The cannabis space is a funny one. Products usually have amusing names meant to appeal to consumers sense of humour. And generally speaking, they mean nothing. Especially when it comes to naming strains. Sure there are some strains that fall into classifications that consumers are generally aware of like any of the kushs, hazes, or purples but when it comes time to name a strain, the grower is given carte blanche to come up with something. The result is that we have products named Purple Monkey Balls, Dopium, and Girl Scout Cookies. The name that products get does depend on a few things, like if it is a sativa, indica, or hybrid, and the plant’s parent strains.
So many combinations have been made, remixed, and bred so that there are many, many unique strains out there. We’re almost at a situation where if you typically buy a strain because it is your favourite, and unless you keep buying it from the same source, you’ll actually end up with something different every time.
It’s kind of a problem because consumers want consistency. For example, if every time you purchased a bottle of wine (from the same company) and it came out different each time you bought it, you might be a little miffed. Well, now the cannabis industry is one step closer to achieving uniformity across its products (at least in California), with the introduction of the ability to trademark.
Just 12 days after California made it legal for adults to purchase cannabis for recreational purposes, the California Secretary of State’s office announced it would begin accepting trademark applications from cannabis brands with products or services to offer.
Evidently, one problem that cannabis businesses are facing is counterfeiting of their products, and this initiative is being established to prevent that. With the goal of establishing consumer trust and loyalty, the state’s marketplace is getting more regulated.
Being able to trademark allows a brand to solidify its product or service among the legitimate cannabis market and establish its name to avoid having other companies cash in on their brand. However, the protections offered by trademarking in California do not work nationwide.
According to an attorney, Stewart Richlin, who represents businesses in the cannabis industry, this trademarking process will tell the consumer the origin of the goods.
But cannabis flower and the concentrates made from it are difficult products to brand. Mostly due to the confusing way cannabis has been named over the years. Growers have developed strains through generations of selective breeding only to have that name used by other growers with a similar plant. The ability to trademark cannabis products within the state alleviates some of this concern for new products but comes with challenges for existing strain names.
However, a difficulty with trademarking cannabis is flavours or strains that are already in the public domain. It will be interesting to see if companies change strains to trademark names. And what will happen if someone were to trademark a strain name that is already being collectively used? It’s possible there will be many name changes as a result.
If we gauge the atmosphere around which strains are named, often pop culture icons, and relevant historical figures are involved. So who owns that?
As packaging regulations become standardized, and commercial cannabis brands become more ordinary, it will be interesting to see if a consumer-focused certification process takes shape in the cannabis industry. Legitimate cannabis products will no doubt continue to be knocked off by wannabe’s, but Californian cannabis businesses will have tools to fight counterfeiting.
With the legitimization of cannabis, comes legal framework to protect the companies that operate in the space. And this is a huge step forward for everyone involved.
But I have a few questions. One, how do you trademark something that was made by the contributions of many people over decades of selective breeding? Two, really popular strains currently are public domain, can this really change, sure the name can change, but it’s makeup stays the same, but how do we decide who would be awarded the big titles like purple kush etc? Three, does this impact the meaningfulness of strain names? Will there be a proliferation of strain names just because all the existing ones are trademarked? Lastly, is it really alright to do such a thing? After all, we can’t trademark India Pale Ale or lager, they are classifications of a certain kind of product and belong to us all.
Oh well, we will see what this means for the industry and the businesses that create products for cannabis consumers. I foresee some major brands emerging like Coca-Cola is to pop. Super cool.