The word “marijuana” has racist origins

Unbeknownst to many, “marijuana” is not a harmless term – it comes from a derogatory and xenophobic past targeting Mexican-Americans


Blake Kline

The effects of weed vary and are dependent on tolerance, size and weight of user, drug strength, method of high, and combination with other drugs.

Cannabis is a cannabinoid drug with both recreational and medicinal uses. It contains both THC (a psychoactive) and CBD (a non-psychoactive), two ingredients that contribute to its many effects.

Before the 20th century, cannabis was used exclusively in medical scenarios and as an industrial textile.

As the use of the drug increased has shifted throughout history, so have the variety of names used to reference it: hemp, weed, pot, bud, and — of course — marijuana.

Cannabis has been referred to as “marijuana” (or “marihuana” or “mariguana”) since the early 1900s, when its recreational use truly took off. The origins of this term have been negatively tied to racial derogatories since the very beginning.

The term itself is derived directly from xenophobic roots. It was first coined by political groups of people wanting to stop the use of cannabis for the sake of personal economic gain – and the people smoking cannabis they were targeting? Mexican immigrants.

These anti-immigrant sentiments during the time did unfortunately gain a lot of traction, and — rather quickly — the word “marijuana” was used in common everyday language to automatically associate cannabis with the traits people aggressively stereotyped in Mexican immigrants: laziness and dirtiness.

Mania spread across the country. Many dreaded seeing, coming into contact with, or consuming what was sometimes called Mexican “locoweed”.

Cannabis was categorized as a dangerous drug – a drug that would cause delusions, visions, and insanity. A drug that would lead to an unsuccessful and lethargic life.

Members of society feared cannabis almost as much as they feared immigrants themselves. The xenophobia grew more hateful as both socially and legally, immigrants were punished for this way of intoxication. It wasn’t long before statewide and federal restrictions strictly outlawed smoking pot.

Immigrants were literally referred to as “degenerate Spanish-speaking residents”, and their low economic and social positions were blamed on their smoking, despite the fact that racism ran rampant throughout economic welfare and fair opportunities at success.

But it was definitely the pot that was causing lack of success for Mexican immigrants. Sure.

We obviously continue to use the term “marijuana” now, and many don’t know the full historical context of the word, which is not at the fault of anyone.

“Marijuana” is even used in medicinal contexts when prescribed to help combat symptoms of anxiety to side effects of cancer chemotherapy.

What we can do, though, is continue to educate ourselves and apply our learnings to our own lives and choice of vocabulary. The historical background of a word matters, and it can be extremely harmful and offensive.