Following a jury verdict, a district court in Illinois has ruled that HBI International, the company behind one of the world’s most recognized brands of rolling papers, RAW, must stop making false claims about its products and affiliated charitable organizations.

The lawsuit was brought against HBI by Republic Brands, one of its fiercest competitors that’s best known for manufacturing OCB and JOB rolling papers, among other brands. The plaintiff claimed that HBI engaged in unfair business practices in violation of the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

HBI manufactures brands of rolling papers other than RAW, such as Elements and Juicy Jays, but this case concerned RAW, in particular a myriad of assertions made by the company on the product’s packaging and other marketing materials.

One of the main points of contention concerns RAW’s claim, printed on each packet, that its rolling papers are produced by artisanal craftsmen in Alcoy, Spain, referred to as the “birthplace of rolling papers.”

The court found that “HBI makes no rolling paper in Alcoy, Spain whatsoever” and issued a Permanent Injunction against HBI ordering it to cease from promoting, selling, distributing, selling or delivering products under the RAW brand name or any others featuring the Alcoy claim by May 31, 2023.

The court also listened to arguments concerning RAW’s alleged charitable arm, the RAW Foundation, which, in an interview with Forbes in 2021, HBI Founder Joshua Kesselman claimed has “given away millions of dollars to charity.”

The court found that this organization did not in fact exist and ordered RAW and HBI to cease from claiming it operates or contributes funds from sales to any entity called the RAW Foundation in any of its marketing materials.

At the time of publication, the RAW Foundation website is no longer active but, according to Forbes, it claimed to have donated funds to organizations including Trees for the Future, Wine to Water, and Home Fur Good, among others.

The District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled on other dubious claims by HBI in relation to its RAW Brand. As well as the rulings on claims concerning Alcoy and the RAW Foundation, it has ordered the company to refrain from communicating or implying any of the following:

  • That RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers are “unrefined.”
  • That RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers are the first and only organic hemp rolling papers.
  • That RAW Organic Hemp rolling paper adhesives are made from natural hemp gum.
  • That RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers are manufactured using wind power.
  • That RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers are made from the center of the stalks of hemp.
  • That Joshua Kesselman and/or HBI invented pre-rolled rolling paper cones.
  • That OCB Organic Hemp rolling papers are knock-offs, “RAWnabees, or copies, as certain RAW marketing material has claimed.

The jury’s verdict and the court’s ruling is a huge boon for Republic Brands, which has long claimed business malpractice against HBI and has even set up a website with a link to the court’s verdict. For HBI International, the outcome is an embarrassment that the company is yet to comment on.

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