaigns against Cannabis. The use of the name Marihuana (Marijuana) increased dramatically in the 1930s, when the exotic word was tossed about during debates of Cannabis’ legality. It was actively promoted by opponents of Cannabis wanting to brand it with an evil, “foreign-sounding” name. The word was cemented into the American lexicon with the “1937 Marihuana tax act”.
You might remember Mr. Anslinger as the brains behind the famously unsuccessful prohibition of alcohol. Fresh from this failure, Anslinger wanted desperately to keep his job which just became obsolete so he rallied to make marijuana the “next feared thing”. As a result, Anslinger became the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the larval stage of the modern DEA and the start of a never-ending war on drugs.
Anslinger used the popularity of those new “moving picture theaters” to spread fear of this “foreign” plant with productions like Reefer Madness crafted just for white American audiences. Sensationalized with overacting and insane scripts, “Marijuana” was always portrayed as a lubricant for the misdeeds of low-lifes and undesirable immigrants (read: brown people).
About as racist as one could be, Anslinger was fond of mixing marijuana with his dislike of anyone not sharing his skin color. “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.” said Mr. Anslinger. Hmmmmm, kinda reminds me of another racist politician that is full of shit.
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 J. Anslinger
So, it seems Anslinger’s antics at the Bureau of Narcotics are partially responsible for “marijuana” to become a word known by all Americans. Cannabis was no longer that beneficial plant substance found in medicines and consumed without fear. Marijuana became public enemy #1.