‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s opinion column on cannabis politics and culture.
Most people in the cannabis industry know Oklahoma is going through a Wild West phase right now. The state’s loose medical marijuana regulations have sparked a chaotic dispensary boom. As of last week, there were more than 1,600 dispensaries serving 161,000 registered MMJ patients.
One dispensary sued for trademark infringement, another shut down for selling meth. Not a good look, OK.
We’ve seen other states go through this phase. Colorado, Washington, and California went through similar stages in their early dispensary years. Things got a little loose, and eventually state legislators created a regulatory system that offered patients a modicum of quality assurance.
The thing about a Wild West period is that… well, it can get wild. And this week things went a little over the top in Oklahoma.
Treehouse, TreeHouse, House of Tree
On Monday, news broke that a dispensary in Tulsa known as the Treehouse was being sued for trademark infringement by Nelvana Enterprises, a Canadian company that produces a children’s TV show of the same name.
Now, it’s one thing to choose a name like the Treehouse for your dispensary. It’s common enough that an attorney could argue innocence in court. Like you chose the Greenhouse or something. In fact, “treehouse” is so common that there’s a TreeHouse cannabis store in Soquel, California; a TreeHouse Collective in Portland, Oregon; and a TreeHouse Club store in Spokane, Washington, that actually has a treehouse next to the parking lot.
Treehouse is so popular a name, in fact, that the one in Tulsa isn’t even the only one in Tulsa. Yes, there’s Mary Jane’s Treehouse Dispensary, which is about five miles north of the other Treehouse. All of these other treehouses, to their credit, have managed to design logos that do not entail legal risk of trademark infringement.
Still and all: The Treehouse TV show is produced in Toronto, while the dispensary is in Tulsa, whose residents are not exactly staying up late watching Hockey Night in Canada on the CBC. There’s room for an honest mistake.
TV Show? What TV Show?
But then you compare the logo of the TV show to the logo of the dispensary.
Here’s the TV show:
And here is the Oklahoma dispensary:
If the bass line from “Ice, Ice, Baby” could talk, the bass line from “Ice, Ice, Baby” would express its umbrage and outrage over the brazen nature of the theft here.
It’s worth noting that Nelvana Productions is not some obscure little Moosejaw outfit. It’s a global powerhouse of children’s programming, having produced such classics as Timothy Goes to School, The Fairly OddParents, and The Magic Schoolbus. These are the people who invented Miss Frizzle, for god’s sake. You cannot just screenshot the show’s opening sequence, Photoshop the logo, and start selling weed.
But that’s apparently what dispensary owner did. And that level of quality assurance seemed to run through the store’s cultural DNA. A few weeks ago, patrons were calling out its product in tweets like this:
I’m no cannabis connoisseur, but I do know bad cannabis when I see it. And that’s bad cannabis. I wince even as I honor it with the word “cannabis.” That’s just nasty weed.
Some Oklahomans apparently agreed.
Who’s Minding the Store?
It doesn’t take a copyright attorney to recognize that the Treehouse doesn’t have much of a defense here. The only mystery is how the owner will rebrand the shop: Stick with Treehouse under a new logo, or change the name altogether but keep selling the same skeevy brickweed?
There’s a larger question in all of this, though. How did this Treehouse get licensed? Did nobody at the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority think to check the dispensary’s design scheme? Or maybe they did, and the fun cartoonish letters were A-OK by them.
Nonsense Like This Turns Votes
The legal cannabis industry is still only a few years old, and companies are struggling with over-regulation in some states and under-regulation in others.
The over-regulation risk, as we’re seeing in California, is that the cost of compliance drives up the price of cannabis and allows the illicit market to thrive. Over-regulation also locks legacy growers and sellers out of the legal system.
But under-regulation has its price, too. The Treehouse got away with an (allegedly) stolen, kid-friendly logo, while its competitors had to pay design professionals to invent something new and adult-appropriate.
Even worse, prohibitionists may insert the Treehouse logo into their slide deck when they argue that cannabis companies are trying to turn kids into customers. Those slides turn votes. We saw it just last Tuesday, when one old-school drug warrior sat before a Senate hearing and threw scare stories at the chair of the Senate banking committee. That senator has the power to move a bill that would help the 211,000 workers in the legal cannabis industry get checking accounts, loans, and mortgages. Little stuff like “Treehouse” can have major unintended consequences.
Don’t Be This Guy
Oh, also in Oklahoma last week: The owner of the Left Handed Okies medical marijuana dispensary in Spiro, Oklahoma, was busted for selling meth out of the store.
— KATV News (@KATVNews) July 25, 2019
Don’t do that. It hurts us all. Especially the guy in Shady Point, Oklahoma, who owns a completely different dispensary that is also called, yes, Left Handed Okies.