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The Washington State Legislature recently passed a bill replacing the word “marijuana” with “cannabis” in all state laws, citing the alleged racist origins of the Spanish word.
“The term ‘marijuana’ itself is pejorative and racist,” said Democratic state Rep. Melanie Morgan claimed during 2021 testimony regarding House Bill 1210, which she sponsored, according to local CBS affiliate KIRO 7.
“As recreational marijuana use became more popular, it was negatively associated with Mexican immigrants,” Morgan explained. “Even though it seems simple because it’s just one word, the reality is we’re healing the wrongs that were committed against Black and Brown people around cannabis.”
Evening at the Washington State Capitol with flowering cherry trees. (Dan Mihai/Getty Images)
Morgan went on during her testimony to quote Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who played a pivotal role in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 that banned selling and processing cannabis.
“It was … Anslinger that said, and I quote, ‘Marijuana is the most violent causing drug in the history of mankind. And most marijuana users are Negroes, Hispanic, Caribbean, and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz, and swing result from marijuana usage,'” said Morgan.
“It was used as a racist terminology to lock up Black and Brown people,” she added.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee holds a press conference on March 16, 2020, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson – Pool/Getty Images)
Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill after it passed unanimously on March 11, and its provisions will go into effect in June.
In 2020, Washington state lawmakers established the “Washington Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis,” with the intention of bringing more diversity to pot shop owners by offering minority cannabis license applicants grants and financial assistance to get their business started.
By a vote of 220-204, the U.S. House of Representatives voted earlier this month to decriminalize possession of marijuana on the federal level.