Harry Anslinger, arch prohibitionist and head of the U.S. Narcotics Bureau, argued that the word “marihuana” came from the Aztec language Nahuatl. Mallihuan, according to Anslinger, was a combination of mallin (prisoner), hua (property) and ana (to capture). Via this tortured linguistic feat, he claimed the original meaning of marihuana was “captured prisoner,” a reference to the power of cannabis addiction. Experts largely dismiss this theory because it involves a whole bunch of linguistic assumptions and leaps, which is further complicated by the fact that the Aztecs did not have a history with cannabis. The introduction of cannabis came later during the colonization of the Americas. Nevertheless, many people believed Anslinger’s theory at the time, which is why Dr. William Woodward of the American Medical Association said to a congressional committee, “There is nothing in the medicinal use of cannabis that has any relation to cannabis addiction.” The doctor directly opposed Anslinger in the hearing, that unfortunately went in favor of prohibition and criminalizing cannabis.
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