The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators is the first major Latinx group in the nation to adopt a resolution calling for the “decriminalization, commercialization and taxation of cannabis.”
And there’s a big reason why the NHCSL speaks of “cannabis,” not “marijuana.” The resolution details how racism and prejudice influenced cannabis laws in the United States — including calling the plant “marijuana.”
According to the resolution, “the racist politicians who first criminalized cannabis used the term ‘marijuana’ (sometimes spelled ‘marihuana’) to refer to it, precisely because they wanted to underscore that it was a Latino, particularly Mexican ‘vice,’ and that word, with all its implications, has become the most common name for cannabis in the United States today.”
Prior to the law in 1937, the word “marijuana was sparsely used by English language speakers in the United States and was not included in U.S. English dictionaries,” the resolution states.
During the 1920s and 1930s, cannabis use was portrayed as a cultural vice of Mexican immigrants to the United States and politicians used cannabis prohibitions to target and incarcerate Mexican Americans, the resolution says.
The resolution also mentions the first commissioner of the Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who in testimony in support of federal restrictions on marijuana, referred to Mexicans and Spanish-speaking persons, marijuana, and “loco weed.” The testimony led to enactment of the Marihuana Tax Act.
The word “marijuana” “became commonly included after passage of that act, showing how its enactment entrenched bias and discrimination into the language,” the NHCSL says.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional, leading Congress to repeal it and in 1970 pass the Controlled Substances Act, which classified pot as a Schedule 1 drug. That law, according to the NHCSL, inherited “the same intrinsically racist, xenophobic and anti-Hispanic bias of the original.”