It seems our local dope yuppies have tired of the word “marijuana.” They would prefer us to call their product by the more civilized, Latin name, cannabis. They tell us that marijuana is a derogatory term with racist overtones. They want us to think of them as respectable businesspeople offering a respectable, upscale luxury product. More importantly, they want us to forget that the only reason anyone would ever think of cannabis as an upscale luxury is because the US Government spent billions of the taxpayer’s dollars to arrest and incarcerate millions of American citizens in the War on Drugs, to make this common weed astronomically expensive.
When Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom came to SoHum last Spring, to launch his plan to keep marijuana expensive by employing the maximum number of law enforcement officers imaginable to regulate it, many growers complained about his use of the term “marijuana.” Newsom pointed out that all of the laws against it, call it “marijuana,” so it made sense to use the term “marijuana” in legislation designed to replace those laws. I thought it a ridiculous complaint, but grower after grower took issue with him about it.
What a laugh! The people who now proudly admit that they profited, for decades, from the institutional racism known as the War on Drugs, and today pay lobbyists to concoct a legalization policy that continues to suck money out of urban, low-income communities and funnel it into the pockets of cops and white, rural land-owners, want the rest of us to stop using the term “marijuana” because they find it culturally insensitive. They sounded like KKK Clansmen, lobbying for the repeal of the 19th Amendment, demanding that lawmakers refer to the people they hoped to openly own as African Americans, rather than Negroes, because the term made their property sound more valuable.
Prohibition allowed white rural land-owners to keep marijuana as their slave for decades, and racist Drug War policies brought a tremendous flow of money into Humboldt County, largely from poor, urban communities. Now that we have become economically dependent on it, society has finally risen up to demand an end to the injustice of the War on Drugs. The end of slavery brought economic upheaval to the South. Many fought and died in defense of the indefensible, but who would argue today that we should reinstate slavery for its economic benefit?
Today’s dope yuppies are just like those old southern plantation owners. They don’t care how cruel, violent and wrong prohibition is. All they care about is their money, their property, and their way of life. They’ll fight to protect all three, even if they wouldn’t lift a finger to end prohibition and couldn’t care less about the rights of oppressed people or racial injustice. They’ll fight for their way of life, even if it destroys our community and stifles the kind of economic diversity that would ease our dependence on prohibition, and help us transition to a post-Drug War economy.
I sympathize with the people who would argue that cannabis deserves respect. I took Jack Herer’s advice on nomenclature to heart when, at the height of the War on Drugs, I co-founded Mass. Cann., the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition. I chose my words carefully when I went door to door, back in 1991, asking people to support a medical cannabis ordinance in Cambridge, MA. I like to play with words, but I take them very seriously.
Today, in the waning years of the War on Drugs, times have changed. It’s time to talk openly and honestly about our relationship with this plant. This plant is a big part of my life, and one word isn’t nearly enough to describe it. Just like the Eskimos, who have something like 50 words for snow, I need many words for weed.
I use the word “marijuana” because it’s the familiar name, the common name, and the name everybody knows. Cannabis could be a shirt, a ream of paper, a bottle of machine oil, a sack of pet food or a million other products, but everyone knows that “marijuana” gets you high.
I like the word “marijuana” precisely because it conjures up the whole ugly history of prohibition. The word “marijuana” reminds us of what we’ve been through. I call it marijuana because I paid prohibition prices for it. I call it marijuana because I’ve been denied jobs because of it, and I call it marijuana because I’ve been to jail because of it.
Call it “marijuana” so the no one ever forgets that millions of American citizens had their lives turned upside-down and their futures shattered by a cruel, violent and racist war waged against the American people by the US Government. Call it “marijuana” because it is the common name of a common plant, and there’s nothing upscale about it. Call it “marijuana” because it’s a lovely name for a beautiful plant, and the people who love her have called her that for generations.
Marijuana. It just sounds so good. I think I’ll have some right now.