DuetsBlog Collaborations in Creativity & the Law

Joint Ventures in Pot Branding in Colorado

Posted in Branding, Guest Bloggers, Mixed Bag of Nuts, Trademarks, USPTO

- Laurel Sutton, Principal at Catchword Brand Name Development

Colorado is becoming known for being an altered state, and we don’t mean the elevation. No doubt you’ve heard about the craft brewing boom, but these days, it’s all gone to pot. Colorado recently became the first state in the U.S. to finalize regulations for recreational marijuana businesses, effective starting January 2014. It was also one of the first two states (the other was Washington) to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults.

As you can imagine, this deregulation has led to a weeding frenzy, one so strong that the swell in cannabis commerce has been called the “Green Rush.” 204 medical marijuana dispensaries operate in Denver, with many more waiting to light up. That’s more than the number of Starbucks and McDonald’s in Denver combined (but we’re anticipating that these will expand with enhanced appetites).

Weed does breed greed, with many wanting to hash in on this $2-billion market. The branding extravaganja began on a national level when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced a new category within class 5, where pharmaceuticals are registered, back in April 2010. The news goods and services description read, “processed plant matter for medicinal purposes, namely medical marijuana.”

Of course, marks have been registered for pot-related goods and services before, but the new category opened up the trademark torrent. Currently, there are 587 trademarks, in all classes and for all kinds of goods and services, containing the word “marijuana”—not to mention all the possible marks using slang terms for the plant. A few of our personal favorites include Cannabis Couples.Com Find Your Bowl Mate (for when you wanna hook up but don’t want to get off the couch), The Giving Tree of Denver (a dispensary), and Just Say Now (for public advocacy to promote awareness of marijuana legalization).

Traditionally, medical marijuana branding, if existing at all, has been wacky and irreverent. One of Denver’s dispensaries named a strain after Peyton Manning, aimed at treating among other things, muscular sclerosis, headaches, anxiety, and nausea (Peyton is not pleased, by the way). Other strange names of strains include Bubblegum Swamp Kush, Granberry Skunkhound, Pineapple Rhino, Bubonic Chronic, and Plunkbottom Diesel. Clearly, these people are taking this too seriously.

But times are a-changing, and marijuana is budding beyond the pungent underground and reaching for legit light. Those who want to help pot go pro see a real opportunity for savvy, sophisticated branding. The stereotype of the dreadlocked, heavy-lidded stoner kid is going up in smoke. Today’s pot-partaker is likely to come from a wide range of demographics. They might wear cufflinks or handcuffs, but one thing unites them: the might of Mary Jane.

(Sidenote: The boom in the pot market has paved the way for “related” products. Just last month, Jack in the Box announced Jack’s Munchie Meals, available only between 9 pm and 5 am. Each combo features a burger or chicken nuggets, two tacos, seasoned curly fries, and a 20-oz. beverage. That’s enough comfort food to satisfy any toker, especially if eaten slowly over a 3-4 hour period while watching cartoons on TV in the dark with friends.)

Some people are clearly catching on, as evidenced by the gentrification of the medicinal marijuana industry. Instead of blacklit, Marley-lined head shops, the new dispensaries seem more like medi-spas. Gaudy bongs and beads have been replaced with kushy furniture; muted, discreet glass exteriors; and a focus on “health and wellness.” Just take a look at some of Denver’s dispensary names: “The Green Solution,” “Sweet Leaf,” “Lightshade Labs,” “Botanacare,” “Artisanal Medicinals” and “Karmaceuticals.”

Apparently, grass has class now. Another high-end Denver-based company, Dixie Elixirs, makes heady edibles like chocolate truffles and cookies and THC-infused drinks that come in ten different flavors, including “Old-Fashioned Sarsaparilla” and “Sparkling Red Currant.” Wait….is this still pot we’re talking about?

But the boutique nicheness of the industry may be threatened, as Big Brand Marijuana has arrived or at least announced its ambitions. Ex-Microsoft executive Jamen Shively very publicly vowed to raise $10M to build his company, Diego Pellicer, into the premier national and eventually international pot brand. He planned to start with the acquisition of a Colorado dispensary with multiple locations, but hit a few bumps with inevitable government scrutiny. Another aspiring ganjapreneur, Brian Laoruangroch, heads Prohibition Brands, and says he has the intellectual property to produce a mass-produced filtered marijuana cigarette, or “marijuanettes.” (Cute, but hard to pronounce. Maybe there’s an opportunity for a naming company here.)

Of course, none of these spliffy schemes have come to fruition yet, so only time will tell if these sessions blaze or are half-baked.