Here’s the background: In my capacity working with NORML as Outreach Coordinator, I host a two-hour talk radio show on the internet. This week, I have beta-launched The NORML Network, which is a 24/7 internet podcast network playing marijuana legalization content. I have solicited podcasts from activists all around the country and even one from England.
The controversy concerns the podcast from the South, produced in the Florida Panhandle. Its name is “Cannabis States of America”. I thought that was a clever wordplay; taking the familiar (especially in the South) “Confederate States of America” and throwing “Cannabis” in there instead.
But it’s their avatar that has generated one complaint from a woman named Debby. The icon is a flag with a red and green field alternating around a large yellow X that contains thirteen green pot leafs. Yes, it’s a Rasta-themed “Stars & Bars”.
Based on my research, colors and borders and crosses aren't important, it's whether you put 13 icons inside the cross that's offensive.
Now I’m not entirely ignorant on the Confederate Battle Flag Issue and I do take offense to it; not out of some racist identification it may have but because it was the war banner of a terrorist insurgency that sought the overthrow of the United States government.
But that’s the Stars & Bars itself. A solid red field with a dark blue X trimmed in white with 13 white stars. Are we to be offended now by satirical representations of offensive symbols? Is any St. Andrew’s Cross flag with thirteen icons in it offensive… or only when it’s made by a Southerner?
I struggle to understand the offense at the Cannabis States flag. Given how much hatred for hippies and pot the folks who like to slap the Confederate flag on the back of their pickup trucks seem to harbor, I can’t understand how anyone would confuse the two symbols. It’s got two field colors, not one. It’s got no border color on the X. It’s got pot leafs, for Pete’s sake!
If we just look at the symbols, it seems to me the Cannabis States flag has more in common with the flag of Jamaica. A two-colored field with one color match, the same yellow X. The similarity to the Confederate flag is thirteen symbols in an X, but only one color matches.
So, are thirteen symbols in an X pattern an inherently offensive symbol?
Context matters, I’m told. It’s because they are from the South! It’s because they are appropriating the symbol of the Confederacy. OK, fair enough. So what if I get a podcast from Jamaica that puts 13 pot leafs on the Jamaican flag? Can I run that? What about the same exact colors of the Confederate Flag, but it’s a Christian podcast from Minnesota with nine crosses in the X?
Also, I think the Cannabis States icon as a satire leads to some interesting points. Much of the fight for marijuana legalization is seen as a “states rights” issue, insofar as states setting medical marijuana laws and the feds ignoring them and raiding patients and caregivers (a much more defensible states rights claim than the one the Confederates made 150 years ago, as well.) And that part I mentioned about terrorist insurgency rebelling against the government? Many cannabis activists feel like a non-violent civilly disobedient insurgency against the US government, seeking not to overthrow it but to reform it. If the symbol of thirteen icons in an X is going to be appropriated, what better than to change it into a symbol of hope for the sick and disabled and all manner of cannabis users who face time in a cage for using a flower?
I’m keeping the Cannabis States in the masthead for now. I’ve polled my bosses as to their opinion, now I’d like to know yours.
UPDATE: I posted this at another blog I write for, one which happens to be based in the South. It’s generated some enlightening comments, including this:
It’s not a good idea to take anything that has a negative connotation to some people and adapt it to represent a positive social movement. It is along the same lines of using pot leaves to make a swastika, hammer and sickle, rainbow flag, Christian symbols, etc. You will lose supporters who don’t agree with the original flag, regardless of how they feel about your cause.
It’s a valid point. If you’re fighting pothead stereotypes, why also fight another stereotype?
However, it is not a symbol I made, it’s one made by someone submitting their podcast. This isn’t just me deciding to change a symbol I made, it is me censoring someone else’s artistic creation, someone who is submitting an hour of original content for free, someone who brings me a podcast from a greatly underserved area of the country in cannabis reform.