A Halifax regional councillor stood up in city hall Tuesday to apologize after a heated debate on the origins of the word “marijuana” inspired him to defend his stance by using an inappropriate term for black people.

Matt Whitman spoke with CTV Atlantic last Thursday to address a Twitter spat he had with fellow councillor Shawn Cleary about whether or not the word “marijuana” is racist towards Mexicans.

During his explanation, Whitman said that the term cannot be racist because “Mexican” is not a race, unlike “Negroes.”

“I had a problem with (Councillor Shawn Cleary) saying that marijuana is racist because of Mexicans. The word marijuana might be racist because Caucasians, Negroes, or some other race, but not because of a nationality,” he said.

Critics said Whitman’s comments were outdated and offensive, and many called for an apology.

At first, Whitman appeared to stand behind his choice of words. In a statement to CTV Atlantic last week, he said, "My comment is a word in the English dictionary as a race. It's not racist. Mexican is not a race in the dictionary. It's a nationality. Enough time has been spent on this. Each minute spent being offended & falsely accusing others of racism is giving real racism a free pass in Nova Scotia."

But on Tuesday, Whitman addressed the controversy before his colleagues and said he “never meant to insult, hurt, demean or otherwise disparage anyone.”

“My posts lost sight of the issue, and I became engulfed in inappropriate dialogue. For that I apologize. I am sorry if I offended anyone. That never was, nor has ever been my intent,” he said.

Whitman did not elaborate on his apology when later speaking with a CTV Atlantic reporter outside council chambers, only saying: “I’ll just say the apology stands.”

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said he doesn’t think Whitman used the term maliciously.

“But I think you have to be responsible for your choice of words,” Savage said. “We all need to respect each other and we all need to understand how to use social media effectively.”

Cleary called on Whitman to go further in his apology.

“His words went well beyond just a Twitter debate and I think having an apology to all Halifax residents, and especially our racialized communities, would be appropriate,” he said.

Four recent complaints have been filed to the city under the councilor code of conduct, the City of Halifax confirmed. But city officials would not clarify who the complaints were made against.

Officials told CTV Atlantic that the complaints are under investigation.

With files from CTV Atlantic