Negotiating Moral Boundaries: Social Movements and the Strategic (Re)definition of the Medical in Cannabis Markets

Cyrus Dioun

​Chapter 2 in "Social Movements, Stakeholders and Non-Market Strategy" (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Volume 56)
July 31, 2016

How do social movement organizations negotiate the moral boundaries surrounding illegal and taboo markets? Connecting the framing literature with theories of morals, markets, and organizational stigma, I offer a processual account of how social movement organizations used strategic frames to develop moral legitimacy for medical marijuana markets in the United States. By analyzing 2,487 social movement press releases published over 18 years in 49 states and by drawing upon interviews with activists and entrepreneurs, I show how pro-marijuana social movement organizations used distinct framing strategies at different stages of legalization and market development to garner moral legitimacy for medical marijuana markets. During campaigns to legalize medical marijuana, activists used more restrictive frames—highlighting marijuana’s use by the seriously ill and dying—that resonated with prevailing attitudes that stigmatized the market. Once social movement organizations developed legal support for the market, activists expanded their framing of marijuana’s efficacy to include less serious illnesses, enlarging the market’s customer base and normalizing the more widespread use of marijuana. These findings suggest that social movements can dilute market stigma by first respecting moral boundaries to develop support for legalization, and then by making these boundaries more permeable, laying the groundwork for a larger and more profitable market.

Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Volume 56
Social Movements, Stakeholders and Non-Market Strategy
ISBN: 978-1-78754-350-8

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Cyrus Dioun