Dissecting the $95M Verdict In Altria Client Services LLC v. R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co.: A Litigator’s Perspective for the Cannabis Industry

On September 1, 2022, Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, secured a shocking $95 million award after a federal jury concluded that rival R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co. infringed three of Altria’s patents for its pod-style vape.  The jury’s number was based on Altria’s request for a 5.25% royalty rate for the infringed patents—light years away from Reynolds’ estimate of $3.6 million in damages. With damages this high for an instrument so integral to cannabis-based products, the industry should be mindful of how Altria was able to convince the jury to settle on its requested damage figure.  Continue reading “Dissecting the $95M Verdict In Altria Client Services LLC v. R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co.: A Litigator’s Perspective for the Cannabis Industry”

Lifting the Haze: New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission Issues Interim Guidance on Drug Testing

On September 9, 2022, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission issued interim guidance for employers on drug testing employees for cannabis. Since the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults 21 years of age or older, New Jersey employers are expected to follow certain procedures associated with drug testing employees based on reasonable suspicion of impairment. Until specific regulations are issued, the commission has provided interim guidance to clear some of the haze for employers trying to navigate compliance with New Jersey’s cannabis law.

To read the full text of this Duane Morris Alert, please visit the firm website.

Wage Loss Claims Find Their Way Into PA

FarmaceuticalRX LLC, licensed to process cannabis in Pennsylvania and Ohio, describes itself as “bringing healthcare, science, and innovation to the medical marijuana sector.” FarmaceuticalRX LLC boasts a “world-class research and development team” tasked with studying the effects of the cannabinoid in the treatment of opioid addiction, to lung cancer, and tumor cell remediation.

A lawsuit was filed in the USDC for the WDPA by former FarmaceuticalRX LLC delivery drivers, classified as independent contractors, seeking lost wages for overtime pay under the FLSA and PA Minimum Wage Act resulting from a misclassification as independent contractors rather than employees. According to the Complaint, the drivers attempted on several occasions to raise this misclassification, but the issue was never fixed. And one at least one occasion, the drivers were told that changing the classification mid-year may raise red flags with the IRS. The Complaint further alleges that the defendants controlled the work schedule and provided the drivers company cars. The defendants put out an advertisement looking for replacement workers about a month before the plaintiffs were fired.

This is just another example of lawsuits that cannabis operators and those in the industry may face. As previously reported, products liability and class action suits resulting from alleged mislabeling were filed earlier this year. Additionally, RICO and consumer fraud claims have also been filed. In addition to plaintiffs seeking monetary compensation, cannabis businesses and operators are open to virtually any kind of litigation, such as landlord-tenant disputes and patent infringement claims. These lawsuits continue to highlight the importance of remaining vigilant in all aspects of business. As the industry continues to expand, it is likely that lawsuits will as well.

 

 

Minnesota Legislation Ushers In Sales of THC-Infused Beverages

Even absent a federal regulatory framework, the demand and market for cannabis-infused beverages continue to grow nationwide. As states legalize marijuana for medical and adult use, some have enacted specific provisions for the sale of food and beverages containing THC. Minnesota recently passed one such law, which became effective in early July. In Minnesota, medical marijuana is permitted for the treatment of certain medical conditions, but adult use legislation has not yet been passed. The state’s new law legalized the sale of food and drinks containing up to 5 mg of THC per serving, and 50 mg total per package – so long as the THC is derived from certified hemp plants. Under federal law, hemp plants – as opposed to marijuana plants – can contain no more than .3% THC by weight. These content limits apply to all strains of THC, including Delta 8, which is currently not federally regulated.

Minnesota’s new law prohibits THC-containing products from being sold to anyone under 21 or marketed to children. The products must be sold in tamper-proof packaging, and packages must contain a QR code that provides consumers with an ingredient list and testing information. The law is also different from other states’ legalization regimes in one major respect: while other states only permit sales of these products by licensed distributors, Minnesota places no restrictions on who can sell edibles or beverages containing THC. This also means that sellers are not subject to a lengthy application process. Businesses in Minnesota have wasted no time in benefitting from this legislation. Demand for THC-infused gummies has been high since their legalization, and beverage companies and breweries have already entered this new market. Minneapolis Cider Company introduced a non-alcoholic sparkling beverage called Trail Magic, which contains 3 mg of THC per serving, bringing the product to launch within a month of the law’s passage. Indeed Brewing, also in Minneapolis, introduced Two Good, a seltzer containing 5 mg of THC and 2 mg of CBD, in early August. While Minneapolis Cider Company sells Trail Magic for visitors to consume in its taproom, Indeed currently only offers Two Good for to-go sales. Both companies are selling their THC beverages as an alternative to alcoholic beer or cider, and both beverages have been popular with consumers since their introduction.

Market participants in Minnesota are still navigating the contours and nuances of the new law, as are those in many other states. But as states continue to legalize various forms of THC sales, it is likely that beverages like Trail Magic and Two Good will become more ubiquitous.

Could the NY conditional adult use retail dispensary program (CAURD) be in jeopardy?

A Maine law requiring all owners of medical marijuana businesses to be residents of the state was recently struck down by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which ruled that the statute is a violation of the “Dormant Commerce Clause” of the United States Constitution, which prohibits states from passing legislation that restricts interstate trade. In its opinion (Northeast Patients Group et al. v. United Cannabis Patients and Caregivers of Maine, the Appellate Court upheld a lower court ruling that the residency requirement is an unconstitutional restriction on interstate trade.
Under the Maine’s medical marijuana program, all directors or officers of a licensed medical cannabis dispensary are required to be residents of the state. Interestingly, Maine had already dropped its residency requirement for its adult-use market following an earlier legal challenge that was also based on the Dormant Commerce Clause but it sought to keep it in place for its medical cannabis program.
This could be a problem for NY’s new adult use cannabis program, as of the requirements is that the potential licensees must have been arrested (or are related to someone who was arrested) for a marijuana related crime in New York and must also have been a New York resident at the time of the arrest. This could like be deemed a residency requirement and thus lead to challenges not only to any individual licenses grants but the entire CAURD program.
Equally or possibly even more problematic is the fact that this ruling could also open the door to legal challenges to a variety of other State laws banning the exporting or importing of cannabis from other states, as the same rationale invalidating the residency requirements could come, as disallowing cannabis exports and imports between states could be construed as similarly placing unreasonable restrictions on interstate commerce.

 

Duane Morris Attorneys Named to Top 200 Cannabis Lawyers List

Duane Morris partners Paul P. Josephson, Michael D. Schwamm, Tracy Gallegos and Seth A. Goldberg have been named to Cannabis Law Report‘s Top 200 Cannabis Lawyers for 2022/23.

Cannabis Law Report compiled the list from the publication’s annual survey of clients and lawyers in the cannabis legal services sector “as well as our personal editorial decisions based on our reporting of the industry on a daily basis for the past six years.”

For more information, please visit the Top 200 Cannabis Lawyers website.

 

U.S. Senators May Introduce “SAFE Banking Plus” By End of Year

After finally introducing the comprehensive Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) in the U.S. Senate last month,  last week Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) softened his prior position on a separate, narrower cannabis banking bill when he said that he would now consider the banking bill with modifications. As we previously reported, the SAFE Banking Act would allow cannabis businesses to access the federal banking system and service providers to the cannabis industry such as attorneys, accountants, bankers and landlords would be permitted to accept payment from cannabis businesses without the risk of violating federal law. SAFE Banking has passed the House of Representatives seven times in recent years but so far has not been taken up in the Senate.

Since the introduction of the CAOA last month, which would not only permit cannabis companies to access the banking system but would legalize and decriminalize recreational cannabis with an eye toward supporting communities that have been most impacted by the war on drugs, Sens. Booker and Schumer (D-N.Y.) have said they would be willing to consider more incremental cannabis reform such as SAFE Banking with added equity provisions.  Many are referring to the as-yet proposed bill as “SAFE Banking Plus,” which would ensure equitable access to financial services for minority-owned cannabis businesses and require financial institutions to prove compliance with anti-discrimination laws, among other things.

Schumer and Booker have been meeting with other lawmakers to work on a compromise bill, and Booker said a proposal might come after the November elections and before the new Congress starts in January.

New York Cannabis Control Board Approves 19 Adult Use Conditional Cultivator and 15 Adult Use Conditional Processor Licenses; Retail Dispensary License Applications Open August 25

By C. Neil Gray

On August 15, 2022, the New York Cannabis Control Board (the Board) held a public meeting via real-time stream to consider a number of agenda items.  Among the most notable of the topics taken up was the approval of conditional adult use cultivator licenses and conditional adult use processor licenses.

Chair Tremaine Wright opened the meeting by providing an update on the Seeding Opportunity Initiative (SOI) that was launched in Spring 2022.  Through the SOI, the Board has granted 223 adult use conditional cultivator licenses, resulting in the first farms cultivating regulated adult use cannabis in New York State.  Chair Wright also noted that the Board visited three of these farms in July and were encouraged by the progress and creativity demonstrated in such a short window of time.  After some additional opening remarks, the Board moved on to “further steps to advance the Seeding Opportunity Initiative” to “continue to build out New York’s Adult Use Cannabis supply chain.” Continue reading “New York Cannabis Control Board Approves 19 Adult Use Conditional Cultivator and 15 Adult Use Conditional Processor Licenses; Retail Dispensary License Applications Open August 25”

Another Reminder For Cannabis Manufacturers to Remain Vigilant

RICO, historically used by federal prosecutors to deter acts of crime syndicates, recently was used by private citizens to form the basis of a class action lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, alleging that an Arkansas marijuana cultivator and testing lab were engaged in an enterprise where THC potency test results were inflated by twenty-five percent on average. Although RICO claims against Cannabis companies have largely been unsuccessful thus far, this lawsuit seeks an injunction to shut down the medical marijuana industry for the entire state, and also seeks the certification of a class on behalf of the named plaintiffs and other patients who have purchased medical marijuana in Arkansas.  The lawsuit also contains one count for fraud based upon the Defendants’ violation of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

The Defendants’, by selling Plaintiff’s “Regular” marijuana for a “Premium” price, caused the Plaintiffs economic harm. The Cultivator Defendants’ met the Complaint with a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that dispensaries are the ones that sold the medical marijuana to the plaintiffs, the cultivator-defendants had no control over the prices the dispensaries charged thus defeating any causal link between the alleged RICO violation and the Plaintiffs’ harm. Without that causal link, Plaintiffs lack standing to bring the claims.

This is another example of the type of claims, and another styled class action complaint brought against a cannabis cultivator. In Oregon, two class action complaints stemmed from Curaleaf’s mix-up of CBD and THC, which allegedly resulted in unwanted “highs” and economic loss. These lawsuits should always be central to a cannabis manufacturer’s focus about their own products, including proper safety protocols, proper testing procedures, proper employee training, and strict adherence to all statutes and regulations.

Bipartisan Subcommittee Promotes Inclusion of Hemp Regulations in 2023 Farm Bill

On July 28, the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research held a hearing to discuss ways in which the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill could improve the regulatory landscape for hemp and CBD producers.  Congress passes a Farm Bill every five years – the 2014 Farm Bill lifted federal restrictions on the cultivation and production of hemp, and the 2018 Farm Bill authorized commercial production of hemp, subject to oversight by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  However, as discussed at length during the July 28 hearing, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved CBD as a food or beverage additive or as a dietary supplement – though it has approved one CBD-derived prescription drug for treating seizures.  Despite a surge in hemp cultivation and production following the 2018 Farm Bill and a large market for CBD-based products, demand for hemp has not kept pace with production, as many companies are reluctant to enter the CBD market without clear regulatory guidance from the FDA.

Participants in the July 28 hearing discussed ways to address this regulatory uncertainty and other barriers to entry into the hemp and CBD marketplace.  Both the House and Senate have introduced bills to permit the sale and marketing of CBD as a food additive and dietary supplement.  Another bill introduced in February, the Hemp Advancement Act, was a key focus of the hearing.  This bill includes among its key provisions increasing the THC threshold for hemp from .3% to 1%; eliminating the federal requirement that hemp sold in the U.S. be tested for potency by labs registered with the FDA, which do not exist in all states; and eliminating a ten-year waiting period for people with drug-related felony convictions seeking hemp production licenses.  Other proposed inclusions in the 2023 Farm Bill discussed at the hearing are measures to lower fees for hemp sampling/testing and removing background check requirements for production licenses.  Rural areas – where many hemp producers seek to operate – often lack facilities that process fingerprints, posing another barrier to market entry.

The Subcommittee hearing was led by a bipartisan collection of representatives, mainly from hemp-producing states, who share the goals of achieving greater regulatory certainty and market stability for the growing hemp industry.  The proposals discussed could support rural agricultural economies and facilitate greater equity within the industry, and many lawmakers and market participants see the 2023 Farm Bill as a necessary next step in the development of the fast-growing hemp industry.

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

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