Mars Wrigley files lawsuits over THC-infused Starburst, Skittles; Zkittlez cannabis strain

Gabrielle Saulsbery//May 4, 2021

Mars Wrigley files lawsuits over THC-infused Starburst, Skittles; Zkittlez cannabis strain

Gabrielle Saulsbery//May 4, 2021

Mars Wrigley, a subsidiary of Mars Inc. based in Hackettstown, filed lawsuits in federal courts in Illinois and California and in Canada on May 3 to stop cannabis companies from using its brand names and marketing in infused edibles.

Several companies make a THC-infused Starburst knockoff, and others make Skittles. THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis.

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

Additionally, Mars Wrigley filed a lawsuit in Illinois against California-based Terp Hogz and five other companies that sell a cannabis strain and related products under the name Zkittlez. In court filings, Mars seeks damages and asks the court to place a permanent injunction on Zkittlez sales and hand over the products or merchandise using the marks. Mars Wrigley also seeks to have Zkittlez website transferred to it and Terphogz social media accounts be disabled.

“Terphogz’s Zkittlez Marks are substantially identical in sight, sound, meaning, and commercial impression to Wrigley’s Skittles Marks,” according to the court filing.

Danielle DeFilippis; co-chair, intellectual property group; Norris McLaughlin

Danielle DeFilippis, co-chair of the intellectual property practice group at Norris McLaughlin PA in Bridgewater, said brands like Mars Wrigley have the right to enforce their trademarks against identical marks or confusingly similar marks in identical products or similar products.

“As a brand owner what can you do? You’re diligent in moving swiftly to enforce. You take as many steps as you can to police the industry to make sure those brands aren’t popping up, and if they are, taking swift action to try to stop them,” she said.

Because the knockoffs are cannabis, she said, there’s an additional concern.

“Mars and other food and beverage brands, they tend to market to people of all ages, particularly candy. They’re marketing themselves as a family-friendly brand … to children as well,” she said.

While Zkittlez, which is not candy but cannabis flower, would not be mistaken for a sweet treat, DeFilippis said that famous marks may be protected even when the products aren’t similar. It doesn’t matter that what’s in the package isn’t candy: any use of a similar name could “dilute the brand itself,” she said.

Additionally, more and more food and beverage companies are exploring the use of CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis, in their products,

“Right now, it’s still not legal on a federal scale, but I think you’re starting to see brands preparing for that….so it could be that there’s not so far of a stretch here to deem that these brands may one day be related,” DeFilippis said. “In light of the collaboration you’re starting to see, it’s a risk in letting any product out with a mark that’s confusingly similar.”

Representatives for Mars Wrigley and Terp Hogz did not respond to a request for comment.