The History Of The Word Marijuana

The word “marijuana” was popularized back in the 1930’s. Prior to this timeframe, the most common terms for marijuana were either hemp or cannabis. Marijuana was actually a Mexican slang term that was derived from the word maraguanquo. This word means “intoxicating plant” and as Mexicans immigrated over the border to the US with cannabis, the term was popularized, being spelled “marihuana” at the time.

Before cannabis was made illegal, one of the most profitable cash crops in American was hemp. The magazine Popular Mechanics in 1938 called hemp a Billion Dollar Crop. This never came to fruition once marijuana prohibition was passed and eventually marijuana was placed into the category of a Schedule 1 Narcotic.

In the 1930’s, a growing movement started lobbying marijuana to be made illegal. A number of groups promoted marijuana as increasing violence, insanity, and crimes against women. “Reefer Madness” was a film produced in these years promoting hemp as a deadly substance.

The head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics at the time, Harry Anslinger, promoted these myths. He received prominent businessperson support from numerous individuals who had special interests in marijuana prohibition, including the Dupont Family, Randolph Hearst, and Andrew Mellon.

The terms hemp and cannabis were well known at the time and maintained solid reputations as being 1) medicinal and 2) successful business terms. Hemp was a large cash crop, cannabis helped with numerous medical conditions. However, marijuana was a new slang term, and those opposed to marijuana’s legality seized on the term to mold it into a negative connotation.

It worked at the time, and despite objections from the American Medical Association, prohibition was put into place with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. One thing that the Act did do was convert marijuana from a slang term into being a legitimate word. After that it began showing up in dictionaries and in official reports and became more commonly used, and today when discussing medicinal use it’s medical marijuana. Unfortunately a lot of the negative connotations and myths that were propagated in the 1930’s still pervade society.

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