By: Joshua Waldrop
With cannabis legalization ever gaining steam and the U.S. Farm Bill legalizing transport of hemp-derived CBD, celebrities from all forms of entertainment are jumping onboard starting their own cannabis product companies, but former daytime talk show host Montel Williams was ahead of the curve when it comes to CBD.
Williams, a fifteen year military vet who’s talk show ran for almost two decades, was diagnosed with muscular sclerosis in 1999. Williams became an outspoken advocate both for medical assistance for veterans and for the legalization of cannabis. In 2000, Williams founded the the MS Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a focus on research and education. Williams has openly stated that he uses medical cannabis stating it helps to ease his MS-related neuropathic pain.
In 2008, the same year Williams suffered a cerebellar hemorrhagic stroke, Williams launched Lenitiv Labs, a producer of CBD gel capsules that, according to Forbes, feature two differing profiles called Alert and Relax. Both hemp-derived CBD capsules are 100% THC free, meaning all the body and wellness relief from aches, pains, inflammation, anxiety, and sleep loss, and none of the psychoactive head high commonly associated with the cannabis plant. Williams is said to be very hands on with the brand, even helping to hand select the terpenes used to derive specific desired results from the CBD extract.
“It’s kind of like the Wild Wild West out here,” Williams told the Future of Personal Health blog. “A lot of people jumped into the marketplace trying to make money and not thinking about what it is they’re really selling. It behooves you as an individual to do the research and look at the product before taking it.”
One of the major challenges to thriving in a “Wild West” type of environment such as an emerging market for a new health and wellness solution that previously did not exist such as CBD is that as the framework of the space becomes established it can sometimes be easy for fraudsters and con men to use online tricks the general population may be unaware of to scheme people out of their trust and money. Particularly vulnerable are brands endorsed or headed by well known celebrity types who, due to their own busy schedules and lifestyles, often source the manufacturing and promotion of a product to a third party source and simply license their name and likeness to the brand.
In such cases, that celebrity owner/endorser may not have the attention or the inclination to spend money combating would be hucksters from plagiarizing their likeness to sell their own products offering the appearance that it is an authentic product when it in fact is not. When Williams found himself in just such a situation, he was attentive and did have the inclination to spend whatever the cost to protect the integrity of his brand and his likeness.
In a featured story on Leafly, journalist Janet Burns detailed how a piece she wrote on Williams CBD brand for Forbes was taken and altered to direct consumers to their website whereby they offered free trials for those who provided a credit card number for automatic refills. Not only did the consumers, who had come to the CBD brand on the presumption that it was Williams authentic CBD product, not receive the initial promised trial product but then found themselves subscribed for monthly automatic payments to that card for CBD capsules they also never received. Some of the victims, many of them elderly folks who may be uninformed about the ills on internet thievery but who had long trusted Williams for his reputation of integrity, began sending complaints to Lenitiv.
“When this initially started, it was pretty terrifying,” Williams said in the Burns piece. “We had somebody out here selling something in my name, and people who were really angered by the way the service was going, and I had nothing to do with this.”
“At the same time, I was launching a brand-new product, designed to be one of the most efficacious in the marketplace, and I had no idea what they – the fraudsters – were actually selling.”
Williams legal team got right to work following a digital trail of breadcrumbs that eventually led them to a man named Timothy Issac from Arizona who had a criminal record and long established pattern of fraud. Williams sued Issac and the lawsuit was recently settled for an undisclosed sum of money.
“I’m glad we decided to go ahead stand our ground,” Williams told Burns. “For some reason, a lot of celebrities and big brands have decided it’s the cost of doing business. But it’s not the cost of doing business. It’s your name. It is an expensive proposition to wage a war again these perpetrators, but much more of an expensive proposition to have your name and brand sullied, and people putting trash in the marketplace in your name.”
“The cost of stopping scammers is high for now, but if enough of us band together and say ‘Enough is enough,’ we will take away their war chest—the money they get from scamming people—then they won’t be able to fight anymore.”