Halifax councillor says the word 'marijuana' is racist against Mexicans

This photo from June 2017 shows a marijuana leaf in Alaska, but a councillor in Halifax says calling it marijuana perpetuates racism. Photo from Eric Engman/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner via AP/CP

Pot, dope, grass, weed, Mary Jane — cannabis has many names, but according to a city councillor in Halifax, one term contains a racist origin: marijuana.

On Tuesday, Shawn Cleary raised some eyebrows when he condemned the use of the word as offensive to Mexicans. In doing so, he also called on others to banish the word from their vocabulary.

This claim comes just months before the drug is set to become legal for recreational use in Canada.

The East Coast politician responded to a tweet from Sam Austin, a fellow councillor, who briefly mentioned marijuana legislation.

“Scientific name = cannabis. Marijuana was used to demonize Mexicans. Given U.S. political climate, let’s do what we can to not perpetuate racism,” Cleary wrote.

“Really? I hadn’t heard that before,” Austin replied.


Cleary is the chair of the Municipal Working Group on Cannabis in Nova Scotia, but that doesn’t make him immune from criticism on pot-related topics.

Shortly after his Twitter exchange, someone online accused Cleary of saying the type of thing a crazy grandmother would post on Facebook, while another person called his statement “illogical.”



The councillor responded by providing the link to a news release from the U.S. National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) to back his claim. NHCSL president and Pennsylvania legislator Ángel Cruz made the point while arguing for the decriminalization of cannabis.

“Marijuana policy in this country has disproportionately targeted Latinos from the start. In fact, the term entered the national consciousness in 1937 when it was used by the federal government as part of an effort to discriminate against Latinos,” Cruz said in a statement.

Despite this claim, neither the Oxford Dictionary or Merriam-Webster contain any reference to Mexicans in their official definition of the word. However, they both immediately mention cannabis, which is the scientific term that Cleary suggests people use when referencing the drug.

“If there is a racist origin to the word, we should know about that and be aware of it when we use it,” Cleary said, according to Halifax Today.

Cleary also responded to a High Times article entitled Radical Rant: ‘Marijuana’ Is Not A Racist Word by insisting the word is racist because of its past use.

“You can’t say it was used in a racist way and then say the word isn’t racist,” the councillor tweeted.



Yahoo Canada reached out to Cleary for comment on Wednesday morning, but the councillor didn’t immediately respond to the request.