The Colorado company that invented the formula for MED-a-Mints, a popular cannabis-infused mint candy, has announced that it will sue Denver-based edibles manufacturer Dixie Elixirs for trademark violations. Inventor Gary Gabrel claims that Dixie Elixirs violated the contract between them when it changed the MED-a-Mints packaging, making its own name more prominent and removing the words "cannabis infused."
The new label is dangerous, he says: "The label says THC infused, 100 milligrams. So you've got to have at least some knowledge to recognize that as a cannabis product. A twelve-year-old or a ten-year-old might not know."
Gabrel claims his company, Bridge Marketing, entered into a licensing agreement with Dixie Elixirs in November 2012. The agreement, Gabrel says, worked like this: Bridge, which owns the MED-a-Mints recipe, provides Dixie Elixirs with a non-cannabis-infused powder that forms the base of the mints and then Dixie adds the cannabis oil and manufactures, packages and sells the finished product.
"We are imitating the business model of Coca-Cola," he says, "where Coke manages the brand and makes the magic syrup and then ships it to bottling companies around the country and around the world."
Gabrel, who's based in Longmont, describes himself as a serial entrepreneur. His past ventures, he says, include inventing a board game called Pente, which he sold to Parker Brothers, and developing a chain of pizza restaurants, called Hideaway Pizza, in Oklahoma.
Gabrel says he's "had a passion for cannabis my whole adult life" and decided to get into the marijuana-infused products business after speaking with a friend who has HIV. The friend used cannabis as medicine and made her own edibles -- which gave him the idea to come up with a formula for his own. He chose mints because they're small, discreet and because the dosage can be precise, he says.
"I think these will be the Bayer aspirin of the medical market and the Altoids of the recreational market," Gabrel says of MED-a-Mints.
Continue for more on MED-a-Mints' dispute with Dixie Elixirs. Dixie Elixirs was the second company to manufacture his mints, Gabrel says. He and his wife, who helped develop the mints, decided to contract with Dixie because he says they "saw it as a good opportunity to be with a company that's positioned as a leader in the country.... We were totally excited in the beginning about our relationship with Dixie. And we had confidence until January, when the change in packaging caught us by surprise."
(For more on Dixie Elixirs' managing director, Tripp Keber, read our January 2014 feature, "Meet three ganjapreneurs in the brave new world of weed.")
The old packaging said "MED-a-Mints" in prominent letters and even had a silhouette of a pot leaf in the background. The front of the tin said "cannabis infused vanilla mints" and featured a green cross, a symbol widely associated with medical marijuana.
In January, however, Dixie Elixirs rolled out a new look for its products, just in time for the start of recreational pot sales in Colorado. The new packaging features a brushed-silver color scheme that's meant to look sophisticated and adult. Dixie's MED-a-Mints tin also got a makeover. The name, MED-a-Mints, was made smaller and the word "cannabis" was removed altogether. It was replaced with "THC," which is the ingredient in marijuana that makes you feel high. The pot leaf silhouette was also scrapped.
Gabrel was not happy, especially since his contract with Dixie specified that "the design of any new labels used for sale of the products shall be subject to the review and written approval of" Bridge Marketing, according to an excerpt provided by Gabrel. "If you just saw the Dixie package, 'MED-a-Mints' doesn't stand out," he says. "If you go to Dixie's website, on the website, it says 'Dixie's Chai Mints,' 'Dixie's Awakening Mints.' It doesn't say 'MED-a-Mints by Dixie.' It's a branding issue. Whose product is this?"
In addition, Gabrel says Dixie's new packaging poses safety concerns. "It's important that...the public be able to look at that product and recognize that it's a cannabis product and not just another candy bar," he says. "I don't think that looking at the new Dixie package that it is self-evident that that's a cannabis product."
Gabrel also doesn't like that the product's dosage information is now printed on a card that's shrink-wrapped to the tin. Once the shrink wrap is removed, Gabrel says, some people may throw the card away. He says he also thinks MED-a-Mints should be sold in a childproof pill bottle in addition to a tin in order to give consumers a choice between a childproof package and a non-childproof package.
If you go to Dixie Elixirs' website today, the mints are nowhere to be found. Gabrel says he gave Dixie a notice of termination for their three-year contract at the end of March. "That was a hard step to take." But, he adds, "They have been unwilling to negotiate with us to reach some kind of settlement, so we are filing a lawsuit to seek damages." MED-a-Mints is also in the market for a new manufacturing partner, Gabrel says.
Dixie Elixirs spokesman Joe Hodas acknowledges that Dixie and Gabrel are currently having a dispute but says that Dixie has not been served with a lawsuit. (Gabrel says he plans to file it today.) Asked whether the contract between the two has been broken, Hodas says it hasn't. "No, because when you break a contract, there should be a lawsuit. We are having a dispute. And we are working amicably with them to settle that dispute."
As to why Dixie Elixirs changed the MED-a-Mints packaging, Hodas says, "We're a branding company and we wanted our packaging to look good and look sophisticated and match the rest of the packaging." He adds that Dixie's packaging meets all state regulations. "Frankly, Dixie is a leader in the industry. It's a point of pride for us."
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More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: How state officials define responsible pot use during 4/20 celebrations."Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at email@example.com