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Raw Rolling Paper Lawsuit

HBI International, the Arizona-based manufacturer and distributor of rolling papers like RAW, Elements and Juicy Jays, has been ordered by a federal court in Illinois to stop making false claims about the RAW company, its products and associated charity organization. There’s a lot going on here, so I’m going to break it down.

First things first: for those unfamiliar with RAW’s packaging, almost every product, from rolling paper booklets to prerolled cones, has a stamp that boldly claims it’s made in Alcoy, Spain, known as the birthplace of rolling papers. There isn’t a lot of information online about exactly where in Alcoy RAW’s products are produced, or if they’re actually made in Spain at all. The court stated HBI may not promote, sell, distribute, ship or deliver products from RAW or its other brands in packaging that includes an Alcoy stamp.

The court also prohibited RAW from making any more claims about its charity organization, the Raw Foundation, in text or images. In its Dec. 6, 2022, ruling, the court found that no such foundation existed despite HBI’s prior promotional claims. Forbes interviewed Joshua Kesselman, HBI and RAW founder, back in 2021, and he said the RAW Foundation had “given away millions of dollars to charity” and added, “You can’t ask what’s the return on investment. If your goal is actually to save as many lives as possible, you’ve got to do it right. Humanitarian work is addictive, and it helps motivate me and my staff to keep pushing forward for the sake of every life we can help.”

He went on to list the multiple charities the foundation has worked with: Trees for the Future, a Maryland-based nonprofit that trains farmers around the world in agroforestry and sustainable land use; Wine To Water, a nonprofit committed to “supporting life and dignity for all through the power of clean water”; Carbonfund.org, a nonprofit that provides carbon offsetting and greenhouse gas reduction options to individuals, businesses and organizations; and Home Fur Good, a no-kill animal rescue in Phoenix, Arizona, just to name a few.

On Feb. 12, the Raw Foundation posted a screenshot of a message from Doc Hendley, Wine To Water’s founder and CEO, who thanks the folks at RAW Giving.

“Since our relationship began over 10 years ago, your community has given Wine To Water a total of $870,034,” he wrote. “This includes direct program support from RAW Giving, such as the $50,000 you recently gave to support our Indigenous Peoples Project, as well the money you continue to raise for us through the website and at special events and trade shows.”

As of Thursday (Feb. 16), the RAW Giving website was under construction, with a message saying, “We’re updating our website and packaging to give you the most RAWesome rolling experience ever! Be sure to check back soon!”

On RAW’s main website, however, there’s a picture of a smiling Kesselman in a tan RAW hat among a group of young Black boys with text that says, “RAW Giving: Because of you, RAW has helped save thousands of lives.”

In addition, Republic Brands, the Illinois-based distributor of rolling papers such as OCB and E-Z Wider, obtained a permanent injunction in a federal lawsuit against HBI. During the trial, RAW’s previous statements that OCB Organic Hemp papers are knockoffs, or “RAWnabees,” of RAW rolling papers and Kesselman’s claims that RAW Organic Hemp rolling papers were the world’s first and only organic hemp rolling papers came to light.

Any further statements from HBI and its employees are prohibited, but I don’t think we’ve come to the end of this story just yet.