As marijuana legalization sweeps the nation reality TV is pursuing legalized marijuana businesses. It should not surprise us that America wants an inside look at these cutting edge “ghanjapreneurs.” Though a reality TV show may seem like a huge opportunity for a marijuana business (just look at Weed Wars), the devil is always in the details. Our lawyers have handled legal matters for all sorts of reality TV shows, ranging from Whale Wars to Deadliest Catch, to Real Weddings to Off Road Truckers, but what we are seeing with marijuana reality shows would put the most aggressive Hollywood agent to shame.
So, if you are thinking of getting your fifteen minutes of fame as a “to-be-famous” marijuana business, you should at least be aware of the following:
1. You need the right attorney to review and negotiate your reality TV contract. Do not, I repeat, do not use a criminal defense lawyer or your “family’s” regular lawyer to review and negotiate your reality TV contract. You need a lawyer who has experience in dealing with networks and production companies because a poorly negotiated TV contract will just keep on costing you.
2. You will forfeit your privacy rights. Think of the typical reality TV show — viewers want to see it ALL: every meltdown and every fight. And, in the marijuana industry (where Federal prohibition looms large), you might want to consider the repercussions of the public seeing everything you do. We would not recommend any marijuana business relinquish such rights unless it is a well-oiled machine with stellar employees that follow every single state and local law, and even then being on TV may make you a target for the feds. If you nonetheless still want to push forward with your shot at fame, you should at least negotiate a contract that prohibits specific unwanted invasions of privacy — for example, no filming of marijuana transactions with terminally ill patients or no filming of plant maintenance during certain hours of operation.
3. You will need to protect your intellectual property before it is aired it for all to see. Make sure you have done what you can to protect your brand and your other intellectual property before the world sees and tries to copy what you’ve got. This advice holds particularly true in the marijuana industry since one cannot obtain national trademark protection for cannabis brands.
4. Vet the production company scouting your business. Research the other party with whom you plan on doing the TV deal. Research the production company, its relationships, its prior shows, and its past history with other TV prospects. MTV obviously has a different agenda than, say, the History Channel and your business should be comfortable with the agenda before signing on the dotted line. It is not uncommon for a business to sign a multi-year exclusive agreement with one production company before realizing that company will never get a show off the ground. The business is nonetheless legally prevented from signing with another show.
5. Embrace full disclosure. The standard reality TV contract typically has a provision regarding your need to disclose nearly everything. That provision (or some other provision) also states that your omitting any relevant information constitutes a breach by you of the contract. Make sure you know exactly what you are signing and make sure that you can live up to whatever you sign.
6. Warnings and releases for reputational damage and embarrassing depictions; exclusivity clauses; and communication limitations. Though these provisions vary from show to show, the foregoing have become pretty much standard in reality TV contracts so as to protect the production company and the network. What this means is that if you sign a standard reality TV contract, you are consenting to the production company and network using your worst and most embarrassing moments without any chance of recourse for that use. And again, these contracts typically mandate that you work only with the production company and network for longer than usually makes sense. Many reality TV show contracts restrict your right to communicate with the world outside of the show so as to prevent you from spoiling any upcoming surprises or revelations on the show. The devil is in the details.
7. Mind your reputation at ALL TIMES. When you sign on for a reality TV show, you are putting your business on blast speed. For the marijuana industry, this can be a dangerous thing, especially where states are currently experimenting with regulations that may or may not prove effective. Just imagine if the infamous Maureen Dowd column had played out on TV and it was you who supplied her with the edibles. One little misstep can lost profits or a failed business.
Don Williams once said, “Fame and riches are fleeting. Stupidity is eternal,” and never was that phrase more true than for reality TV shows. The marijuana industry is already under a magnifying glass and any marijuana business thinking of signing up for the Real World of pot should think long and hard not only about putting their own legal rights at issue, but also about the reputation of the industry as a whole and about how their footprint can make all the difference in the momentum of legalization.
Just don’t say that we didn’t warn you.
Lights, camera, action….