If you like to keep up with the daily gossip in the world of cannabis, you’ll no doubt be aware that HBI International, the company behind RAW rolling papers, as well as Juicy Jays, Elements, Pay-Pay, and Skunk, has recently hit headlines following the verdict of a court case brought by Republic Brands. The case was largely focused on several claims made by the company’s extremely popular brand RAW, which produces hemp rolling papers that have become a staple in many a stoner’s kit. The results of the injunction have left many loyal customers, and many more besides, with countless questions about the brand’s actions and ‘RAWputation’ (sorry, we had to).
RAW rolling papers – particularly the Organic Hemp offering – have become a favourite among weed smokers all over the world. If you’ve smoked a few joints in your time, it is likely that at least one of them was rolled using one of RAW’s papers. But the brand’s popularity doesn’t end with the quality of its products. RAW has also become known for its charitable work both in the USA and around the world through its charity the RAW Foundation. However, according to the recent court ruling, the RAW Foundation might not exist at all.
On January 31st, 2023, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois filed a permanent injunction against HBI International. This was the culmination of a lawsuit brought by another distributor of rolling paper and smoking accessories – and so, competitor of RAW -, Republic Brands in 2016.
Aside from the disputed existence of the RAW Foundation, as mentioned above, the permanent injunction also refers to a number of claims made by the company about its RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers. Republic Brands claimed that HBI International had “deceptively and unfairly marketed” its RAW Organic Hemp rolling paper – a claim now legally upheld by the court’s decision.
Until now, a consumer of RAW’s rolling papers would reasonably believe that the product was manufactured in Alcoy, Spain; after all, many products are marketed and clearly labelled as being produced in the region. This marketing went hand in hand with the claim that Alcoy was the “birthplace of rolling papers”. But in a bizarre twist, the evidence presented at trial indicated that HBI “makes no rolling paper in Alcoy, Spain whatsoever” – as stated by an opinion and order from district judge Thomas Durkin.
This, along with other apparently deceptive marketing claims, prompted the court to order several conditions to the permanent injunction against HBI.
Conditions of the injunction
Under the injunction, HBI is prohibited from stating, implying or suggesting that it operates or contributes funds and sales proceeds to the apparently non-existent RAW Foundation. This includes stopping the production and sales of all products that make references to a 501(c) charity referred to as the RAW Foundation through text or images.
HBI was also ordered to immediately cease manufacturing, ordering, or replenishing its inventory, under RAW or its other brands, with products that featured the Alcoy stamp.
Other conditions of the injunction include a permanent ban on making any statement or communication, or engaging in any promotion or advertising that states, implies, or suggests that:
- RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers are “unrefined;”
- RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers are made with natural hemp gum, or that the adhesive used in RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers is made from or contains hemp;
- RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers are, or ever were, the world’s first or world’s only organic (or organic hemp) rolling papers;
- The bulk paper used to make RAW Organic Hemp rolling paper products is made in Spain;
- RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers are made using wind power or are powered by wind;
- HBI uses or used the centre of the hemp stalk for its RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers;
- HBI or its founder Joshua Kesselman invented rolling paper pre-rolled cones;
- The OCB Organic Hemp papers are knock-offs, “RAWnabees,” copies, or fake versions of RAW.
While on the surface, this seems like a pretty clear-cut case, dig a little deeper and things become a little confusing. HBI is yet to make an official statement regarding the injunction and the claims made against RAW and its products. However, in a number of recent Instagram posts and interactions, the founder of HBI and RAW, Joshua Kesselman has made a number of references that may be connected to the court’s recent findings and other claims made about the brand.
In a recent post, Kesselman appears to debunk claims that RAW rolling papers contain heavy metals. In the video, Kesselman addresses the camera and states: “with all my knowledge of rolling papers, I can’t think of a single rolling paper brand that would purposely add heavy metals to their paper.” Kesselman also goes on to state that all RAW products consistently pass “extremely rigorous testing standards”.
Kesselman also appears to have made reference to the RAW Foundation in recent days. In reply to a confused followed, Kesselman wrote: “we are not a charity, we donate to charities! If you know one that is truly doing great work there pls let me know and I’ll donate”.
While a search of the internet won’t yield a website for the so-called RAW Foundation, the organisation in question’s Instagram page, ‘RAW Giving’, recently posted a communication from non-profit organisation Wine to Water, in which it stated RAW Giving has contributed “a total of $870,034”. What’s more, the page clearly states in the bio that it is “proudly not a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organisation” – perhaps a reference to the injunction.
Republic Brands, the company that brought the lawsuit against HBI, was, until 2021, Republic Tobacco. The company is a manufacturer and distributor of natural rolling papers and premium smoking accessories, such as OCB. Loyal supporters of RAW and its founder, Josh Kesselman have taken to social media to voice their concerns over the recent ruling, with many referring to Republic Brands as “Big Tobacco”.
A number of tobacco companies have made moves to diversify their portfolio in recent years, this includes changing the name of their brand – as seen with Republic Brands – investing in cannabis start-ups, and branching out into the vaporiser sector. This has led some supporters to suggest that the case against RAW and HBI is nothing more than a smear campaign by jealous competitors. But for now, at least, the law is on the side of “Big Tobacco”.