Colorado Police Operation May Damage Brand Name, Claims ‘Toker Poker’ Owner
What happens when the name of a police operation coincidentally mirrors a product and brand name that its owner has spent years trying to market? Is the brand necessarily damaged by the unrelated police operation, which can include raids and arrests, or is it more a case of “any publicity is good publicity” in such a situation. The curious “Toker Poker” episode in Colorado offers a look at what might happen, as well as confirming what we all should have known already: Police investigators aren’t necessarily the most imaginative kids on the block… or at least they don’t waste too much time on product searches.
Oh, and despite one’s best-laid marketing plans, one can never quite be sure of what surprises are waiting around the corner.
Here’s the backstory. Last week, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office announced a massive illegal drug-trafficking indictment against 62 individuals and 11 corporate entities in what was described by that office as the largest such operation since marijuana use was legalized in that state in 2014. The difference here is that the charges deal with marijuana that was being grown or processed in California and then moved on to other states where marijuana possession and use is illegal. That opens up lots and lots of felony charges for those involved, in a case that the investigators were tipped off to way back in January of 2014, even before the in-state activity was legalized.
Investigators, though, always have to come up with catchy names for these sort of grand-scale investigations, just so they have an easy handle to use when making press statements about the eventual arrests later on. Here, the state’s investigators decided on “Toker Poker.” It’s a reference both to the interstate drug trafficking (largely marijuana) and, according to the Colorado AG’s press statements, that many of those involved were originally high-school friends who stayed in touch and also played poker frequently against one another. Not all of the 62 people named were part of the poker-playing grooup, though most were, and the ring itself was largely centered on the metropolitan Denver area.
But this “Toker Poker” thing… It turns out the name is already in use, in conjunction with an all-in-one pot smoker’s aid that’s lighter sleeve, tamper and poker all, ummm, rolled together. (Technically, it’s a “smoker’s accessory, since it can be used for tobacco as well.) The Toker Poker device is marketed by husband and wife Matt and Leslie Bodenchuk, who live way out in western Colorado, in Grand Junction.
Their phones started ringing non-stop once news of the drug-trafficking busts emerged. And in an interview with The Cannabist, a leading news outlet for all things pot-related, Matt Bodenchuk asserted that he’s already reallocating as much as $50,000 for what he described as “search-engine optimization improvement and corrective advertising campaigns” in the wake of any “Toker Poker” confusion.
Bodenchuk also told The Cannabist that he was also reserving his rights to take legal action against the state, since he and his wife have trademarked the Toker Poker name. “Depending on how much this really affects our brand,” he said, “if this is a long-term thing, then I would absolutely look to proceed legally.”
While it makes for entertaining reading in a kinda-sorta-pokery type of tale, there’s probably not a lot of bite to that bark. Any supposed trademark infringement would apply only in-category, and one would suspect that there’s a bit of drift from product accessory to legal investigation. Exactly how one would monetize or quantify the latter for the purpose of damages is another big hurdle, and whether any supposed damages exist at all would need to be asked as well. The Bodenchuks’ little hand-held accessory is receiving tons of free publicity in one-off stories such as this, and it’s likely that sales will increase, rather than decrease, due to all this hullabaloo.