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MMJ: Movement Symbols & Reclassification Actions

An Analysis of a Medical Marijuana Movement Logo

By: Regina Nelson


I was lost in downtown Denver searching desperately for the hotel where I was registered to stay.  As I attempted to make an illegal u-turn, I saw an apparently thriving new business (the parking lot was nearly full) in a converted 1950’s style gas station.  On this sunny spring day, the sun was shining brightly upon a brilliant white building with a large red cross painted across the middle of the building, but setting it far apart from the iconic Red Cross emblem was a giant green marijuana (cannabis) leaf right in the middle of the cross.  Any passerby could tell immediately that this was one of Colorado’s many medical marijuana (MMJ) dispensaries without even catching the name of the dispensary.  Not all dispensaries are this flamboyant in their presentation; most show no outward signs of the business that lies within.  Nevertheless, similar to how the golden arches represent McDonald’s franchises around the globe, most dispensaries use a signifier (i.e. logo) that identifies their business to new customers.  Again and again on websites, blogs, advertisements, and even as a backdrop to CNN and Fox News clips, the presentation of a red cross with a marijuana leaf at the heart of the cross is one of many symbols that have come to represent the medical marijuana movement.  This brief essay will be an analytical critique of this particular logo as a visual argument for the legalization of the use of marijuana for medical purposes.  The design of the logo is deliberate; the unauthorized use of an iconic symbol is an argument against the status quo of the ‘war on drugs’ and criminalization of marijuana in favor of an ethic of care.



(Unknown, 2011)


In contrast to the cannabis leaf which represents a counterculture with very limited power; the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who adopted the Red Cross emblem in 1863 during their first international conference, represents a social institution of considerable global power.  The goals of the conference committee who designed the emblem were to find a “distinctive” symbol “backed by the law to indicate respect for army medical services, volunteers with first aid societies, and the victims of armed conflicts” (International Committee of the Red Cross, 2011).  The design chosen that of a bright red cross met the primary objectives of being “simple, identifiable from a distance, known to everyone and identical for friend or foe” (International Committee of the Red Cross, 2011).  Since 1863 the Red Cross Emblem has certainly come to be universally recognized. Continue reading

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