When Scott Howard created the branding for SeaWeed Co., a recreational marijuana retail shop in South Portland, he wanted to emphasize the company’s local roots and evoke thoughts of the Maine seaside. The mermaid seemed like a natural fit.

However, despite Howard’s stated intentions and no matter how apt the association may be, the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy has taken issue with the half-woman, half-fish figure clutching a seashell that now graces much of SeaWeed’s merchandise. Howard is facing a $10,000 fine for the “willful use of a prohibited image.”

State officials say this SeaWeed Co. logo violates rules against using images of people or animals to sell cannabis products. Courtesy of SeaWeed Co.

According to the rules for the state’s newly opened adult use program, packages or labeling depicting humans, animals or fruit are prohibited, as are packages or labels that would “reasonably” appear to target or appeal to anyone under the age of 21.

Furthermore, the rules prohibit advertising or marketing of cannabis products “that is attractive to persons under 21 years of age … including images and items commonly marketed toward individuals under 21 years of age.”

Vernon Malloch, compliance director for the Office of Marijuana Policy, told Howard in a December notice that not only does the mermaid logo depict both a human and an animal, it also “is generally known that mermaids are featured in a number of stories, movies, toys, costumes and other popular culture items and marketing aimed at young children and teenagers, and so images of mermaids have inherent and particular appeal to individuals under 21 years of age.” 

According to the letter, Howard and Hannah King, an attorney with the law firm Drummond Woodsum, were previously made aware that the Office of Marijuana Policy did not approve of the logo.

The notice cites a June letter from SeaWeed’s lawyer outlining her legal analysis that the logo “does not run afoul of the adult-use marijuana packaging and labeling laws,” and a request that the department find the rules “do not prohibit in any way, SeaWeed from utilizing the mermaid logo … on any and all adult-use marijuana packaging labeling, marketing and advertising.”

The office denied the request.

On top of a $10,000 fine, the office ordered Howard to “immediately halt” the use of the mermaid logo on any adult-use marijuana products, labels, packaging, website or marketing materials. Howard has 120 days to pay the fine, according to the notice.

The mermaid logo was noted during an Oct. 22 inspection, according to the violation notice. Malloch, the compliance director, reportedly told Kasper Heinrici, the store supervisor, that the violation was “substantial” given the previous discussion with King, and said he planned to place all products with the logo on “administrative hold.”

“(Heinrici) stated that the action would effectively shut down SeaWeed’s business operations … because most inventory at the store at that time was within the scope of the administrative hold,” the notice said.

Malloch and Heinrici reportedly agreed that SeaWeed would continue sales with the mermaid logo for “a short period of time” while the company worked to relabel and cover the mermaid with an image of a marijuana leaf on existing packaging.

The notice does not include a timeline for fixing the violation or any indication of whether it has been resolved. On Friday afternoon, the mermaid logo was still featured on SeaWeed’s website and online merchandise.

The office also noted from the inspection that some products did not include required statements indicating the packages passed all mandatory tests, nor a list of solvents used to produce the marijuana concentrate. Because of those alleged violations, the department issued a $2,500 fine to SeaSmoke Extracts Inc., also owned by Howard, according to a separate notice issued the same day.

King declined to comment on the matter because of ongoing litigation.

The Office of Marijuana Policy also declined to comment and directed questions to the Maine Office of the Attorney General.

Marc Malon, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, also declined to comment but confirmed the case is currently the only one in the state pertaining to violations of marijuana labeling or advertising.

In a statement, Howard said SeaWeed’s “main objective is to make sure that our audience is 21-plus” and argued that the department’s rules are “vague and open to interpretation.”

He likened the issue to the state’s residency requirement for adult-use marijuana business owners. In May, medical cannabis provider Wellness Connection of Maine, which is majority owned by out-of-state investors, reached a legal agreement with the state stipulating that the Office of Marijuana Policy will no longer enforce a residency requirement on those seeking an adult-use cannabis business license. Wellness Connection is currently seeking similar action for the medical marijuana program.

Maine’s adult-use market finally opened Oct. 9 after four years of delays.


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