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Are 13 symbols in an X pattern inherently offensive?

Hey, Blenders, I’m back from my long, strange trip to wherever it is baristas go when they haven’t posted in eons.  Hi, Pam, hi, Autumn, everybody…

In case we haven’t been introduced, I’m “Radical” Russ.  I’m a straight white married atheist pot legalizer from the Pacific Northwest, so you can understand why I’m posting here.  I wandered into the coffee shop one day thinking I was in Holland and asked for some “sensi”.  One of the baristas misheard and handed me a “sweet tea”.  I went to complain to the owner, wondering what perverse chemist came up with this revolting example of beverage; we struck up a conversation and I’ve been wandering in from time to time ever since.

One reason I keep coming back is that I can ask questions here about things I don’t understand.  I can consult a wide audience of folks with great insight and perspective.  Best of all, no matter how naive or ignorant my question may be, I find some excellent conversation and end up more enlightened than I was when I entered.

So it is in that spirit that I ask a question loaded with a bit of controvery, couched in a bit of silliness, and plaguing me in my professional capacity…

Are thirteen icons arranged on an X pattern used as a symbol inherently offensive?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 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 and Bars”.

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?

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.  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.

P.S. Irony: the woman, Debby, who complained did so in the context of comments of a blog post calling on folks to boycott one marijuana reform organization’s fundraiser at a soft-core pornographer’s mansion (it rhymes with Lay Toy) because the organization’s leader infamously (all over the Washington tabloids) took subordinates two decades younger to happy hour, got one drunk, drove her to his home, and they had consensual sex.  The young lady quit in embarrassment, it was the final straw for 25% of the staff and several board members who quit in disgust (and by the way, jobs as drug law reform are SCARCE), citing the leader’s well-established reputation as a serial sexual harasser and inveterate skirt chaser (rumors abound of six-figure hush money payouts to some former female employees who threatened lawsuits.)  The leader was placed on leave of absence to go to three months rehab for his “hypersexualization” (his term) and the billionaire sugar daddy (himself a bit of a lech) distanced himself from his protege and slashed funding of the organization, leaving many reform efforts nationwide high and dry.  They cancelled the porn mansion fundraising party last year, citing this very leader’s indiscretions, but this year, the leader has been reinstated to his $150K position and is ready to charge $1,000 a ticket at the home of an octogenarian and some bunnies.  It’s kind of like Gary Busey celebrating his one year sobriety chip with a 100 MPH helmetless motorcycle ride to a kegger.

But I need to strike a Rasta Confederate flag parody because it might seem insensitive.

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