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Washington State lawmakers recently passed a measure that replaces the word “marijuana” with “cannabis” in all state laws, referring to the racist origins of the Spanish word for weed as utilized by Harry Anslinger, who in the 1930s implemented extreme drug laws and unreasonably long prison sentences that gave rise to the current prison-industrial complex.
“The term ‘marijuana’ itself is pejorative and racist,” Democratic state Rep. Melanie Morgan claimed during 2021 testimony on House Bill 1210, which she sponsored, according to local CBS affiliate KIRO 7 and reported by Yahoo Finance.
“As recreational marijuana use became more popular, it was negatively associated with Mexican immigrants,” Morgan noted “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.”
The history of ‘marijuana’
Morgan quoted Anslinger, who as the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (a precursor to the DEA), conflated drug use, race and music to criminalize non-whiteness via the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which essentially laid the groundwork for the War on Drugs, later implemented by President Richard Nixon.
“It was … Anslinger that said, and I quote, ‘Marijuana is the most violent causing drug in the history of mankind. And most marijuana users are Negroes, Hispanic, Caribbean, and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz, and swing result from marijuana usage,'” Morgan said, adding that “It was used as a racist terminology to lock up Black and Brown people.”
Rep. Morgan’s bill was signed by Governor Jay Inslee. It is expected that its provisions will go into effect in June.