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Is the Word 'Marijuana' Racist?

During a forum at a high school, a Rhode Island candidate for attorney general compared the term to an extreme racial epithet and called it "a curse to my people."

A candidate for attorney general in Rhode Island flew off the handle yesterday after his opponent refused to stop using the word marijuana. Alan Gordon's outburst, which took place at a local high school, culminated in him comparing the use of the term to a racial epithet after which he stormed off the stage.

"That's like saying N-I-G-G-E-R," Gordon told Democratic candidate Peter Neronha, making emphatic hand gestures as he spelled out the insulting term. Shockingly, the crowd of high school students erupted into wild cheers in response.

Gordon also blasted the word marijuana as "a curse to my people."

"You will not say it in this school again, today or in lessons. Knock it off!" he said. Then, Gordon walked off the stage. According to TMZ, he did not return.

A bit of background: Gordon, a member of the Compassion Party, has no problem with weed itself. In fact, he was arrested earlier this month after police found 48 pounds of marijuana in the home he shares with Anne Armstrong, who's running for governor on the Compassion Party ticket. The candidates have said they think their arrests were politically motivated.

What Gordon does not like is the term marijuana. And last night at North Kingstown High School, where the attorney general candidates took questions from students, he made sure everyone knew.

Armstrong told TMZ Gordon was promised beforehand that Neronha would not use the term. Neronha apparently did anyway—twice.

Gordon's issue with the term stems from his belief that it's rooted in racism. It's not a completely outlandish idea. In fact, one of the leaders of the movement to make weed illegal has been accused of using blatant racism to argue for prohibition. "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 use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others," Harry J. Anslinger, who led the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 to 1962, reportedly once said.

Reason's Jacob Sullum has noted that the origin of the term marijuana is unclear. But a 1925 headline from The New York Times—"Mexican, Crazed by Marihuana, Runs Amuck With Butcher Knife"—is probably one of the reasons some people feel like the word has a racist connotation.

Neronha, for his part, doesn't plan to stop saying marijuana any time soon. In an interview this morning with Dan Paquet, a local radio host for WPRO, Neronha said he's "comfortable using the word" because it's what everyone uses.

Neronha called Gordon's behavior "unconventional" and "not something that I would ever engage in." Still, he emphasized that he has no problem with Gordon himself, and would not be opposed to facing him again in a similar setting.

Photo Credit: Screenshot via TMZ

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  • Ron||

    thsi guy is a joke and so is teh idiot for agreeing to not use certain words. this only diminishes real claims of racism

  • Austen Heller||

    Forest Gump without the smarts.

  • Dillinger||

    >>>It's not a completely outlandish idea.

    it is.

    >>>the origin of the term marijuana is unclear

    so many languages put the j and the u together to make a wa?

  • Cyto||

    Seriously... what are we playing at here?

    "The people who were opposed to marijuana back in the Progressive era used racist memes to garner support for prohibition" is a reason to suspect that the word itself is racist? So now we can't use the word "American" because David Duke used to use it all the time? What are you on about.

    There are lots of names for the plant and it's products. I don't know that it was ever commonly called Canabis in reference to getting high. It certainly was commonly called hemp - as the fiber. But I don't know that too many folks used that term either.

    Anyway, we know that it is derived from the spanish, and we know that it wasn't commonly used in print until the 50's.

    But so what? Do you think Cheech Marin is being racist when he jokes about marijuana? It doesn't matter what the word meant 70 years ago anyway. It is what it means today that is important. And today it is a synonym for pot, ganja, dope, reefer, bud.... They all mean the same thing today.

    This is way dumber than the fight you guys keep telling us we shouldn't have... the one over people using "begs the question" to mean "raises the question". And at least that on actually is an attempt to preserve the meaning of words, not destroy them to score cheap argument points.

  • ||

    It doesn't matter what the word meant 70 years ago anyway. It is what it means today that is important.

    ^ This. One of the most annoying things about the campus anti-prejudice crusade is this tendency to dig up these long-gone meanings for words and then declare that the words themselves carry some sort of pollution with them forever after infecting anyone who speaks them regardless of that person's intentions or understanding of what the word means.

    It's going to be trouble when they figure out the origins of words like "Slavic" and "Hebrew."

  • GILMORE™||

    ""One of the most annoying things about the campus anti-prejudice crusade is this tendency to dig up these long-gone meanings for words and then declare that the words themselves carry some sort of pollution with them forever after infecting anyone who speaks them regardless of that person's intentions or understanding of what the word means."

    Exactly.

    Hearing that incredibly-idiotic form of non-argument echoed in these pages is...you'd think someone would step in and say, "wait, what? No, don't write that. certainly don't publish that."

    Its at its root completely-irrational.

    Its sort of like a 'one-drop' theory of 'racism-taint'; where any vague historical-association can be used to pretend that innocuous terminology retain cultural-vestiges from the past. ffs, "1925 headline?" OMG,THEY USED TO SAY "COLORED", TOO - CRAYOLA MUST NOW BE PURGED LEST WE BE INFECTED BY THE SIN-WORD

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    The alternative is a black and white world ... oops!

  • ||

    OMG,THEY USED TO SAY "COLORED", TOO - CRAYOLA MUST NOW BE PURGED LEST WE BE INFECTED BY THE SIN-WORD

    NAACP hardest hit.

  • lafe.long||

    'racism-taint'

    Heh.

  • El Oso||

    just don't monkey around with my ganja, man...

  • ||

    RACIST!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    More like North Kingston High School. Am I right?

  • Rockabilly||

    Yes, FoE, you're right.

  • Rockabilly||

    If it comes from the mouth of white privileges - yes it's racist.

  • AlmightyJB||

    This is like the kettle calling pot black.

  • CDRSchafer||

    That's calling a spade a spade.

  • Mongo||

    It's 21st-century AltDeep name for it is Odd Blade.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    What is the alternative? Pot? Grass? Weed? Does he prefer type names -- Sour Diesel is probably cultural appropriation from a dead German, so that's out.

    I bet he wants "cannabis", but that's Latin appropriation by way of Sweden or some other white Protestant country.

  • Dillinger||

    5000 year-old dead white men probably off the committee to rename Mary Jane.

  • ||

    "Hemp." We must be sure to only use words of pure and unsullied Anglo-Saxon origin to prove that we are not racist.

  • Brandybuck||

    Isn't that the name of the plant? One could quibble about the spelling, but "weed" and "pot" are slang euphemisms and not accurate. Marijuana is the name of the plant. Cannabis is sometimes used, but cannabis also refers to hemp. Marijuana is the proper word to use when referring to the variety of cannabis used for medicinal and recreational purposes.

    Sure, the name probably comes from Spanish with origins in Mexico, but that does not make it racist any more than the city names of "Los Angeles" or "San Antonio" are racist.

    Yes, I know you guys know this. Sorry for ranting.

  • Cyto||

    That's what HnR is for. Loud and proud choir preaching.

    Nobody else is gonna let you do it, so let your freak flag fly!

  • ||

    police found 48 pounds of marijuana in the home he shares

    Dayam!

  • Cyto||

    Dude coulda brought some to share if he's got that much in his stash.... just sayin'....

  • Cyto||

    Dude coulda brought some to share if he's got that much in his stash.... just sayin'....

  • ||

    Seriously.

  • Dillinger||

    personal. use. bitches. the challenge is keeping up w/him when you visit

  • ||

    I don't think I've smoke 48 pounds in my life. Dude must have a gas mask hooked up to an incinerator.

    I confess it does make my response to the guy go something along the lines of "man - you're just tripping out on this. Straighten out for a few days and I think it'll start to seem less important."

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    How many cigarettes/day over how much time to get to 48 pounds of tobacco?

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Looking on line, one cigarette has about 1 gram of tobacco with 20 cigarettes to a pack and 453 grams/ pound, 48 pounds of tobacco is almost 1100 packs and a pack a day habit over the course of almost 3 years.

  • ||

    One cigarette = about 1 gram of tobacco. At about 28 grams to an ounce, a heavy smoker might smoke a pound about every two weeks or so, smoking about a pack and a half a day. At that rate, it would take about two years to get through 48 pounds.

    I couldn't imagine smoking an ounce of MJ in a day. It would require a level of effort and enthusiasm that you just wouldn't have after the first sixteenth of an ounce or so.

  • ||

    And just on the off chance that it's not all for personal use, that stash has a street value of about $370k.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    I wonder what the shelf life of ready to smoke MJ is? Assuming it's for personal use, how much would he have to smoke/day to consume 48 pounds of MJ before it starts to go bad?

  • Dillinger||

    in.

  • D-Pizzle||

    I have friends for whom 48 lbs. is an average weekend.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    I've smoked weed/ganja/pot since I went to Berkeley in 1965. That's over 50 years ago. Putting it all together I've probably toked maybe a pound. Maybe. This guy's head must be a true wonderland.

  • General_Tso||

    I'm thinking that these days 'Reason' is more of a Compassion Party website than a libertarian website.

  • TuIpa||

    What race, exactly?

  • Dillinger||

    this this this

  • GILMORE™||

    "Gordon's issue with the term stems from his belief that it's rooted in racism. It's not a completely outlandish idea. In fact, one of the leaders of the movement to make weed illegal has been accused of using blatant racism to argue for prohibition."

    This statement does nothing to dispel the notion that the argument is nonsensical and outlandish.

    That "racist people in the past" used a word doesn't make that word 'rooted in racism'. This sort of brain-dead association is the sort of craziness that idiots like PETA use to claim "Milk is now white supremacist"

    A 'vague association' of 2 things is not even a correlation. Its not even a relationship.

    Its just "look as i put 2 things in the same sentence and then pretend there's some logic connecting them, even tho there isn't"

    Its so fucking obviously stupid that i feel like i'm demeaning myself even explaining this to you.

    more:

    "a 1925 headline from The New York Times—"Mexican, Crazed by Marihuana, Runs Amuck With Butcher Knife"—is probably one of the reasons some people feel like the word has a racist connotation."

    Yes, surely 'some people' have been reading newspapers from 1925, and ignoring all common-usage in the 93 years between.

    Are you fucking high? who even edits this magazine anymore?

  • ||

    "Mexican, Crazed by Marihuana, Runs Amuck With Butcher Knife"—is probably one of the reasons some people feel like the word has a racist connotation."

    It's also just such a weird choice of cause when you have Anslinger's "crazed Mexicans and Negros on the marijuana raping the white women" angle that is actually why some people think the deliberate use of the Mexican-Spanish word is racist (which it isn't). This here is like saying "White Man Beats Wife in Whisky Fueled Rage" makes the word "Whisky" anti-white racism. It's just, as you say, a complete non-sequitur.

  • RabbitHead||

    It's just ad hominem for words. I can't muster up a reasonable argument, so I attack the delivery system.

    Butcher knives aren't as racist as Bowie knives so they get a pass. For now

  • My Dog Bites Better Than Yours||

    So, why isn't "Butcher Knife" also a racist term?

    Or am I'm just not woke enough to realize it's racist? Life is so confusing nowadays.

  • General_Tso||

    Well, nerds that we are, my friends and I used to refer to it as Halfling's leaf or Longbottom leaf. I guess we should have realized that we were being racist (or is it specieist?) towards Hobbits.

    By the way I am unopposed to unlimited immigration by our Middle-Earth friends.

  • ||

    That's how I refer to it when talking to my daughter - "pipeweed." The movies are very supportive of that angle.

  • ||

    Is the Word 'Marijuana' Racist?

    'Mary-hwanna' or 'Mary-chew-wanna' - no, can't be. 'Mare-a-wanna' - yes, duh.

  • TuIpa||

    Oxygen is racist because racists use it.

  • CDRSchafer||

    Hey hey ho ho oxygen has got to go!

  • Dan S.||

    The word was popularized in the U.S. by racists. But it has become the standard term for parts of the cannabis plant that are smoked to get high. To object to it now based on the racist views or intentions of those who first popularized the word makes no sense, and is decades too late.

  • GILMORE™||

    "The word was popularized in the U.S. by racists"

    If you recognize that "the entire country, if not the world, was 'racist' by modern standards" up until the middle-20th century, this is also a meaningless statement.

    You might as well say, "any old-enough thing was popularized by racists". Which is to say, 'a thing is old', and nothing morel. Throwing the 'racism' in is just feelgood psychobabble.

    "The roman empire had lots of slaves. Romans invented and widely popularized sewers, urban public sanitation. Toilets were segregated for many years. They remain gender-segregated. Toilets are still 99.9% white. Toilets are inseparable from their racist roots"

  • GILMORE™||

    *this is why i shit in a hole in the ground, btw. Wokeness can be tough.

  • Dillinger||

    they're just gonna ask what color it was.

  • ||

    "The roman empire had lots of slaves. Romans invented and widely popularized sewers, urban public sanitation. Toilets were segregated for many years. They remain gender-segregated. Toilets are still 99.9% white. Toilets are inseparable from their racist roots"

    I think you have your senior thesis topic for your History BA from Oberlin.

  • General_Tso||

    Yeah, but what have the Romans ever done for us?

  • Ecoli||

    At least one thing: Polanski showed how to drug and rape a little girl then flee to Europe where such conduct is not frowned upon.

  • Sigivald||

    It's 2018.

    Nobody [okay, nobody serious] thinks "marijuana" is an attack on Mexicans, FFS.

    It was, er, 60+ years ago.

    But it didn't "stick".

  • Hank Phillips||

    Remember "Man of the Century"? This was a delightful movie about the 1920s (when beer was a felony and weed legal). The "Juanita" song in the movie rested on the not-unreasonable assumption that somewhere in every Mexican girl's name there lurked a Maria, so it could be safely omitted without loss of the desired double-entendre. After all, the movie star Ayn Rand's generation swooned over, and who was later resurrected to play a role in Atlas Shrugged, was Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla, and his part in the book was played by Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastian d'Anconia.

  • CDRSchafer||

    Racist is a racist term and all the people who use it are the real racists.

  • Fancylad||

    Racism as a term was in continual use from 1936 (from French racisme, 1935), originally in the racist racist, the race racist racism, racist racists race racist race racism racist racist. Racists racist racists race racist.

  • Marshal||

    "Gordon's issue with the term stems from his belief that it's rooted in racism. It's not a completely outlandish idea."

    Not only is it outlandish but Reason is continuing its descent into stupidity.

  • Fancylad||

    "But, but all the cool kids at the NYT, WaPo and Buzzfeed News are all Resistance and intersectionality and everything. Do you want EVERYBODY to HATE us? None of the others will want to be with us anymore if we're all common sense and reason, and Robby will get his lunch money stolen by Martin Baron."

  • TommyInIdaho||

    Could this debate turn out to have been Mary Jane's Last Dance?

  • RonGood||

    I can spot opportunistic, pre-planned, outrage-surfing theatrics a mile away. Pure poser tactics.

  • mjs_28s||

    Where is John Galt?

    I want to move there.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    "Your People"? Who died and made you King?

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    "Neronha called Gordon's behavior "unconventional" and "not something that I would ever engage in." Still, he emphasized that he has no problem with Gordon himself, and would not be opposed to facing him again in a similar setting."

    Just so long as he could be assured Gordon was not high on marijuana.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The real question is whether the Puerto Rican pronunciation of Mary Jane is collectivist. Iffen it ain't collectivist, then it cain't be racial collectivist. So is it? And if a language is our common heritage, you could argue that ALL words are collectivist in that they form a commons we (and a number of furriners) freely use. Rotsa ruck with that one.

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