What’s in a name? For legislators in Hawaii, a lot. State Sen. Mike Gabbard vehemently opposes the word “marijuana.” To him and other lawmakers in Hawaii, it is a “slang term” that has “prejudicial implications rooted in racial stereotypes.”
Gabbard has introduced a bill in the senate that would replace the term “medical marijuana” with “medical cannabis” in all state laws. The legislation, which passed the Senate, is now in the house as HB37.
According to Section 1 of the bill:
The legislature finds that the term “marijuana” originated as a slang term to describe the genus of plants that is scientifically known as cannabis. “Marijuana” has no scientific basis but carries prejudicial implications rooted in racial stereotypes from the early twentieth century era when cannabis use was first criminalized in the United States. The term “cannabis” carries no such negative connotations and is a more accurate and appropriate term to describe a plant that has been legalized for medicinal use in Hawaii, twenty-seven other states, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.
And it’s not just Hawaiian lawmakers wanting to make the legal change. The Canadian federal government has moved from the term and spelling “marihuana” to cannabis.
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Marijuana. Marihuana. Cannabis. Do they all mean the same thing? Yes. However, history tells the real story.
The scientifically accurate term for the herb is cannabis sativa, or cannabis for short. It was always called cannabis until after the Spanish-American War in 1898. What happened? John Hudak, author of Marijuana: A Short History explains: “American resentment toward Mexicans and Mexican immigrants exploded.”
In order to cast a negative light on the plant, anti-Mexican politicians, bureaucrats and media started demonizing “marihuana” — the Spanish translation of cannabis. The changing of the name in the United States was a pure propaganda play.
According to Martin A. Lee in his book Smoke Signals, the term marijuana (or marihuana) became “popularized in the United States during the 1930s by advocates of prohibition who sought to exploit prejudice against despised minority groups, especially Mexican immigrants.”
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In the 1930s, the U.S. government created the Marihuana Tax Act, using the H variation. Marihuana was the preferred spelling for decades until the 1970s.
NOTE: At The Fresh Toast, we use cannabis and marijuana interchangeably since most of our readers use both terms. The editorial team has decided as a policy to steer clear of the term pot.