Why a Universal Symbol for Cannabis?

As individual U.S. states and the federal government approach full legalization of cannabis for adults, a universal symbol for cannabis products is essential to ensure the protection of public health and safety. In the absence of federal standardization, states have have adopted widely differing requirements for cannabis labeling.

A universal symbol on cannabis packages can ensure that Americans of all ages and backgrounds can correctly identify and exercise caution with cannabis products, which is critical for preventing the accidental ingestion of cannabis by adults and children. Unfortunately, prior to 2022, there was no standard symbol for regulators to adopt, leading to a proliferation of bespoke symbols in legalized jurisdictions around North America.

Current usage of the International Intoxicating Cannabis Products Symbol (IICPS) and other symbols

Chart of current usage of the IICPS and other symbols
States have widely differing requirements for cannabis labeling on packages, making it difficult for consumers to correctly identify and exercise caution with cannabis products.

The International Intoxicating Cannabis Product Symbol (IICPS)

Working with Doctors for Drug Policy Reform and other stakeholders, David L. Nathan, MD, proposed the Universal Cannabis Product Symbol (UCPS) in 2019. After its publication in 2020, a broad discussion with various stakeholders led to a series of changes to the UCPS. Working with the standards organization ASTM, David Nathan and collaborator Eli Nathan co-designed a modified version of the UCPS, which was renamed the International Intoxicating Cannabis Product Symbol (IICPS).

Universal Cannabis Symbol
International Intoxicating Cannabis Product Symbol (IICPS)

The IICPS has been adopted by the state of Montana and went into effect on January 1, 2022. New Jersey, Vermont, and South Dakota have also incorporated the IICPS design into their state symbols, making the IICPS the most widely adopted cannabis product symbol in the United States. Alaska and other states are currently discussing adoption of the IICPS.

ASTM International has approved and published specifications of the IICPS, making it the one and only cannabis product symbol to bear the designation of an internationally recognized consensus standard.

Features of the IICPS:

  • Incorporates a cannabis leaf – the graphic element most associated with cannabis – into the internationally-compliant standard triangular caution sign (ISO 3864) using “Warning Signal Yellow” (ISO 3864-4/ANSI Z535.1, Pantone 109 C, Hex #ffd100) and a black border, creating an instantly familiar symbol for all cannabis product packages.
  • Large leaf with well-separated leaflets remains clear at greatly reduced dimensions.
  • Absence of text (e.g., “THC”) inside the triangle complies with existing international caution sign standards and avoids linguistic & jurisdictional ambiguity and prevents the need for future changes in the symbol as cannabis science and policy evolves.
  • For all but the smallest containers, recommended minimum width of the black triangle is 1/2 inch (12.7 mm).
  • Multiple file formats (e.g., PDF, SVG, and PNG) available in perpetuity for public use worldwide, royalty-free, and at no cost.
  • Optional text under the IICPS enables authorities having jurisdiction to identify contents, regulatory jurisdiction, cautions, et al.
  • A yellow outline is used whenever the IICPS is used against a dark background.