Now that marijuana has entered the marketplace, entrepreneurs in the industry are seeking the same protections enjoyed by other businesses – trademarks for their products. Currently, cannabis business owners cannot register at the federal level for trademarks. They must acquire a trademark through state channels.
Trademarks are important to businesses because they offer legal support in building a recognizable brand. The purpose of a brand is to immediately communicate the unique qualities of a product to a potential customer. A trademark helps to prevent competitors from using the same brand name. As cannabis growers and retailers work to build their brands, trademarks become increasingly important.
The path to trademark protection runs through states where cannabis has been made legal. A company that registers and receives a trademark within a state benefits in two ways. First, it serves as public notice that the brand has been established. Secondly, a state-issued trademark offers broader legal protection against brand infringement than common law alone.
The problem for business owners with state-only trademarks is that they are only valid within the issuing state. Businesses need to do a separate trademark search in each state in which they want to do business. The search is an essential part of the process to ensure that a brand name is not infringing on another product’s legal rights. Once the name is cleared, the company may then register with the Secretary of State.
Although the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) prohibits marijuana enterprises from acquiring federal trademarks for products containing cannabis, it is sometimes possible to register brands of products made by the same company that do not use cannabis in their manufacture, such as an apparel line.
Patents are a different story. The USPTO guidelines for obtaining a patent for a cannabis plant include the development or discovery of, and the asexual reproduction of, a new strain of plant. Patents are designed to give an inventor an economic advantage over potential competitors for a limited period of time, generally 20 years.
A patent protects the unique genetics of the product, but not the name. A company that holds a patent on a plant can legally prevent anyone else from marketing a genetically identical plant while the patent is viable. However, in order to have exclusionary rights to a brand name, a company would have to register for a trademark in every state in which it does business.
At this time, the USPTO is considering a number of patent applications for cannabis plants, although none have yet actually received a patent. Legal wisdom holds that now is the time for cannabis-based businesses to organize themselves regarding trademarks and patents. The patent application in particular can take some time to process, so businesses that apply early may have a market advantage as legalization takes greater hold across the country.
In 2013, Illinois approved a four-year medical cannabis pilot program. Since then the fledging cannabis industry has slowly formed into a more concrete part of the state’s infrastructure.
Though most dispensaries are still in the registration and licensing phase, the businesses have begun to hire a broad range of individuals in anticipation of opening day. The medical marijuana program will expire in 2017 unless the legislature approves an extension, but the market’s potential continues to drive a sea of professionals toward the new industry.
For example, Cresco Labs, the company that scored highest in the state’s selection process and was awarded three licenses, is recruiting at least ten positions at this time. The available positions include titles such as Extraction Agent, Cultivation General Manager, Manufacturing Team Lead, Gardener, and more. Click this link to learn more about these available positions with Cresco Labs.
Norah Scott, one of the founders of PharmaCann, a dispensary in Oak Park, says she has received a drove of applications from law school students, college students and Ph.D. scientists willing to work for no pay. The company aims to be up and running after the fall harvest. Scott believes most applicants share a common personal connection to the medical benefits of cannabis. Scott reported,
“About 50 percent of the people I have interviewed, maybe more, have a family member or friend with a debilitating condition.”
Once the medical marijuana industry has time to mature, Chris Walsh, founding editor and current manager of Marijuana Business Daily, thinks the dispensaries can provide employment to approximately 1,000 people. That number might go as high as 2,000 after factoring in ancillary positions.
It has been estimated that the entire cannabis market will offer 46,000 to 60,000 jobs in cultivation centers, dispensaries, infused product makers and testing labs.
In the wake of the present job opportunity, staffing firms have come into the market to match impassioned applicants with open industry positions. Wendy Berger Shapiro, a co-founder of CannaMed Talent Solutions, said the key to finding the right candidate is looking for a relevant background in another field. This can include individuals with experience in banking, law, customer service, horticulture, pharmacy, tech support and security.
PharmaCann’s Hillcrest facility hired Kristan McGuigan as the director of cultivation following her career of 20 years in ornamental horticulture. While she has plenty of experience in her field, she admits she has no experience with the medical marijuana market.
McGuigan says she is excited about the industry’s breeding work as well as the opportunities that exist to professionalize the industry. In fact, past experience with the cannabis industry is not always a plus with hiring dispensaries and medical marijuana businesses.
Dan Linn is the director of government and public relations for the state’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and he says,
“No employer wants to know that they’re hiring someone who has broken the law.”
Jared Boyar, an Illinois dispensary owner said,
“If an applicant has prior experience lawfully dispensing marijuana, then we look at it favorably. However, we are not interested in hiring personnel with a history of unlawful use.”
Standard pay for cultivation technicians, budtenders and trimmers ranges from $10 an hour to as much as $20 an hour with the right amount of experience. Depending on the enterprise’s location, dispensary managers make from $40,000 to $80,000 a year, and master growers can earn as much as $70,000 to $120,000 a year. Medical cannabis companies have emphasized that they seek individuals with integrity, organizational skills, passion for the product and reliability.