Reefer Madness

Cannabis, not your parents Marijuana

By Michael Saunders


Marijuana, in the history of our country is a word that has had a negative connotation—the plant to which it refers is Cannabis.  The term Marijuana is inexplicably linked to the country Mexico, the US’s propensity toward xenophobia and our de jure issues with racism that existed during prohibition and sadly continue today. Our relationship as a country with the plant itself is somewhat confused; to the privileged sector of our culture, it’s something you do when your young and/or with little to no consequences. 

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has stated that “Marijuana” drug arrests target black people and minorities more than any other groups in our culture. Around the turn of the century and up through the 50s, the culture worked to demonize cannabis. Just prior to the 1930s, a story coming out of NY Times in 1925 made national news. The NY Times headline read “KILLS SIX IN A HOSPITAL.; Mexican, Crazed by Marihuana, Runs Amuck With Butcher Knife.” Thus, cannabis had a new, evil persona to go with its new label. These negative ideas and erroneous beliefs about the impacts of cannabis were propagated by corporate interests during the 30s, 40s and 50s as well.

Eric Schlosser, the author of Reefer Madness, summed up the evolution of the demonization of cannabis through the turn of the century when he wrote, “The political upheaval in Mexico that culminated in the Revolution of 1910 led to a wave of Mexican immigration to states throughout the American Southwest. The prejudices and fears that greeted these peasant immigrants also extended to their traditional means of intoxication: smoking marijuana. Police officers in Texas claimed that marijuana incited violent crimes, aroused a "lust for blood," and gave its users "superhuman strength." Rumors spread that Mexicans were distributing this "killer weed" to unsuspecting American schoolchildren. Sailors and West Indian immigrants brought the practice of smoking marijuana to port cities along the Gulf of Mexico. In New Orleans newspaper articles associated the drug with African-Americans, jazz musicians, prostitutes, and underworld whites. "The Marijuana Menace," as sketched by anti-drug campaigners, was personified by inferior races and social deviants."

The criminalization and demonization of cannabis has a dark, financially driven genesis. Cannabis was outlawed because various powerful economic and political interests were able to manufacture it into a pariah in the popular psyche. The did this by spreading tales of homicidal mania sparked off (no pun intended) by consumption of what was called the "locoweed." A growing fear of Mexican immigrants and other “brown people” combined with fear of drugs that turn people in to monsters, menaces and dropouts worked to hurt the image of cannabis in our culture. This type of propaganda produced a wave of public action against the "marijuana menace." These efforts led to restrictions in state after state, ultimately resulting in federal prohibition, all to try to restrict and cripple the hemp industry in the US in favor of Dupont and other fiber manufactures.

To be clear, it is pretty well documented that a concerted campaign against cannabis was launched in our country by rich, powerful people in order to promote production and manufacturing of goods with artificial, versus hemp based, natural fibers. It would appear as though powerful interests used their money and influence to subvert the hemp industry, leading to an all-out demonization of the cannabis plant in all sectors of the American culture.

Federal prohibition of cannabis still exists and words still matter. Therefore, let’s all plan to do our part with regard to the language we use when talking about cannabis. Also, when someone calls it Marijuana, correct them and tell them why they shouldn’t call it that, now that you know. Cannabis is the name of the plant, not Marijuana.  

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