Although the terms “weed,” “pot,” “grass,” “flower,” or “Mary Jane,” are tossed around interchangeably, Washington state has officially declared one word unacceptable: “marijuana.”
A law was recently passed to replace the word “marijuana” with “cannabis” in every Revised Code of Washington, attempting to combat the long history of racism associated with the term.
Washington state representative Melanie Morgan, a Democrat representing the 29th Legislative District and sponsoring the bill, claimed “the term ‘marijuana itself is pejorative and racist” during a 2021 testimony where she discussed the history of the word that originates from the Spanish language. “As recreational marijuana use became more popular, it was negatively associated with Mexican immigrants,” she continued.
The bill unanimously passed into law on March 11 after Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill, and the changes will take effect in June.
“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,” Morgan added.
Joy Hollingsworth, alongside her family, own a Cannabis Company with a pot farm in Shelton. They also run Hollingsworth Hemp Company, producing non-THC hemp products such as candles and lotions.
Based on her experience in the industry, she understands the burden that comes with the term “marijuana” for people of color in the industry.
“It had been talked about for a long time in our community about how that word demonizes the cannabis plant,” Hollingsworth said.
Harry Anslinger was the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, later becoming the Drug Enforcement Administration, playing a significant role in the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 that banned the selling or possession of 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 results from marijuana usage,’” Morgan stated during her testimony.
Several lawmakers referenced the anti-pot propaganda film “Reefer Madness” during their testimonies to provide context for the mentality around weed in the 1930s.
The trailer of the film is still accessible online and includes a jarring narration: “In this startling film, you will see dopesters lure children to destruction. A new and deadly menace lurking behind closed doors: Marijuana! The burning weed with its roots in hell.”
“It was used as a racist terminology to lock up Black and brown people,” Morgan explained during a commentary on the bill.
Hollingsworth was never blind to this reality, revealing that her mother taught her about the trauma behind the word.
“She was the one who educated us on the term and how it was derogatory and we shouldn’t use it anymore,” Hollingsworth continued. “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.”
Nationwide, black people were still 3.6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, revealed a 2020 ACLU report.
According to state representative Emily Wicks, the passing of this bill drives a change in the conversation around cannabis in Washington. “Although we call it a technical fix, I think it does a lot to undo or at least correct in some effort, some of the serious harms around this language.”
“If you have a group of people saying this word is derogatory, this word is pain, just not something we should use — we need to have a better understanding of listening to folks,” Hollingsworth said. “Just change it and move on.”
Although this law is a step in the right direction, Hollingsworth points out that we are still far from reaching equity within the cannabis industry.
“We’ll take any win right? But we don’t want to get caught up on the performative equity piece where we’re just talking about words and not actual legislation and policy,” Hollingsworth said.
One change that would truly make a difference would be for a portion of cannabis tax dollars to be reinvested into communities of color, and Hollingsworth remains hopeful.
“We will feel like the industry has paid off when we see those funds get put into college scholarships. Maybe a family wanted to buy a home and they were from the Central District of Seattle, and they wanted to go back there because they were priced out. They could get a loan from those funds. Thinking about creative ways to make impactful scalable solutions in our community is what I’m looking for,” Hollingsworth continued.
The “Washington Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis” was established by lawmakers in 2020 and is already working toward bringing more diversity to pot shop owners. For the first time in history, minority applicants for cannabis licenses have the opportunity to receive grants and assistance to help them establish their business, which would be monumental in reframing the cannabis industry.
Head to Dark Matter Smag to follow along with the latest updates in the cannabis industry.
Author: Jess Jeffrey (Dark Matters)