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New Law Removes The Word ‘Marijuana’ From State Bills Over Racism Fears

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New Law Removes The Word ‘Marijuana’ From State Bills Over Racism Fears

Warning: This article includes language some readers may find offensive but that has been included for context.

Legislators in Washington state have passed a bill to remove the word 'marijuana' from all of its state laws amid accusations the term is racist.

The drug in question is one that has been a frequent topic of conversation in states across America over the past few years as areas increasingly choose to decriminalise or legalise it altogether, with Washington being among the regions where recreational use is legal for those over the age of 21.

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However, while it may be legal, the drug will no longer be referred to in the Revised Code of Washington as 'marijuana', and instead will be dubbed 'cannabis'.

Cannabis plant. Credit: Pixabay
Cannabis plant. Credit: Pixabay

The decision comes after supporters for the law change argued the term was problematic, with Washington State Rep. Melanie Morgan describing it as 'pejorative and racist' during testimony in 2021.

Morgan explained the word, which originates from Spanish, came to be negatively associated with Mexican immigrants as recreational cannabis use became more popular.

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Citing Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics – later the Drug Enforcement Administration – Morgan said: "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 results from marijuana usage."

Joy Hollingsworth, owner of Hollingsworth Cannabis Company, said the term 'marijuana' comes with a burden for people of colour in the industry, KIRO 7 reports, explaining: “It had been talked about for a long time in our community about how that word demonises the cannabis plant."

Weed will be referred to as 'cannabis' instead of 'marijuana' in Washington law. Credit: Alamy
Weed will be referred to as 'cannabis' instead of 'marijuana' in Washington law. Credit: Alamy

“We have a lot of people, especially in the Black community, that went to prison over cannabis for years. That were locked up, separated from their nuclear family, which is huge. It’s really painful for people to hear that word and it triggers them," Hollingsworth added.

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The bill passed into law on 11 March and was signed by Governor Jay Inslee, with the changes set to take effect in June.

Morgan noted while the word change may seem 'simple', in reality it is 'healing the wrongs that were committed against Black and Brown people around cannabis'.

State Rep. Emily Wicks agreed, saying that while it is dubbed a 'technical fix', the bill 'does a lot to undo or at least correct in some effort, some of the serious harms around this language'.

Hollingsworth appreciated the win but noted there is still more to be done in terms of actual legislation and policy, with hopes that some cannabis tax dollars will in the future be reinvested into communities of colour.

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If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact Stop Hate UK by visiting their website www.stophateuk.org 

If you want friendly, confidential advice about drugs, you can talk to FRANK. You can call 0300 123 6600, text 82111 or contact through their website 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, or livechat from 2pm-6pm any day of the week 

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: News, Drugs, US News, Racism

Emily Brown
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