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.
Three decisions staying CBD class actions in two months may signal a trend, especially considering that the Courts in these cases refer to the other’s decisions. Such a trend may keep the plaintiffs’ bar at bay, as it would cast doubt on the viability of consumer class actions asserting CBD violations, or at least it could make the cases less appealing to the plaintiffs’ bar because a stay makes the timing of a settlement or resolution even more uncertain.
On April 20, the FDA issued warning letters to two CBD companies – BIOTA Biosciences and Homero Corp., dba Natures CBD Oil Distribution – directing them to remove statements from their labeling and advertising on websites and social media claiming that CBD can cure opioid addiction among other illnesses. I am attaching the FDA’s warning letter, as it provides very useful information to the market as to the FDA’s current views of CBD products. As set forth in the warning letter, the FDA continues to view CBD as (1) an unsafe food additive; (2) not satisfying the definition of a “dietary supplement,” and (3) as unapproved new drugs if marketed as “intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease and/or intended to affect the structure or any function of the body.” In the case of Homero, the CBD products were advertised with the following claims, among others:
“Natures Pure CBD Oil has been effective in the treatment and eradication of opiate use.”
“CBD Oil Inhibits the reward-facilitating effect of morphine”
“Vaping CBD Oil to Treat Asthma . . . Your best best [sic] to combat Asthma is by vaping CBD Oil.”
“Natures Pure CBD is a strong anti-oxidant that can alleviate lower epileptic seizures, psychotic disorders, and has neuroprotective qualities.”
Among other key provisions, the new regulatory framework provides for USDA’s approval of State and Tribal Land hemp programs established under the 2018 Farm Bill, which will end debate as to whether hemp activities in a State or Tribal Land receiving such approval are federally lawful. To be approved, those plans will have to contain stringent requirements for testing the THC content of hemp to ensure it does not meet the definition of marijuana, and contain procedures for the enforcement of violations of the State or Tribe’s hemp program. Importantly, the regulatory framework provides for USDA’s granting of hemp production permits in states and territories that do not establish hemp programs for approval by USDA.
Despite recent bipartisan calls on the FDA to regulate hemp-derived CBD products, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration appears to be adhering to the status quo, at least with respect to issuing warning letters to companies deemed noncompliant with existing regulations. Case in point: on September 18, 2019, the FDA issued a warning letter (posted to the FDA’s website last week) to Alternative Laboratories, a dietary supplement manufacturer based in Naples, Florida.
According to the letter, the FDA conducted an inspection of Alternative’s dietary supplement manufacturing facility over five days in May and June; the inspection focused on the adequacy of labels for certain products manufactured and distributed by the company.
The letter focuses on Alternative’s allegedly impermissible representation of 2-amino-5 methylheptane and Octodrine (DMHA) as a dietary ingredient in certain products. It also calls attention to the fact that Alternative’s product label for CBD oil distributed under the “Green Roads” brand name runs afoul of the Food, Drug & Cosmetic (FD&C) Act in that the product “cannot be a dietary supplement because … [the] FDA has concluded based on available evidence that CBD products are excluded from the dietary supplement definition under” the FD&C Act.
To support its contention that CBD products cannot be dietary supplements as defined by federal law, the FDA notes in its warning letter to Alternative that “CBD is the active ingredient in the approved drug product Epidiolex,” designed to treat certain rare, severe forms of epilepsy. Further, the FDA stresses that significant clinical research investigations concerning the use of CBD have been made public, including investigations related to Epidiolex and Sativex, a drug for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis (MS) that has been approved for use in 25 countries (outside the U.S.) and for which the drug manufacturer, GW Pharmaceuticals, plans to seek FDA approval.
The fact that warning letters keep coming–from both the FDA and the FTC–signifies that although there may be a groundswell of public demand for regulatory reform and clarity on the issue of CBD products, the federal regulatory agencies appear to be staying the course. As such, companies operating in the space should remain vigilant and adhere to a compliance policy that reflects–for now–the reality of current regulations and restrictions.
The past week has shown the challenges that the cannabis industry supply chain—manufacturers, processors, distributors and dispensaries—faces, as regulators target claims relating to the health benefits of CBD and media outlets report, without any scientific evidence, that cannabis vaping may be linked to lung illnesses, and, as of the issuing of this Alert, the Trump administration is reported to be poised to ban flavored nicotine vaping. These kinds of issues could spur claims against cannabis industry participants for consumer fraud, personal injury and products liability, and heighten the scrutiny of cannabis products by federal and state regulators.
On September 10, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it had sent warning letters to three unidentified businesses “that sell oils, tinctures, capsules, ‘gummies,’ and creams” containing hemp-derived CBD, concerning health-related claims about the benefits of their CBD products. Although the FTC did not release the warning letters or identify the recipients, the FTC’s press release announcing the warning letters explained that the letters were issued to reinforce that “it is illegal to advertise that a product can prevent, treat, or cure human disease without competent and reliable scientific evidence to support such claims.”
According to a research report published by Cowen & Co. earlier this year, the investment bank believes that the U.S. market for cannabidiol (CBD) consumer goods could reach $16 billion—a “conservative” forecast—by 2025, up from between $600 million and $2 billion in 2018 retail sales. As the third-most populous state in the country, this is a very big deal for Florida.
Florida’s state hemp program law, Section 581.217, Fla. Stat., created by the enactment of Senate Bill 1020, has the potential to transform Florida’s agricultural landscape while also capitalizing on a fertile market of enthusiastic cultivators and eager consumers.
With a population of more than 21 million, Florida has long been viewed as ripe for potential commercialization by the cannabis industry. Gov. Ron DeSantis made headlines in March when he signed legislation that effectively repealed the ban on smoking and “vaping” medical cannabis. Yet outside of Florida’s medical marijuana program (and the hemp pilot project discussed below), cannabis—which includes hemp and hemp-derived products—has remained a controlled substance, making the manufacture, processing, sale and possession of hemp or hemp-derived products (including cannabidiol, i.e., CBD-infused items) a criminal endeavor. Even within the state’s medical use program, the cultivation of cannabis, even for medicinal purposes, remains tightly regulated.
To read the full text of this article by Justin M. L. Stern, Robert A. Zinn, Jay Steinman and Jennifer A. Migliori, please visit the Duane Morris website.
At the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) public hearing on May 31, 2019 (read more about the hearing), over 100 people presented to a panel of FDA stakeholders and to over 500 attendees. Last week, FDA stated in a post that it recognizes the “significant public interest in these products, for therapeutic purposes and otherwise” but reiterated that “there are many unanswered questions about the science, safety, and quality of many of these products.”
The good news for the industry is that FDA “recognize[s] the need to be clear and open about where things stand, and about the efficient and science-based way in which we are moving forward,” including “being transparent and up-front” as they continue to collect data and information on CBD. FDA is taking an “Agency-wide, integrated, and collaborative approach” to regulating products made from CBD and is exploring potential pathways to market for CBD products. However, FDA still grapples with how to balance the desire for widespread availability of CBD products with the desire to preserve incentives for research and drug development of CBD products.
On May 3, 2019, the Florida legislature passed SB 1020, creating the state hemp program and authorizing the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to enact regulations to govern the program. The bill, first filed in the Florida Senate on February 13, 2019, passed with overwhelming support; the final version passed by a margin of 39-0 in the Senate after passing 112-1 in the House. Governor Ron DeSantis has until May 18, 2019, to veto the bill or it will automatically become law.
“The historic vote,” according to FDACS Commissioner Nicole Fried, is in response to the federal 2018 Farm Bill, which “removed the prohibitions on industrial hemp in place since 1937 and authorized states to create hemp programs.” Id. If SB 1020 becomes law, it will fundamentally alter the treatment of hemp and hemp extracts, including cannabidiol (CBD) products, under Florida law.
On May 2, 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) made available a new examination guide aimed at clarifying the examination procedure for trademarks used in connection with cannabis and cannabis-derived goods and services.
These guidelines are a direct response to the signing of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) into law on December 20, 2018. The 2018 Farm Bill changes certain federal authorities relating to the production and marketing of “hemp,” defined as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” These changes include removing hemp from the Controlled Substance Act’s (CSA) definition of marijuana, which means that cannabis plants and derivatives such as cannabidiol (CBD) that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC are no longer controlled substances under the CSA.