Legislation has taken effect in Washington State that removes the word “marijuana” from all state laws and replaces it with “cannabis” instead.

The full scientific name of the cannabis plant is cannabis sativa L, and proponents for the language change argue that this is the term that should be adopted in law rather than the slang term of “marijuana,” which has racist connotations.

The bill was approved by lawmakers in April this year and was soon signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. Now, the language of Washington cannabis laws have been revised accordingly.

The legislation – HB 1210 – was filed by Rep. Melanie Morgan who argued the change was necessary due to the racist history of the term “marijuana.”

“The term ‘marijuana’ itself is pejorative and racist,” Morgan said. “As recreational marijuana use became more popular, it was negatively associated with Mexican immigrants.”

The term “marijuana” was widely used in anti-cannabis propaganda throughout the 20th century, especially by proponents of cannabis prohibition such as Harry J. Anslinger, who played a pivotal role in the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others,” said the first commissioner of the US Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which was later renamed the Drug Enforcement Administration.

It was also adopted by President Richard Nixon in his anti-drug crusade that was largely motivated by a desire to weaken the antiwar and civil rights movement.

The policy and rules coordinator for Washington State’s Liquor and Cannabis Board, Jeff Kildahl, said some changes still need to be made but that the work is necessary to fully accept the legitimacy of cannabis and understand its troubled history.

“It took a little while. Some may think this is a simple thing, that it took a little while, and it’s going to take some work to get it all done, but it’s important, and it is part of our ongoing evolution of really the knowledge and acceptance of cannabis and learning about the history of some of these things,” he said.

One cannabis dispensary business owner in Washington State, Joy Hollingsworth, welcomed the removal of “marijuana” from Washington’s cannabis laws but urged that this should be backed up by further efforts at making the industry more equitable.

“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.

To this end, lawmakers created the ‘Washington Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis’ in 2020, which aims to encourage greater diversity among marijuana business owners by providing grants and other financial assistance to qualifying applicants.

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