Lawmakers remove word ‘marijuana’ from all state laws, calling term racist – KIRO 7 News Seattle
OLYMPIA, Wash. – “Pot”, “grass”, “grass”, “Mary Jane”, “flower” – there is no shortage of terms to describe cannabis. However, Washington State is officially taking one word off the table: “marijuana”.
Lawmakers recently passed a law that amends every revised Washington code with the word “marijuana.” The change removes the term, replacing it with the word “cannabis”.
Proponents say the word “marijuana” has a long history of racism.
“The term ‘marijuana’ itself is pejorative and racist,” Washington state Rep. Melanie Morgan said in 2021 testimony. Morgan is a Democrat representing the 29th Legislative District and sponsored the bill – House Bill 1210. Morgan discussed the history of the word , which comes from Spanish.
“As recreational marijuana use became more popular, it was negatively associated with Mexican immigrants,” Morgan said.
Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill which passed unanimously on March 11. The changes will come into effect in June.
“Even though it sounds simple because it’s just a word, the reality is that we are healing the wrongs that have been done against black and brown people around cannabis,” Morgan said.
Joy Hollingsworth owns Hollingsworth Cannabis Company with her family. The family business includes a pot farm in Shelton. They also run a hemp subsidiary, called the Hollingsworth Hemp Company, which produces a line of THC-free hemp products like candles and lotions.
She says for people of color in the industry, the word “marijuana” is a burden.
“There was a long talk in our community about how that word demonizes the cannabis plant,” Hollingsworth said.
Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (which later became the Drug Enforcement Administration) played a big role in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which made it illegal to sell or possess weed.
“It was…Anslinger who said, and I quote, ‘Marijuana is the most violent drug in human history. And most marijuana users are black, Hispanic, Caribbean, and entertainers. Their satanic music, jazz and swing are the result of marijuana use,” Morgan said during his testimony.
To explain the mentality around weed in the 1930s, several lawmakers referred to the anti-pot propaganda film, “Reefer Madness.”
“In this startling film, you’ll see dopesters luring children to destruction,” says a trailer for the film on YouTube. “A deadly new threat lurking behind closed doors: Marijuana! The burning grass with its roots in hell.
“It’s been used as racist terminology to lock up blacks and browns,” Morgan said when commenting on the bill this year.
Hollingsworth says her mother taught her about the trauma behind the word.
“She was the one who educated us on the term and that it was derogatory and we shouldn’t use it anymore,” Hollingsworth said. “We have a lot of people, especially in the black community, who have gone to jail for cannabis for years. Who have been locked up, separated from their nuclear family, which is huge,” she said.
“It’s really painful for people to hear that word and it triggers them,” Hollingsworth said.
A 2020 ACLU report found that nationally, black people were still 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.
State Representative Emily Wicks says the bill is changing the conversation about cannabis in Washington.
“Although we call it a technical fix, I think it does a lot to undo or at least fix in some efforts some of the severe damage around this tongue,” Wicks said.
“If you have a bunch of people saying that word is derogatory, that word is pain, but not something we should be using — we need to have a better understanding of listening to people,” Hollingsworth said. “Just change it and move on,” she said.
Hollingsworth points out that there is still a long way to go when it comes to fairness in the cannabis industry.
“We’ll take any win, right? But we don’t want to get caught up in the problem of performative fairness where we’re only talking about words and not actual laws and policies,” said Hollingsworth.
One change she hopes to see is a chunk of cannabis tax money being reinvested in communities of color.
“We will feel like the industry has paid off when we see these funds being invested in college scholarships. Maybe a family wanted to buy a house and they were from the central district of Seattle, and they wanted to go back there because it was so expensive. They could obtain a loan from these funds. Thinking of creative ways to create impactful scalable solutions in our community is what I’m looking for,” said Hollingsworth.
Lawmakers created the “Washington Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis” in 2020. One change already underway is to bring more diversity to cannabis store owners. Minority applicants for cannabis licenses could receive grants and assistance that help business owners get established.
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