In 1996, California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act, legalizing access to medicinal marijuana. Since 1996, the medical marijuana industry in California has grown substantially, offering patients access to cannabis-infused cookies, ice cream, candies and thousands of strains. Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a law that allows medical marijuana companies to attract venture capitalists and other investors, which could cause the industry to grow further.
On paper, marijuana businesses resemble many other common industries. However, unlike other businesses, the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry is notafforded intellectual property protections. Because marijuana is an illegal Schedule I substance under federal law, entrepreneurs cannot legally protect the intellectual rights to their cannabis products.
An article published by the San Francisco Chronicle recently discussed how those in the medical marijuana industry are affected by a lack of trademark protections. The article discusses how growers rely heavily on strain names and the genetics of their plants to market products in the medical marijuana industry. Without intellectual property protections, any party could come along and steal successful strain and product names.
Although medical marijuana businesses cannot protect the intellectual property rights of their cannabis products, other commodities are still protected. Businesses still use t-shirts, coffee mugs, hats and other products to market themselves. In conclusion, any product that is not marijuana has regular intellectual property right protections.
This dilemma could become even more important in the coming years, as California could follow Colorado and Washington in fully legalizing marijuana by 2016. These businesses could potentially be worth tens of billions of dollars, so it is important to discuss how intellectual property laws could affect the marijuana industry.
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