Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tobacco Companies Trademarked Dope Names

Rolling Stone, 18 October 1969, p. 10.


[...] "Cigarette makers," began a remarkable story in Business Week, "now suffering through their second consecutive year of falling sales, may take a closer look at something they once swore they would never resort to in order to hypo sales -- marijuana." The story went on to suggest there might be larger profits than anyone had suspected in legal, commercial grass, and told how a number of good dope names ("Acapulco Gold," "Morocco Red") had apparently been registered by tobacco manufacturers. Nowhere in the story did Business Week's tone imply that mass distribution of pot for profit might be an evil thing. [...]

[Rolling Stone readers who didn't also read Business Week -- most of them, I would guess -- might have been led to believe by that brief reference to the registering of "good dope names" that the latter magazine gave credence to such rumors, which it didn't. The following excerpts from the Business Week article were cobbled together from various Google Book snippets. -- bc]

Business Week, 6 September 1969, p 28.

Will cigarettes take to pot?

[...] What's more, according to the underground grapevine, the major cigarette companies are just waiting for the day pot is legalized so they can start producing grass-laced smokes.

"I know for a fact that the big companies are experimenting and have brand names already decided," declares Gene Guerrero, editor of the Great Speckled Bird, Atlanta's underground newspaper. Adds David Drake, a bearded 1969 University of Wisconsin graduate in fine arts: "I've heard that the names Acapulco Gold and Tijuana Gold have already been copyrighted." And a miniskirted New York City flower child avows that "one of the leading cigarette companies -- I think it's American -- has bought large plots of land in Louisiana, Mexico, and Central America specifically for growing pot." [...]

Such rumors have been growing for the past year or so, and they are obviously disconcerting to tobacco men. Says one executive, who would rather remain anonymous, "We have enough trouble dealing with the cigarette health scare without selling drugs, too." Another adds categorically: "No company in the industry has had anything to do with marijuana, nor does anyone want to." Others term the rumors "ridiculous" and "blatantly false."

Despite repeated denials, however, the rumors flourish, and not just in the underground press alone. Last year, the New York Knickerbocker, a local tabloid, ran an article stating that American Tobacco Co. had registered the names "Acapulco Gold" and "Morocco Red" just in case marijuana become legalized. American immediately denied this and branded the story as "nothing short of irresponsible reporting." And a check with the U.S. Patent Office, where tobacco men have registered hundreds of never-used names over the years, reveals such exotic potential brands as Luv and Laredo -- but nothing of recent vintage that would directly connote marijuana. [...]

Rolling Stone, 4 March 1971, p. 25


The following communication came to our offices on January 15th:


Your newspaper, as well as many others, have been carrying so many speculative pieces on cigarette smoking and marijuana, we thought you'd like to have this to set the record straight.

Sincerely yours,

"Rumors about the cigarette industry's involvement with marijuana are as persistent as they are false," said a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute, adding: "Because both tobacco and marijuana are so commonly used in cigarette form, these rumors are plausible lies which appeal to people who have a strong wish to believe them, either because they are pro-marijuana or anti-tobacco, or both."

Following are statements of all six major cigarette companies:

"We are unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana, and therefore disclaim any activity which would remotely involve marijuana."

"With respect to marijuana, Reynolds is not now considering -- nor have we ever considered -- the eventual sale of any product containing marijuana any place in the world. The published rumors often include claims that Reynolds has registered trademarks on possible brand names for marijuana cigarettes and that the company has purchased tracts of land for growing marijuana. There is no truth in either claim."

"The simple fact is that marijuana is an illegal product. As a responsible company we have no interest in anything which is illegal here at Phillip Morris and we have held no discussions nor made any plans concerning the marketing of that product."

"We  have absolutely no intention of breaking any laws or circumventing them in any way. This obviously applies to the production and marketing of marijuana."

"We have on numerous occasions categorically denied any interest in or involvement with marijuana. We confirm that denial again."

"We are a responsible corporate citizen and, as such, American brands has no interest whatsoever in any illegal products, including marijuana."

Well, that's the record set straight, all right. We say: "famous last words."

Rolling Stone, 27 January 1977, p. 49

The Rolling Paper Revue

by Abe Peck

[Peck visited the headquarters of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Arlington, Virginia.]

I looked up the trademarks for Acapulco Gold and Panama Red. And I found them! There was an Acapulco gold registered to Heublein Inc., of Hartford, Connecticut, the people behind everything from Kentucky Fried Chicken to premixed drinks. Another Acapulco Gold registry was held by Charmer Industries, a liquor distributor based in Smithtown, New York. And there was the Acapulco Gold trademark held by RD III Ventures of Great Neck, Long Island.

Panama Red was registered to Heads and Company of Indianapolis. And when I moved to less predictable color schemes, I found Jamaica Gold registered to Brick-Hanauer of Waltham, Massachusetts, and Tennessee Green held by a Nashville company of the same name.

There was only one hitch: the Acapulco Golds were, respectively, a chip dip, a tequila and a suntan oil. The Panama Red, a cologne. The Jamaica Gold, a cigar. The Tennessee Green, anticlimactically, a matchbook.

There were no marijuana registrations. And, if we believe C. Morten Wendt, the director of trademark examining operations, there won't be any until legalization, when and if.

Wendt's name reminded me of "C. W. Moss," Bonnie and Clyde's sidekick. Seated in his office down the hall from the Trademark Search room, Wendt himself, mid-50s, dapper, his hair neatly trimmed, looked a bit like the bankers the Barrow gang loved to visit. In a high-pitched voice, Wendt explained why it is currently impossible to register any trademark for marijuana.

"You see, the owner of a trademark acquires property rights through use of that mark before the public as a means of identifying goods. Now, trademarks for marijuana are  not registerable. The mark must be in lawful use in order to be registered. Our government has not legalized the sale of marijuana. Therefore," he said with the confidence of a man who lives by the rules, "marijuana is not a product that moves in commerce. Therefore it cannot have a registerable trademark."

Wendt asserted that nobody would use the name "Acapulco Gold" for marijuana even if it became legal. "It's more or less a generic term for it. And therefore, nobody has the exclusive right to the use of it."

I felt better. I couldn't register it, but neither could anybody else. But I recalled that Amorphia had raised money by selling Acapulco Gold rolling papers. I asked Wendt about it, and he replied that they never actually registered their common-law trademark.

"We would not register that," he said, "for the simple reason that we would say it would be deceptive."

"In the sense that it refers to a marijuana product?"

"Right," he answered.

Assassination buffs have "smoking pistol" theories to explain their conspiracies. I asked Wendt about what might be called a "smoking reefer" conspiracy -- that the cigarette companies have already registered the most commercial names that could be applied to marijuana.

"Oh that's all false! That's all false!" Wendt seemed genuinely angry. "For one thing, our records are open to the public. There is no such thing as reserving a mark. We have combated this story for the last 15 years, and so it is absolutely false.

"There's no protection given to tobacco companies, and they would never -- it would be very poor business if they were to take one of their known brands, their known trademarks, in the event that marijuana does become legal, and use it upon a marijuana cigarette."

"Where do you think this tobacco company rumor came from?"

"I don't know -- but honestly, I've been asked it by every one of the news syndicates and the New York Times and I don't know how many others."

I recalled a book called Pot Art, which quoted Ronald Reagan on the tobacco conspiracy. I gave the "smoking reefer" theory one last try.

"You know that Reagan said in 1972 that there are 14 tobacco companies which have trademarked marijuana."

"What," Wendt replied icily, "does Reagan know about trademarks?"

JACK ANDERSON'S column appeared the day after I typed up my notes on Crystal City. A call to his office revealed that the people who wrote and researched the column under Anderson's byline had no evidence that specific tobacco companies were preparing for marijuana cultivation on their land. "But," said Gary Cohn, the reporter on the story, "they all own land down there which, according to my sources, is perfectly convertible for grass." And Cohn made a new and interesting point:

"The way I understand it is that if the company has a trademark for a smoking product -- say cigars or cigarettes -- you can transfer it to another smoking product. That's what I believe and what some legal experts who've researched the matter have told me." Cohn agreed with Wendt's contention that liquor companies outside the smoker's article class wouldn't have a head start with their names if marijuana became legal. Companies like Acapulco and Tijuana Smalls cigars, though, might.

The image of a smoking reefer pervaded the room. I called Wendt back.

Though not an Anderson fan, Wendt admitted that the tobacco companies could potentially transfer their trademarks within the smoker's article class. But he made his own interesting point.

"I doubt if any one of them would transfer," he said. "Even if marijuana becomes popular, there's such a thing as the good will of the product. The product has been established as a tobacco product, and not everyone who smokes tobacco would want to smoke marijuana. I think it would be very poor business policy. If it was not labeled that the ingredient had been changed, the purchaser would have cause of action against the owner of the mark."

So there I was, blocked from making a fortune, with only the word of the director of trademark examining operations that the companies would respect the good will of their products as my consolation. It seemed like there was only one thing left to do, and I did it. That night, before going to sleep, I left a flowerpot with a hardy green weed in it on my hotel balcony. The next morning I rendezvoused with a Washington trademark attorney. Call him "Deep Toke."

"I have never done it for any of my clients," Deep Toke said about registering handy names. "And I'm not sure there's anything unethical about it. If you're talking about actually putting out a product -- Tijuana Smalls is an example. That's a very viable product. Now they picked a name for it that may provide some help if marijuana is ever legalized. But that's a very good product for that particular company, I'm sure, and their main interest is probably in cigars."

"In your opinion," I asked Deep Toke, "have tobacco companies registered names for marijuana?"

"My reply would be that they have registered a number of names that may be useful in connection with marijuana cigarettes if they were ever legalized. But I don't think that was their intention in doing it. I really don't."

Needless to say, it wasn't hard to get the tobacco companies to agree. "Our own company has no plans for the production of marijuana cigarettes," said Dan Provost, director of corporate communications for Liggett Group Inc., "and reliable sources have said that no other company has either." Harold Edison, trade-relations manager of the General Cigar and Tobacco Company, makers of Tijuana Smalls cigars, said, "We knew there was a danger with the name, that Tijuana had a reputation. But," he added, perhaps a bit too kind to our neighbor to the south, "we found that the name 'Tijuana' had merit aside from any drug aspect: it's associated with liveliness, youth and fun." The American Tobacco Company: "We don't discuss marijuana at all." [...]