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RAW Rolling Paper Producer Awarded a Further $446,000 in Lawsuit With Republic Tobacco

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jun 09, 2023    Last Updated: Jun 09, 2023
A photograph of OCB and RAW marketing.

Image credit: Business Wire

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The manufacturer of RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers – a popular brand among cannabis consumers – has reportedly resolved its seven-year court battle with Republic Tobacco (also known as Republic Brands), which produces OCB papers, another popular brand of rolling papers.

In an amended judgement notice – seen by Analytical Cannabis – a judge for the Northern District of Illinois summarized that the court had ruled in favor of HBI International (the maker of RAW rolling papers) on some matters and in favor of Republic on other issues.

A real paper trail

In the Amended Judgement in a Civil Case notice dated June 5, 2023, the Illinois judge said that the court had ruled in favor HBI regarding Republic’s claim for false advertising, a copyright infringement claim pertaining to a “Sold Here” sign, and an aesthetic infringement claim as to the OCB Organic Hemp 99-cent packaging.

The latter claim is the oldest and dates back to 2016, when HBI contacted Republic, pointing out the similarity between RAW’s Organic Hemp product packaging and Republic’s OCB Organic Hemp paper packaging. Republic later sued HBI in a federal court in Illinois, seeking a declaratory judgment that it had not infringed on the packaging.

HBI counterclaimed for infringement, arguing that Republic had willfully infringed RAW’s copyrighted “Sold Here” sign. Then Republic alleged that the RAW papers were illegal products under the Lanham Act. These claims were taken to court in 2021. The jury reportedly concluded that none of RAW’s product statements violated the Lanham Act. Furthermore, the jury found that Republic had willfully infringed on RAW’s packaging and marketing. HBI was awarded $1,019,620 in June 2021.

The same court has now added HBI “prejudgment interest” of $446,203, which brings the total award to $1,465,823.

“Today we are happy to be done with this time-consuming lawsuit,” Josh Kesselman, RAW’s founder, said in a statement on June 6. “Ultimately, we are pleased with the outcome, but that doesn’t make this any less frustrating.”

“Republic has persistently filed lawsuit after lawsuit against our company, perhaps because of our success,” Kesselman continued in the statement.

“We intend to donate the net proceeds we will receive, now that this case is resolved, to organizations working to help small businesses in the cannabis field, particularly businesses that are startups involving individuals who were previously convicted of nonviolent cannabis related crimes.”

“We’re hopeful that Republic will now cease its relentless effort to destroy our business and focus, like us, on helping the emerging cannabis industry achieve greater equity in the marketplace.”

Republic's response

While a moment to celebrate for RAW, undoubtedly, the judge’s conclusion also highlighted the few triumphs of Republic's.

Over the years, the court has ruled in favor of the paper company’s claims of unfair competition and on a breach of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The latter claim refers to Republic’s argument that HBI effectively made two falsehoods in its marketing: that it directs some funding to the “RAW Foundation” charity and that its papers are made by artisanal craftsman in Alcoy, Spain.

In two separate rulings in December 2022 and January 2023, the court in Illinois reportedly concluded that no RAW Foundation even existed and that HBI “makes no rolling paper in Alcoy, Spain whatsoever.”

The court order permanently prohibits HBI from making any statement or engaging in any advertising activity that states or suggests that it contributes funds to a “RAW Foundation” or that its rolling paper cones are made in Alcoy, Spain. The company is also prohibited from stating, among other claims, that its rolling papers are “unrefined” and the “world’s only organic" rolling papers.

These details were reported back in February 2023.

Analytical Cannabis reached out to Republic Brands for comment and received the following statements: 

"This new press release from BBK Tobacco & Foods, dba HBI International, the U.S. distributor of RAW, is more of the same. It is just a new and misleading spin on an old ruling from a seven-year-old case. It’s BBK Tobacco’s attempt to deflect from this year’s federal court ruling that resulted in an injunction against BBK Tobacco and RAW Organic Hemp for a series of false and misleading product and packaging claims."

"The court further awarded Republic its attorney’s fees incurred in proving BBK Tobacco’s false statement concerning Alcoy, Spain in the amount of $665,000. The court also awarded an additional $200,000 to Republic from BBK Tobacco owner Joshua Kesselman arising out of Kesselman’s violation of a direct court order barring the use of social media during the trial that might influence the jury. This $865,000 total amount awarded to Republic leaves BBK Tobacco with a net award of $154,620 plus interest for the 2016 counterclaim."

This above calculation does not appear to take into account the recently announced “prejudgment interest” of $446,203 awarded to HBI.

*This article was updated on June 9, 2023, to include a response from Republic Brands.


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