Why Is The Green Cross a Universal Symbol for MMJ?

green cross on the side of a building

If you've ever visited a dispensary or bought a medical marijuana product, you've likely come across the seemingly universal symbol for medical marijuana (MMJ): the green cross. You'll also find variations of this symbolic cross paired with images of a cannabis leaf with serrated edges. These symbols are used to indicate the presence of cannabis compounds, specifically the psychoactive delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cannabinoid.

Clearly identifying MMJ services and products through a universal symbol can help people find what they need without confusion. A universal MMJ symbol also helps differentiate regular food from cannabis-infused edibles that are extremely potent. Before strict regulations were put in place in MMJ states, the green cross was a de-facto symbol to recognize cannabis dispensaries. Many people believe the green cross is the perfect symbol for MMJ since it can be easy to educate children and adults about its meaning.

A Brief History of the Medical Cross Symbol

The green cross was used as a first aid symbol over a century ago by the Hospitallers of St. Lazarus and later all over the world to represent humanitarian in war. Before it was adopted by the Red Cross organization in nineteenth-century Europe, the red cross symbol was used to identify armed medical services in areas of conflict. In 1859, a Swiss businessman and humanitarian Henri Dunant visited present-day Italy on a business venture and came across the Battle of Solferino where over 40,000 soldiers were either dead or left for dead due to insufficient resources.

He volunteered to help and published "A Memory of Solferino" to recount the atrocities he witnessed. In 1863, the Geneva Convention established the beginnings of the Red Cross organization we know today and made the red cross symbol it's official emblem. The symbol was inspired by Switzerland's neutrality during the war and uses Switzerland's flag colors in reverse.

How The Green Cross Came To Symbolize MMJ

The green cross symbol was adopted in 1984 by the Conseil National de l'Ordre des Pharmaciens to identify pharmacy locations across France. Before this, many French pharmacies used the red cross to identify themselves until the Geneva Convention prohibited its use for anyone who wasn't the official Red Cross organization. Pharmacies began using the green cross and green letters to guide locals and tourists alike to their medical facility.

Manufacturers of medications followed suit by adding the green cross to their packaging. The exact reason for why pharmacies chose the color green is unclear. It's safe to assume that they chose green due to its association with plants, nature, the environment, and life. With the rise of MMJ laws, the green cross has also become a universal symbol of MMJ retailers and products due to the association people draw to health care.

Currently, many dispensaries identify their flower strains using labels that have the green cross in conjunction with a caduceus symbol, an ancient Greek symbol of two serpents wrapped around a wand with wings. A lack of regulations and protocols led dispensaries to use the green cross symbol to designate MMJ dispensaries. There has been much debate on what the official universal MMJ logo should be. Cannabis activists hope that the symbols are used as an indicator for MMJ locations and products instead of warnings about its use. Others seek stricter regulations, but there isn't a consensus on what defines an ideal MMJ symbol.

A New Universal Symbol For Retail and Medical Marijuana

As states continue to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, they are instituting safety regulations to identify MMJ products. Clearly identifying MMJ edibles, for instance, can help prevent children or unwitting adults from accessing these psychoactive products. Many states lack an official symbol but share common packaging rules including that the product must have child-resistant packaging and display directions of use and potential allergens. Besides the warning label, MMJ products must contain cannabinoid (THC and CBD) content in milligrams.

In terms of MMJ products, the green cross has been replaced with cannabis leaf silhouettes, the letters "THC," and other warnings. In Michigan, MMJ edibles with THC must include their universal symbol: an upside-down green triangle with a cannabis leaf in the center and the words "contains THC" above it. Oregon's symbol has a rectangular shape, a cannabis leaf, and an exclamation mark used around the world to indicate toxicity. Washington opted for a diamond shape, yellow color, and "21+" prominently featured.

Some cities, like El Paso, Texas, went ahead and banned the use of green crosses to identify marijuana facilities. Politicians worried that tourists might confuse the green cross as a symbol for pharmacies or traditional medical and emergency services. Dispensaries claim these misunderstanding never happen. In order to prevent confusion, companies are developing specially-designed baking and transfer sheets to mark MMJ baked foods, chocolates, and candies. The green cross continues to serve as an unofficial symbol for MMJ, but don't expect that to continue. Each state has their own packaging and labeling laws. Maybe one day there will be an official symbol for MMJ, but until then, just look for the green cross.