While the use of the word “marijuana” is not as polarizing in Thailand as it is in other places, Sawaweed wanted to dive into the subject to explain how we use the terms cannabis, marijuana, and ganja editorially and whether Sawaweed feels the word “marijuana” is racist.
If you’re unaware of why “marijuana” is polarizing, first one must understand a little history behind the word.
The origins of the word are in dispute but, according to Santiago Guerra, a professor of Southwest Studies at Colorado College, it first came into use when Europeans colonized parts of Mexico. The Europeans wanted the locals to grow hemp for ropes and other uses and in the process the locals discovered the psychoactive properties of the plant.
In order to hide the fact that it was being used as a psychoactive, the indigenous people gave it a normal sounding name that would blend in with other plants that the Europeans wanted to have Christian influenced names so the “Mari” part was supposedly in honor of the Virgin Mary.
In the 1930’s racially motivated members of the US government, namely Harry Anslinger, began using the word “marijuana” rather than it’s more common and popular name, “cannabis” in order to make it seem foreign and exotic.
The name mairjuana also tied it more closely to Mexicans who were immigrating to the United States and still used the plant for medical and recreational purposes.
This anti-mairijuana propaganda, amplified by films like Reefer Madness, allowed politicians to gather enough public support to make the plant illegal. This, in turn, allowed the government to focus enforcement on people of color, namely blacks and Mexicans.
Because of this, some feel that the word “marijuana” should not be used as it is a reminder of the racist roots of the word.
Meanwhile, cannabis activists prefer to use the word “cannabis” over “marijuana” as they feel that due to the drug war and prohibitionist propaganda, the word marijuana has been stigmatized as a recreational drug for getting high.
They prefer to use the word cannabis to indicate the wider potential of the plant which can be used for medicinal and wellness purposes.
It also happens to be the scientific name of the plant as well, cannabis sativa.
Thais call it “ganja” (กัญชา). Check out the link for more information on why that is and the origins of the word (hint: It has nothing to do with Rastafarians).
So is the word “Marijuana” Racist?
Maybe. We don’t know. It’s not a question with a clearcut answer.
The number of people that even know the history of the word “marijuana” is currently a minuscule percentage of the total number of people that use the word.
Nor does it seem to have a current negative connotation in the general public. People of all races proudly identify as marijuana users and marijuana patients. Likewise, many of the new laws legalizing cannabis, in the same United States that used racist propaganda to criminalize cannabis, are often referred to as “marijuana” laws. The word “marijuana” even has its own slang as many call it Mary Jane.
Of course, public opinion could one day change. And we will reassess if public opinion does change. Until then, Sawaweed prefers to think of it as one of many names used to refer to the cannabis sativa plant. We don’t intend any negative stereotypes and see it like any other slang term like, weed, grass, pot, reefer, herb, chronic, etc.
We tend to use “Cannabis” when we’re referring to the entire universe of the plant, be it the industry, the medical use, or the plant itself.
We often use “Marijuana” to refer to the psychoactive uses of the plant and the specific strains which produce high THC cannabinoids. And sometimes we use common phrases like “Medical Marijuana” because they are, well, in common use.
“Ganja” we tend to reserve for slang or when referring to a specific Thai use-case.
What do you think? Is “marijuana” a racist term? Let us know below.