The History and Truth about Cannabis and Marijuana

Cannabis Or Marijuana? – The Paper

By Joshua Lee, The Rolling Paper

Isaac Campos, a professor of Latin American History at the University of Cincinnati, recently published a study that sheds light on the history and misconceptions surrounding the words “cannabis” and “marijuana.” In an interview, Campos debunks the popular notion that the term “marijuana” is racist in origin.

According to Campos, the idea that “marijuana” has racist connotations comes from the conspiracy theories of a popular marijuana activist named Jack Herer in the 1980s. Herer claimed that Harry Anslinger of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and William Randolph Hearst intentionally used the word “marijuana” to associate the drug with Mexican immigrants and demonize it. However, Campos says there is no evidence to support this claim.

Cannabis was a well-known intoxicant in the US by the early 20th century, and it had a reputation for producing problematic effects in some users. Mexicans themselves had already been demonizing cannabis as it was believed to cause madness and violence. Thus, the anti-Mexican attitudes were not even necessary to demonize the drug.

Additionally, contrary to the conspiracy theory claims, the word “hashish” was already a well-established term in the US with orientalist and potentially racist connotations. However, as cannabis use culture spread from Mexico, the term “marijuana” gained popularity in the US, particularly for smoking cannabis cigarettes. Medicinal cannabis was often referred to as “Cannabis indica,” and intoxicant cannabis was typically called “hashish” or “Indian hemp.”

Campos also adds that Herer makes claims on almost no evidence. His claims motivated other marijuana activists in the late 1980s and early 1990s when medical marijuana and recreational marijuana were eventually legalized. Campos believes that ending the war on marijuana has been a positive outcome, but he emphasizes that marijuana can be harmful when used by a small but significant percentage of its users.

In conclusion, Campos debunks the conspiracy theories that the words “cannabis” and “marijuana” have racist origins. The reality is that “marijuana” is a common Mexican term for cannabis, just like “salsa” is a Mexican word for sauce. The influence of Mexican culture is evident, and decrying the use of the term “marijuana” would be like denouncing the use of “salsa.”

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