Why Cannabis Beverages are a Good Bet

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Constellation Brands, Boston Beer, Molson Coors, PepsiCo, Jones are some of the beverage companies betting on drinks with THC or CBD, adding them to their beverage product lines, as are cannabis drink makers like CANN Social Tonics, Keef, and Artet.  Here’s why:

Just about everyone enjoys socializing with a drink in their hand. Wherever people are gathering, from couples to small groups to large events, whether at a bar, cocktail party, friends/family get together, a game or other outing, most people have a drink in their hand.  Years ago cigarettes were as ubiquitous in social settings, but those days are long gone – smoking, because of its health effects and smell, has become obsolete if not shunned.   The same stigmas seem even more pronounced when it comes to smoking or vaping cannabis, plus there is the added stigma of “getting high,” which, for some reason, as a general matter, seems less socially acceptable than “getting drunk.”  Cannabis drinks are not burdened by these stigmas.

Moreover, just like alcoholic beverages, cannabis drinks allow the consumer more control over their psychoactive experience.  Just as consumers use beer, wine, and spirits for a range of intoxication, cannabis drinks can be consumed in the same way.  A few sips of a cannabis beverage with 10 mgs of THC may be enough for some to get a slight euphoric buzz that does not interfere with their socializing like a beer or two might give someone a slight buzz that does not interfere with their socializing.  In this way, cannabis beverages stand in contrast to high-THC products like vapes, butter, and shatter, just as shots of tequilla, vodka, and jager stand in contrast to beer and wine.

Cannabis drinks are a good bet because they largely avoid the stigmas of smoking and getting high, and, in so doing, make THC and CBD accessible to consumers who have withheld from using cannabis because of them.  Add to that the flexibility and control of micro-dosing, and cannabis drinks become more appealing to more people in more social situations.  This is why beverage companies and cannabis companies are betting on cannabis drinks.

 

Cannabis Beverages are On Fire! – Ingredients and Labeling

Here’s another installment in this blog series on Cannabis beverages, which are on fire!  As an example,  as reported in Cannabis Business Executive, just the other day, Curaleaf, a major hemp product manufacturer, announced that it signed an agreement with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits – the world’s largest distributor of beverage alcohol.  This blog entry provides a quick snapshot of cannabis beverage ingredients and labeling.

Although the most popular, THC and CBD are not the only cannabinoids the cannabis plant produces. Other cannabinoids are well-known for having potential therapeutic benefits, and cannabis consumers are also highly attuned to the different terpenes produced in cannabis that create different flavors and effects, such as bisabol, which some believe can be fruity and may provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits; linalol, which some believe can be floral and may provide sedation; and myrcene, which some believe can be fruity and may provide relaxation.  Whether and how to include different cannabinoids and terpenes in beverages is going to be important in expanding cannabis product lines.

Likewise, transparency in labeling those ingredients may be necessary to ensure consumers are enjoying cannabis beverages safely and to the greatest effect. Moreover, so that consumers can understand the experience intended with a particular beverage, “claims” about the intended effect, e.g., stimulating, euphoric, relaxing, may be necessary.

Ingredients and labeling are a hot button issue for cannabis products. Those familiar with the FDA’s discretionary enforcement of “claims” in hemp-derived CBD products know this is an area of particular interest for the FDA. State-specific regulation of ingredients in cannabis products is also getting a lot of attention right now.  For example, the Pennsylvania Office of Medical Marijuana recently instituted a state-wide “vaporization product review” purportedly to assess the safety of terpenes, like those above, in vape products.  Given that they occur naturally in cannabis, many in the industry believe terpenes should not be regulated in the same way, if at all, as other ingredients.

Lastly, on this topic, ingredients and labeling are the focal point of a growing number of products liability and consumer fraud class actions and mass actions, where plaintiffs are asserting physical or economic injuries because, they claim, ingredients did not perform as intended or were not consistent with the labeling. Cannabis beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers need to particularly mindful of the possibility of such claims, which can deplete resources.

 

Cannabis Beverages are on Fire! — THC Limits

In the second edition, and first substantive blog, in my series on Cannabis Beverages, entitled Cannabis Beverages are on Fire!, I am writing about THC limits, which is one of the hot-button issues for cannabis beverage producers and consumers.  Given its psychoactive effect, there is no denying that the amount of THC in a beverage should be measurable and limited so that consumers can safely ingest them and obtain the experience they are seeking. This means that a serving size of a beverage might have a THC limit, and so might there be a total container limit.

Cannabis beverage manufacturers are not starting from scratch in this area, however. Popular THC serving size limits in edibles and similar products include 5mg and 10mg could likely be applied to THC beverages, resulting in a total container limit based on the container size and number of servings. The current offerings of cannabis-infused drinks vary and the markets within states offer a wide variety of different THC levels. For example, Cann, a bestselling THC drink, contains 2mg THC and 4mg CBD per 12 ounce can. Cann is available in over 200 California dispensaries. Similarly, Tomato Jane drinks have 10mg THC per 12 ounce bottle. Comparatively, Matt’s High Soda offers an infused beverage called Uncle Arnie’s Iced Tea Lemonade with 100mg of THC per bottle—although each bottle is considered to be 10 servings.  As the market for cannabis beverages develops, THC limits are certain to be an issue that gets a lot of attention.  In the next installment of this series I’ll touch on cannabis beverage ingredients and labeling.

Cannabis Beverages are on Fire!

Want to know where the cannabis industry is going? How about the beverage industry? The answer is cannabis beverages! The hottest new product segment in both markets. Don’t believe me… just run an internet search for “cannabis beverages” and you’ll see cannabis-infused beverages tied to major beverage companies like Constellation Brands, such as Canopy Growth’s Quatreu water, and Molson Coors, with its Truss brand, and dozens of  smaller cannabis beverage brands, such as Forth, Kikoko, and Recess. 

A cannabis beverage generally contains either THC derived from marijuana grown pursuant to state adult-use marijuana and/or medical marijuana laws, or containing CBD derived from marijuana or derived from hemp grown pursuant to a state’s hemp laws.  Given the federal prohibition on marijuana, the federal legality of hemp, and the FDA’s current restriction of CBD in foods and beverages, the federal and state regulatory framework for producing, distributing, and consuming cannabis beverages is complex, to say the least.  In the coming weeks I will be covering in a series of short blogs some of these issues, including product labeling, THC and CBD percentages, serving size, and social consumption.

Cannabis Products Liability/Consumer Fraud Litigation and CBD Regulation

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Yesterday, a California court federal court judge did not follow other federal courts in staying a consumer class action brought on behalf of CBD product consumers on the basis of the FDA’s primary jurisdiction over the regulation of CBD products.  The Court in Rodriguez v. Just Brands USA Inc. et al., 2:20-cv-04829, C.D. Cal., determined that claims that CBD product maker Just Brands’ labeling did not accurately state the amount of CBD in its products could give rise to state law claims for breach of warranty  and fraud that should not be stayed because, according to the Court, the FDA’s forthcoming regulations would not alter the expectation that CBD product manufacturers would accurately convey the amount of CBD in their products.  

The decision in Rodriguez should be on the radar of the entire cannabis industry, as it demonstrates how products liability and consumer class action lawsuits may be brought under state statutory and common law to seek damages for improperly labeled cannabis products.  Cannabis – hemp and marijuana – product manufacturers should be sure to build into their internal compliance safeguards against such claims.  

Relatedly, on the radar for hemp-derived CBD is legislation proposing to categorize CBD as a dietary supplement under the FDA’s regulatory regime for drugs, dietary supplements and foods and beverages under the Food, Drugs and Cosmetic Acts. That bill will be introduced today by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Jeff Merkley.  

 

SAFE Banking Act Reintroduced in the House with Broad Support

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

With the explicit support of the American Banking Association, and after passing in the House during the last congress, the SAFE Banking Act was reintroduced in the House on March 18, and a companion Act is expected to be introduced in the Senate next week. The proposed legislation would allow financial institutions to provide their services to cannabis – marijuana and hemp – clients without fear of federal sanctions. The proposed legislation enjoys bi-partisan support, and is in “position A” for passing in 2021.  

Given the billions of dollars of revenues, including tax dollars, generated by the industry, which are generated by cannabis companies and companies that provide services to the industry, cannabis banking is truly a public concern. The very laws that seek to create transparency as to the public fisc, such as the Bank Secrecy Act, have forced cannabis to be a cash business, which means not all of the cannabis dollars may be accounted for as in other industries, thereby undermining the objectives of those laws.  The SAFE Banking Act would resolve those concerns by allowing core and ancillary companies to utilize all of the electronic banking, checking, payroll, and accounting functionality that businesses in all other industries enjoy. There is no question the passage of this legislation would provide a game-changing boost to the cannabis space.

FTC Approves Consent Orders Against CBD Manufacturers

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

As I previously wrote, in December 2020 the FTC announced consent agreements reached with CBD manufacturers 1) Bionatrol Health, LLC; 2) Epichouse LLC (First Class Herbalist CBD); 3) CBD Meds, Inc.; 4) HempmeCBD; 5) Reef Industries, Inc.; and 6) Steves Distributing, LLC, in connection with a “crackdown” the FTC termed “Operation CBDeceit” for allegedly spurious health claims. The FTC today followed up that announcement with an announcement that those consent orders have been approved by the FTC in unanimous votes as to each. These manufacturers will now be required to comply with the consent orders, which could include fines and ceasing to make “unsupported health claims” in connection with the marketing of their products. 

Bipartisan Adult-Use Bill To Be Introduced in Pennsylvania

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Senators Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) are introducing legislation that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use in Pennsylvania. This is the first time a republican senator has backed such a bill. The proposed legislation will attempt to generate revenue for the commonwealth and to promote social equity by way of increasing the number of licenses to operate, imposing a 6% sales tax, and imposing a 10% excise tax that would go toward a Cannabis Business Development Fund to provide aid, grants, and technical assistance to businesses and individuals in areas that have been disproportionately impacted by criminal prosecution for cannabis violations. Expungement of cannabis crimes would also be available.

Laughlin’s pragmatic views may encourage his republican colleagues in PA’s legislature to join him. As Laughlin stated during a press conference: “Our proposal prioritizes safety and social equity. And furthermore, it will let Pennsylvania’s robust agricultural industry participate in marijuana cultivation.” And both Laughlin and Street encouraged PA legislators to keep pace with lawmakers in New Jersey and New York, stating in their co-sponsorship memo: “This year our neighbors in New Jersey have signed adult use marijuana into law and our neighbors in New York are likely to legalize. It is our duty to taxpayers to seize the initiative and legalize marijuana concurrently with bordering states. Failure to do so risks permanently ceding hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue as well as thousands of jobs at a time when taxpayers can least afford it.”

 

Merrick Garland’s Comments Suggest Return to Cole-like Prioritization

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

During his confirmation hearing on February 22, 2021, Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland’s comments hearkened back to the Obama-era de-prioritization of enforcement against marijuana-related crimes under the Cole memorandum, stating: “This is a question of the prioritization of our resources and prosecutorial discretion… It does not seem to me a useful use of limited resources that we have, to be pursuing prosecutions in states that have legalized and that are regulating the use of marijuana, either medically or otherwise. I don’t think that’s a useful use.”

In addition, Garland explained that social justice warranted such deprioritizing, acknowledging that people of color are arrested for non-violent marijuana-related crimes at far greater rates than white people.  According to Garland, the federal government should not be expending resources criminalizing non-violent marijuana related crimes, as doing so in the past “has disproportionately affected communities of color and damaged them after the original arrest because of the inability to get jobs.”

While proposed legislation such as the MORE Act and the SAFE Banking Act could provide greater certainty for the cannabis industry, until such time as laws like those are passed, the establishment of priorities regarding federal enforcement of state-legal cannabis would encourage greater participation in the cannabis industry, as the risks of federal enforcement would become more clear and thus easier to weigh against the rewards of entering the still emerging market.  The DOJ has been largely hands off of the state-legal cannabis market since the Cole memorandum, even though it was rescinded by AG Session, but clarity from Merrick Garland would nonetheless be very well-received by industry participants.

 

FTC Ratchets Up Enforcement Against “Spurious” CBD Health Claims

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

In connection with a crackdown on CBD manufacturers pursuant to its “Operation CBDeceit,” the FTC announced today settlements with six CBD-infused product manufacturers who, according to the FTC, allegedly made a “wide range of scientifically unsupported claims about their ability to treat serious health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, and others.” Under the settlements of the respective Complaints against them, each of the manufacturers will be required to pay a fine, and cease making “unsupported health claims” in connection with the marketing of their products.

In issuing its press release today the FTC attached the Consent Agreement and the FTC’s findings of violations of the FTC Act, which are set forth in a draft Complaint. These documents illustrate the FTC’s procedures in actions like these, and highlight the FTC’s concerns regarding allegedly misleading representations about CBD-containing products in violation of the FTC Act. Specifically, the FTC views health claims in connection with marketing such products to be misleading unless they “rely upon competent and reliable scientific evidence that is sufficient in quality and quantity based on standards generally accepted by experts in the relevant disease, condition, or function to which the representation relates, when considered in light of the entire body of relevant and reliable scientific evidence, to substantiate that the representation is true.”

Significantly, the FTC has not required the settling manufacturers to remove their products from the shelves and to cease selling them. They must, however, remove any unsupported health claims. Moreover, it would not be surprising if the announcement of these settlements spawns consumer fraud litigation against the manufacturers, which is often a much more serious concern to the business.

It is unclear how “Operation CBDeceit” will be implemented when the Biden administration takes over. For now, however, CBD manufacturers should continue to be mindful of their packaging, labeling and other marketing materials.

© 2009- Duane Morris LLP. Duane Morris is a registered service mark of Duane Morris LLP.

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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