Candy & cannabis: Hershey’s renews trademark legal disputes with marijuana businesses

By John Schroyer

Cannabis businesses, beware: The Hershey Co. is on the warpath.

Perhaps the most famous confectionery peddler in the world has a well-documented history of actively protecting its trademarks, and the marijuana industry is no exception.

Although Hershey’s has been relatively quiet in the marijuana sector since it sued two cannabis businesses in 2014, the company seemingly ramped up its oversight of possible trademark infringements in 2017.

Hershey’s – a Fortune 500 company with annual revenue of more than $7 billion – sent cease-and-desist letters last year to at least two California marijuana companies:

  • Harborside, a well-established dispensary in Oakland.
  • Good Girl Cannabis Co., an edibles maker in rural northeast California.

Those cases – along with several others in recent history – emphasize that the still-maturing cannabis industry still must face such legal issues as complicated trademark laws that can force small companies to change course.

While Good Girl Cannabis owner Kimberly Scott said her situation was resolved quickly and amicably, Harborside wound up fighting back after months of legal threats from one of Hershey’s law firms.

Harborside filed suit against Hershey’s in December after receiving multiple demands from an Indianapolis law firm representing the confectioner.

The lawyers wanted Harborside to pay $20,000 for “liquidated damages” and sign a settlement agreement with a confidentiality clause.

“Harborside refused confidentiality, and I told Hershey’s that we were prepared to proceed with the litigation,” said Henry Wykowski, Harborside’s longtime attorney.

“And guess what happened? They caved the next day.”

The case was voluntarily dismissed Jan. 31, 2018, according to court records – within weeks of Harborside’s initial filing.

Wykowski said the sides reached a settlement agreement that outlined zero legal liability for Harborside with respect to Hershey’s trademark-infringement allegations.

Harborside’s executive director, Steve DeAngelo, characterized Hershey’s attorneys as “bullies.”

“We stood up to the federal Department of Justice when they tried to close us down (in 2012),” DeAngelo said in a statement. “We are certainly not going to be intimidated by a candy company.”

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