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/ 22 Jan 2015

Marley Naturel – Can the Brand be Protected?

Bob Marley was one of the top 10 earning dead celebrities in 2014 according to Forbes magazine, raking in $20m from album and merchandise sales. His estate now looks to be in for a treat as a result of a deal struck with an American private equity company where they intend to launch what they hope will be the world’s first global marijuana brand – Marley Natural.

“Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, which contains the psychoactive (mind-altering) chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well as other related compounds. This plant material can also be concentrated in a resin called hashish or a sticky black liquid called hash oil. Marijuana is the most common illicit drug used in the United States. After a period of decline in the last decade, its use has been increasing among young people since 2007, corresponding to a diminishing perception of the drug’s risks that may be associated with increased public debate over the drug’s legal status. Although the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I substance (having no medicinal uses and high risk for abuse), two states have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, and 21 states have passed laws allowing its use as a treatment for certain medical conditions” (see the National Institute on Drug Abuse here).

If the trend toward legalisation continues, expect to see a torrent of budding marijuana brand entrepreneurs! Actually branding the brand is going to prove not only difficult but also very costly which may serve to slow up the growth of the brand.

It is impossible to obtain a country-wide trade mark for recreational marijuana in the USA because the substance is largely illegal for recreational purposes. Country-wide protection can be obtained for marijuana branded products (e.g. t-shirts and lotions), but not for marijuana itself or for the paraphernalia e.g. pipes. So, one may pursue state trademarks on cannabis specific goods and services in Colorado and Washington state, but not at the federal level. This is because cannabis is still federally illegal.

In the medium term, marijuana brand owners will have to obtain multiple trade mark registrations at the state level and build up intellectual property rights in their names and logos.

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