Zkittlez, Runtz and Other Strain Names With Legal Issues

At what cost will cannabis seed breeders go to be the most recognized?

Copyright stamps with red ink Photo credit: Shutterstock

Many strain names are meant to reflect something about the plant itself, its development, its history, or the effects it renders. Wikileaf has even reported in the past on the strain naming process. Some titles are meant to give nods to particular people, whether that be out of admiration or to make fun of them; some are meant to explain what strains were crossbred to come up with the new version; some are sentimental to the breeder. 

There are some massively famous strains out there, like Pineapple Express, Sour Diesel, and Maui Wowie. But that’s also caused some issues, with people co-opting strain names without actually verifying the lineage of the bud they’re growing. So far, there’s a notable lack of regulation surrounding strain names. The only thing companies do seem to be regulated on actively is copyright.

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What the Law Says

There are plenty of laws regulating how cannabis can be packaged, sold, and advertised. Those regulations vary from state to state, but generally ban marketing products that contain THC to children. That means there are limits on likenesses to candy, and mandatory warnings or information listed on the packaging of goods that contain cannabinoids. However, the names of the actual strains have been a relative free-for-all. 

White ceramic bowl holding colorful tiny bits of cereal

A very popular strain, Fruity Pebbles is named after one of American’s favorite cereals. Photo credit: Shutterstock

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There are numerous strain names meant to model candies, despite laws saying packaging can’t make edible products look like candy. There have been breaches of that law, but it hasn’t always been law enforcement officers and regulators cracking down on that marketing strategy. Instead, it’s been the original companies being upset about trademark infringement. Companies co-opting the brands for candy names, alcohol, children’s books, and even Star Wars. For example, the strain Fruity Pebbles was named after the famous colorful and sugary cereal. 

As a result, the trademark infringement cases have been heating up in the past year or so. 

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Lawsuits

Mars Wrigley, part of the multinational confectionery and pet food brand Mars Inc., went all out in its lawsuits against cannabis companies recently. In May of 2021, it slammed down lawsuits against businesses in Illinois, California, and Canada, telling them to cease and desist imitation of its candy brands called Skittles and Starburst. 

A dark purple cannabis plant that has white hairs

Dispensaries, cultivators, breeders fell under a copyright lawsuit for Zkittlez. Photo credit: Shutterstock

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The company is seeking damages and a permanent injunction over six companies that sell cannabis under the name Zkittlez, including a descendant of Zkittlez that won Best Indica at the 2015 High Times Cannabis Cup. Mars Wrigley claims in its lawsuit that Zkittlez branding is identical in appearance and euphonics to Skittles’. They might not have been too far off, since the strains were also often referred to simply as Skittlez or just Skittles. 

The lawsuit didn’t stop there – Mars wants all Zkittlez products and merchandise handed over, wants the Zkittlez website transferred, and wants the strain’s creator, Terp Hogz, to have their social media accounts disabled. 

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“Mars Wrigley strongly condemns the use of popular candy brands in the marketing and sale of THC products, which is grossly deceptive and irresponsible,” said Mars Wrigley in a statement. “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.”

On another note, a lawsuit was just filed against Mars in mid-July of 2022, saying Skittles candies are “unfit for human consumption” because of an additive called titanium dioxide. 

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It isn’t just candy names cannabis companies have been imitating. There are strains nicknamed after other trademarked names and company titles too, like Tapatio and Gorilla Glue. 

Tapatio Foods, LLC. has a trademark infringement case against a strain branded “Trapatio”. The hot sauce brand wants a permanent injunction against use of its marks, plus triple monetary damages, corrective advertising to clear up any confusion over the brand trademark, and attorney’s fees. The spiced topping manufacturer also aims to block a filing Trapatio made for its own trademark. Tapatio says Trapatio has tarnished its brand.

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bright green cannabis nugget, zoomed in, with little red hairs and white trichomes

Gorilla Glue #4 quickly changed its name to GG4 after the adhesive company got wind of the name. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The Gorilla Glue moniker did get a cannabis manufacturer into some trouble. The adhesive company Gorilla Glue Co. sued GG Strains LLC for a trademark infringement in 2017. In a settlement, the Las Vegas-based marijuana developer had to change the name of one of its strains, which had previously been called Gorilla Glue #4; it had to remove gorilla imagery from its marketing; and it had to transfer the domain name for gorillaglue4.com. Gorilla Grips apparently aligned too closely with Gorilla Tape as well. The marijuana company had to stop using the word “gorilla” altogether. Gorilla Glue weed is now referred to simply as GG or GG4

For a while, you could find Star Wars themed strains like Skywalker OG or Ewok hybrid. The original breeders decided a lawsuit was likely to come for them and changed the strain names before George Lucas lawyered up.

You used to be able to buy a cannabis strain called Jägermeister, but the growers and sellers of that weed also decided they didn’t want any smoke from the German liquor company and changed the name before anyone could take them to court. 

Macro shot of a purple and green cannabis bud with yellow hairs and white trichomes

The company who created the Girl Scout Cookies strain changed its name after the trending lawsuits surrounding copyrights and trademarks. Photo credit: Shutterstock

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The makers of Girl Scout Cookies (the cannabis) decided they didn’t want any trouble with the Girl Scouts of America, and also opted for an abbreviation, settling on GSC. A strain called Thin Mint Cookies waited a bit too long and a dispensary in California’s Bay area, Magnolia Oakland Collective, wound up with a cease-and-desist letter. 

Wrap Up

When breeders get to name their new strain creation anything they want, it can be tempting to label it after their favorite treat, movie, or after favorite cologne/perfume. The aroma, taste or plain old effects can send you back to those close-to-home foods or badass movies like Star Wars.

The cannabis community is a close knit one with lots of inside jokes and terminology. Over the years, seed breeders had to dial back their “fun” and brand their strains with more original names.  It seems at least for now, companies have more reason to fear trademark law than they do crack-downs on a marketing strategy that toes the line for appeal to children. What will the strains of the future be named for in response? Only time will tell. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are Strain Names Copyrighted?

Strain names can be trademarked, but not typically copyrighted. However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark has been historically unkind to companies seeking trademarks for marijuana-related products. Trademarks are meant to differentiate a product from other, similar manufactured goods, but copyright protects the original work of authorship. 

How Do Weed Strains Get Their Names?

Weed strains get their names for all sorts of reasons. They often refer to the feelings they elicit or are named after public figures. Sometimes the names have meaning only to the cultivators. 

How Did the Strain Girl Scout Cookies Get its Name?

Girl Scout Cookies (now called GSC) has an extremely sweet aroma, which its creators likened to a dessert. It also happens to bring on major munchies.

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