From the packaging, you can barely tell the difference between Skittles candy sold at stores and the pot-infused “Skittles” being sold by shady online retailers.
In response, Skittles’ parent company, Mars Wrigley, pushed back this week in a series of lawsuits — including one filed in federal court in Chicago — alleging the companies selling those pot products and others are infringing on its trademarks. In one case, Mars Wrigley is asking for millions of dollars in damages and the shutdown of websites allegedly peddling counterfeit products.
Pot growers have long used trademarked names for marijuana varietals, like the wildly popular Girl Scout Cookies strain. And black market weed dealers also commonly sell cannabis-infused edibles that borrow the names and packaging from well-known candy brands.
A candy-manufacturing giant with global headquarters in Goose Island, Mars Wrigley said its move to take on alleged counterfeiters was meant “to send the illicit cannabis industry a strong signal to stop illegally using the company’s brands and products.”
A lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Chicago names a California company called Terphogz, which has allegedly used the name “Zkittlez” to sell cannabis and CBD flower, as well as clothing and drug paraphernalia. According to the filing, Terphogz “helped itself” to Wrigley’s trademarks for Skittles by “knocking off” the famous “Taste the Rainbow” slogan and copying the company’s logo, among other things.
The suit also lists five “unknown” co-defendants, which are described as Illinois companies that are believed to “purchase Terphogz’s Zkittlez goods and resell them to end users in Illinois.” The suit notes the company plans to add the names of the defendants should they be identified.
Cannabis can’t legally be transported across state lines, so the inclusion of the unnamed co-defendants hints at a potential criminal enterprise. Terphogz is located in California’s “emerald triangle,” a region in the northern part of the state with a reputation for lawlessness that’s home to illegal pot farms producing some of the finest cannabis in the world.
Another complaint filed Monday in federal court in Southern California goes after a group of online retailers selling pot-infused edibles the company claims are blatant knockoffs of its products. The various products listed in the suit are marketed using names like “Medicated Skittles,” “Life Savers Medicated Gummies” and “Starburst Gummies.”
Both federal lawsuits seek injunctions against the defendants and look to shut down their web presence. Mars Wrigley is seeking $2 million for each counterfeit trademark tied to the California suit, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs in both cases.
In a statement, Mars Wrigley said the two federal lawsuits and a third filed in Canada “are a testament to its commitment to stop the distribution of these harmful THC products.”
“Mars Wrigley strongly condemns the use of popular candy brands in the marketing and sale of THC products, which is grossly deceptive and irresponsible,” the company said. “The use of Mars Wrigley’s brands in this manner is unauthorized, inappropriate and must cease, especially to protect children from mistakenly ingesting these unlawful THC products.”
An employee for GasBuds, one of the websites listed in the California lawsuit, declined to comment and said she hadn’t been informed of the lawsuit. Terphogz and the other companies included in the federal lawsuits didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Edible Arrangements sues GTI
Meanwhile, another pot-related intellectual property case pending in federal court in Chicago pits the local cannabis giant Green Thumb Industries against the fruit basket company Edible Arrangements.
In that suit, filed last September, Atlanta-based Edible Arrangements claimed that GTI’s Incredibles brand infringes on its registered trademarks, including for “Edible” and “Incredible Edible.”
GTI countered last December and asked for the case to be dropped, noting that the term edible “is generic and has been in use in the cannabis industry for decades.” A GTI spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.