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Proposed Jimi Hendrix marijuana product line could trigger new fight

American rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix performing with The Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Monterey Pop Festival, California, USA, June 18, 1967. (Bruce Fleming/AP Images)

The next battle over the Jimi Hendrix name could be fought over marijuana-infused gummy bears.

A Toronto company has big plans to launch a line of Jimi Hendrix-inspired marijuana- and hemp-infused products that would include gummy bears, hard candies and energy drinks.

But Nutritional High has struck a licensing deal with Purple Haze Properties, a company linked to the late musician’s brother Leon Hendrix and not to Experience Hendrix, the holding company that controls Jimi Hendrix trademarks and manages the rights to his music catolog.

Experience Hendrix is not on board, and this isn’t the first time the two have tussled.

Hendrix died without a will in 1970 and years of legal battles have been fought over his estate and the use of his name.

Nutritional High, a thinly-traded penny stock, says its deal with Purple Haze gives it the exclusive right to manufacture and distribute marijuana- and hemp-infused products named after the late guitarist and his music. The company says it also has secured non-exclusive rights to make and sell branded apparel and accessories.

Bob Merlis, a spokesman for Experience Hendrix, declined to comment, and no lawsuit has been filed.

Nutritional High CEO David Posner said his legal team is confident they have the right to use the Hendrix name. But in 2009 a judge ordered Hendrix Electric Vodka be pulled from store shelves for trademark and licensing rights violations.

The company behind the vodka was a partnership between Leon Hendrix and Andrew Pitsicalis, now CEO of Purple Haze Properties.

“The Electric Hendrix Vodka case was a different situation. That was over the similarity of ‘Electric Hendrix’ to ‘Experience Hendrix’ and other trademarks of theirs. Same with the old case involving me," Pitsicalis said in a statement.  "‘Jimi’s Cannabis Collection’ avoids those issues and was designed and implemented with full guidance and input from counsel so it avoids all of those pitfalls."

Separately, Pitsicalis has been found to be in violation of the Hendrix estate's trademark rights for his use of the name "Hendrix" in domain names. He has been barred from using the Hendrix name in any business venture.

Bernstein IP's Karen Bernstein, a New York attorney whose practice focuses on trademark, copyright and Internet law, said she wouldn't be surprised to see Experience Hendrix challenge Pitsicalis's use of the Jimi Hendrix name again.  

"This is a tough question given the complexities of copyright and trademark law rights in Jim Hendrix’s name and images," she said. "I think they can use Jimi's Cannabis Collection, but if they position the products as to create a false association with the iconic Jimi Hendrix, they may run into problems with Experience Hendrix, the owner of the rights to the Jimi Hendrix brand."

Should the Hendrix deal fall through, it could be problematic for Nutritional High, which like other marijuana businesses is banking on celebrity name recognition to help get its products off the ground.

Bob Marley, Tommy Chong and Willie Nelson are among the celebrities already lending their name to certain marijuana strains.

Nutritional High was known as Sonoma Capital in 2004 and re-emerged under a new name early this year.  It hopes to sell marijuana- and hemp-infused products in U.S. states that have legalized marijuana and to generate revenue through royalty fees, consulting and through real estate. 

Among its plans: a "Breaking Bad"-inspired "Breaking Bud" product line that includes a line of Heisenberg Blue hard candies.

But Nutritional High's U.S. and Canadian trademark applications have yet to be approved, and Bernstein said she wouldn't be surprised to see the studio that produced "Breaking Bad" file suit over the candies.

Meena Thiruvengadam writes about the marijuana business for Yahoo Finance. Follow her blog on tumblr at amsterdamamerica.tumblr.com and on Twitter at @Meena_Thiru.

This story was updated on June 17, 2015 to add comments from Purple Haze CEO Andrew Pitsicalis.

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