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Washington State Code to Nix Word ‘marijuana’ Over Concerns it’s Racist

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(The Center Square) – In Washington state, where recreational pot is legal, “marijuana” is out, and “cannabis” is in.

Starting in June, the word “marijuana” will be stricken throughout the Revised Code of Washington and replaced with “cannabis.”

It’s the result of House Bill 1210 finding “the use of the term ‘marijuana’ in the United States has discriminatory origins…”

HB 1210 was passed by the Legislature this session and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on March 11.

State Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Tukwila, the prime sponsor of the legislation, explained its importance during testimony before the House Commerce & Gaming Committee in January.

“This House Bill 1210 to change terminology from using the word ‘marijuana’ to the scientific name ‘cannabis’ is extremely important…even though it seems simple because it’s just one word,” Morgan said during the virtual meeting. “But the reality is we are healing the wrongs that were committed against black and brown people around cannabis, as it was used as a racist terminology to lock up black and brown people.”

Although the two words are used more or less interchangeably these days, there was a time in America when the more exotic-sounding Spanish word “marijuana” was used to emphasize the foreign nature of the drug to white Americans at a time of increased xenophobia.

In the early 20th century, the United States saw an influx of tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants to the southwest region of the country in the wake of the Mexican Civil War. That led to an increase in anti-Mexican immigrant sentiment, including a campaign of “reefer madness” among white Americans.

Most notably, Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (which later become the Drug Enforcement Administration) played an instrumental role in getting Congress to pass the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which banned selling and possessing cannabis.

He is alleged to have said, “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

The new Washington law was met with approval by a representative of the Tacoma-based Craft Cannabis Coalition (CCC), an association of more than 60 cannabis retail stores.

“Our association is supportive of social equity in the cannabis industry and strongly recognizes the harm the war on drugs caused,” CCC Executive Director Adan Espino Jr. told The Center Square in an email. “We do not feel as strongly about the term ‘marijuana’ as others seem to, but we do appreciate the transition to the term ‘cannabis’ as the industry continues to develop and professionalize. If the term ‘marijuana’ has fallen out of practice, that is just the reality of it.”

His comments were echoed by Tiffany Watkins, CEO of Vanguard Media One, and a member of the Washington, D.C.-based National Cannabis Industry Association’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.

“While it’s definitely time to steer permanently away from terms based on racism, replacing marijuana with cannabis is merely a drop in the ocean when it comes to correcting the wrong done by the war on drugs,” Watkins said via email. “Much more attention needs to be brought to how a state with over 10 years of legal cannabis operations still has no social equity program in place to acknowledge the barriers to entry for its BIPOC [black, indigenous, people of color] individuals.”

In 2020, Washington lawmakers established the “Washington Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis,” with the goal of developing policies and recommendations to enhance impartiality, fairness, and justice for all people in terms of the cannabis licensing process.