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The strange and confusing history of the word "marijuana"

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One of the earliest appearances of "marijuana" in the United States occurred in the 1910s during the Mexican Revolution. Among the news updates about their southern neighbor's unrest, many Americans have also heard revolutionary war songs, one of which you probably already know: La Cucaracha. In some versions of La Cucaracha sung at this time, the titular cockroach cannot walk due to its lack of "marijuana". Not exactly 40 exposure levels, but the seeds have been sown.

About 900,000 Mexicans fled their war-torn US home, some bringing with them the practice of smoking cannabis, a substance that Americans only saw in their doctor's tinctures, if ever. The government has singled out other groups as well. In a 1911 letter, California Pharmaceutical Councilor Henry J. Finger complained about "Indians" who "introduced our whites to [this] habit." This xenophobia was compounded by the fact that these were the years leading up to Prohibition, when political rhetoric against intoxicants was booming.

California was the first state to succumb to white concerns about people of color smoking a mood-altering substance rather than tobacco. In 1913, the state passed legislation criminalizing the cultivation of "loci" and setting the stage for America's racial war on drugs.

However, cannabis was still more or less legal across the country and became a staple of the nascent black American jazz scene. A common historical narrative is that slaves were given cannabis to subdue them as slave labor. However, research has shown that the plant is likely to have spread throughout Asia, across the Arabian Peninsula, and by 1500 BC. The Egyptians learned about the medical benefits of cannabis for inflammation and other diseases. The medical and cultural use of cannabis has expanded by many African peoples, linking humans to the plant through slavery and their liberation in America. In the 1930s. Racial anxiety was extremely high. The Great Depression shook the economy, and Americans pounced on it, looking for something or someone to blame for their problems. In the jazz scene, cannabis was no longer what blacks and dark-skinned people smoked - whites joined in. And the establishment didn't have that.

This brings us to Henry Anslinger, director of the newly founded Federal Drug Enforcement Bureau. From his federal soap box, Anslinger (pictured below) voiced unfounded racist fears in his testimony to Congress about the many cannabis spankings.
29th Dec 2020, 10:35