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by Chane Leigh
Can you imagine grabbing a pack of Sour Patch Kids at your friend’s house…only, it turns out that they’re not the originals, tastes a bit funny, and contain cannabis. Well, along with the Sour Patch Kids, the likes of Nerds, Oreos, Froot Loops, Fritos, and other popular treats are being subjected to some poor choices of companies in the cannabis industry. While some of these copycats have been creative with manipulating the original packaging for the cannabis products, problems are arising due to the fact that children may not be able to tell the original and the copycat apart. Medicine is purposely packaged to not look like candy specifically so it does not entice children because it’s dangerous! So, why isn’t there a similar standard for cannabis? Even more, the designs of the packages are clearly being ripped off which is, ultimately, stolen intellectual property.
The copycat cannabis candy and treats can be explained as cannabis products being packaged to resemble a pre-existing and well-known treat. In order to better understand, let’s have a look at this list of examples, which first state the name of the original candy and then copycat cannabis ones.
As you can see, most of the copycat packaging consists of candy. However creative and funny their play on the product names are, allowing cannabis to resemble such products, even remotely, is a hazard- especially to children. In light of that, let’s first have a look at the danger of these copycat cannabis products.
CBC News released an article on how cannabis copycats are poisoning children. They cited Dr. Jane Pegg who stated that “it so shocked and appalled me… the package looked almost identical to the gummies that are sold as candies in the store”. While other media reports shared this concern by stating that “branding edibles as ‘candy’ is a public hazard for children”.
Dr. Kent Harshbarger stated that these copycat products are “concerning because youth may have trouble discerning the difference between THC-infused edibles and actual food- especially children who cannot read but can recognize familiar packaging”. Which makes sense when you consider that these copycats are using similar colors, fonts, and basic design as the original candies.
As an example, the CBC’s personal account of Pegg’s experience brings the point across loud and clear. A two year-old-boy came into the emergency room after having eaten his grandfather’s candy, who consumed it for arthritis. The little boy ate the packet of candy, which was thought to be Sour Patch Kids but ended up getting poisoned instead. CBC reported that when the boy came in, he wasn’t moving and he had trouble breathing but was released from the hospital the next day. CBC News explains children who come into hospitals under similar circumstances need to be monitored from head to toe (figuratively) for the likes of heartbeats, potential seizures, and proper breathing.
Intellectual property is explained as “creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs and symbols, names and images used in commerce”- which basically covers all aspects belonging to a branded candy or treat. For example, the Nerds product is protected by intellectual property, so replicating and distributing any aspect resembling the product, the copycat product is illegal and in violation. CBC News reports that sites selling these “are part of a huge and illegal marketplace that operates openly, under the nose of the government and law enforcement”.
The Hustle explains that a company owned by Mars Inc., the Wrigley Jr Company, has filed multiple complaints against various companies whose packaging are too similar to the likes of their Skittles, Starburst and Life Savers. It is for that reason that the candy makers are “filing complaints and lawsuits” against the companies with the copycat candy. Additionally, the Ferrara Candy Company sued a California-based delivery service for misleading products, and that the Hershey Company and Mondelez International have made similar moves with similar complaints.
Understandably, these candy makers don’t want you to confuse their products with cannabis edibles since it is creating an association between the copycat and the original, causing accidents such as Pegg’s patient and since it is in violation of the candymakers’ rights by having intellectual property. Yet, the CBC News reports that “there are at least 1,100 illegal sites operating just in Canada, and while police have had success shutting some down, the problem is bigger than they can handle”.
Chief of Abbotsford, B.C. police department, Mike Serr, stated that he wished he had “a better term, but really whack-a-mole describes it quite well” and that when they “hit one down and get rid of it, four more pop up”. However, it is unclear whether this is the case in America- on which Pegg and Trina Fraser had some thoughts.
Pegg stated that she doesn’t “know why the companies that are selling these products are not being shut down, not being fined, not being charged”. Well, CBC News reported that “these websites are operating quite flagrantly” according to lawyer Trina Fraser. In addition, Fraser states that she thinks “there is a certain amount of jurisdictional struggle over whose responsibility [it is] because these enforcement actions cost money and someone’s going to bear the cost of that”.
But it’s also worth pointing out that these are not bona fide “companies” that are using these stolen candy designs to market legal cannabis products. One of the banes of the cannabis industry is the operators in the illegal market that use wholesale mylar packaging that can be bought through popular sites like Amazon to vend their products. So, perhaps a crackdown on these channels would be a great starting point.
The cannabis industry has the potential to become a force to be reckoned with in terms of revolutionizing medical treatment and therapies, but it is the illegal actions of the likes of these copycats which regress the industry by creating negative associations, experiences and by risking the health of our youth. It is time for the authorities to step up, make a decision over whose responsibility it is, and take action. Without any sort of regulatory infrastructure in place, only more of these instances will occur.
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