The Mysterious History Of ‘Marijuana’
Marijuana has been intertwined with race and ethnicity in America since well before the word “marijuana” was coined. The drug, my colleague Gene Demby recently wrote, has a disturbing case of multiple personality disorder: It’s a go-to pop culture punch line. It’s the foundation of a growing recreational and medicinal industry. Yet according to the ACLU, it’s also the reason for more than half of the drug arrests in the U.S. A deeply disproportionate number of marijuana arrests (the vast majority of which are for possession) befall African-Americans, despite similar rates of usage among whites and blacks, the ACLU says.
Throughout the 19th century, news reports and medical journal articles almost always use the plant’s formal name, cannabis. Numerous accounts say that “marijuana” came into popular usage in the U.S. in the early 20th century because anti-cannabis factions wanted to underscore the drug’s “Mexican-ness.” It was meant to play off of anti-immigrant sentiments.