The medical marijuana industry is already a billion dollar business. Growth rate is expected to hit 25 percent annually by 2018, when the industry will generate $5 billion a year. Investors and entrepreneurs continue to poor their life savings into this burgeoning industry and have a right to all of the legal protections available under the law.
In 2011, California and Colorado accounted for 92 percent of a $2 billion industry but that is expected to continue to change as the industry matures and diversifies. Six states legalized medicinal cannabis from 2010-2012 as the industry continues to expand.
An estimated 25 million people – about 1 in 12 U.S. residents -- qualify for a medical marijuana card in a state where it’s legal. About two-thirds of dispensaries have been operating less than a year and regulatory and legal compliance remains the top concern.
However, an increasing number of entrepreneurs and investors are looking to copyrights, patents and trademarks to protect their legal rights, marketing identify and strategic competitive advantages.
- Copyright: grants federally protected status to authors and artists and a set of exclusive rights to their work. Generally expires 70 years after an author’s death.
- Trademark: A trademark is a recognizable sign, design or expression that identified a product or service.
- Patent: A patent grants intellectual property rights to an inventor or assignee.
In many cases, states or municipalities are moving to drastically reduce the number of dispensaries or collectives that are legally allowed to operate. In other cases, a sea of competition can make a reputable operator all but invisible. In either case, using trademark and copyright laws to protect your identity can help distinguish your brand from the competition.
In particular, consumables and other pot-infused products continue to gain brand identify as they develop a lucrative niche. In fact, a survey by Medical Marijuana Business Daily found two-thirds of patients nationally choose their medical marijuana dispensaries based in part of its offering of marijuana-infused products. Baked goods, gum, mints, sodas, chocolate bars and jars of dried marijuana are common offerings.
Many states are beginning to require brand names and chemical testing, in an effort to track various dispensary strains and hold growers and consumers more accountable. An alarming trend has been the crackdown on so-called bath salts or synthetics; in many cases, laws aimed at outlawing them are vague about their chemical composition, resulting in a regulatory environment that may target cannabis-infused products that are not properly trademarked and identified.
In April 2010, the U.S. Patent and Trademark office established a new trademark category for medical marijuana and began accepting applications for companies seeking trademark protection for marijuana brands. It has since stopped accepting applications, citing marijuana’s illegal status under federal law.
It illustrates the grey area in which so much of the industry is forced to operate because the federal government insists upon identifying marijuana as a dangerous narcotic with no recognizable medical value. Each case is unique, and protecting your investment most often means consulting with an experienced medical marijuana attorney about how best to structure your operation and market your product.