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.
Seth Goldberg, partner and team lead of Duane Morris’ Cannabis Industry Group, and Justin M. L. Stern, Duane Morris associate, authored the Cannabis Industry Journal article, “Consumer Class Actions Against CBD Companies Are Hitting a Snag.”
Excerpt from the article:
Over the past year, more and more consumer class actions have been filed against manufacturers and distributors of CBD-infused products. These actions typically assert claims based on how the product is marketed, such as whether it (i) contained the advertised amount of CBD, (ii) contained more THC than it should have or (iii) has the ability to provide the therapeutic benefits touted. The marketing of these products is subject to regulation by FDA, which has yet to issue pertinent regulations that have been expected since passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp and CBD products derived therefrom. Thus, in recent months, a number of federal courts have stopped these class actions in their tracks pending further guidance from FDA as to how CBD-infused products should be regulated. This growing body of precedent should be welcome news for the CBD supply chain, as it may provide a disincentive to the plaintiffs’ bar to expend their resources on similar actions until the regulatory framework is clear.
On July 21, 2020, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued draft guidance outlining the agency’s current thinking on the development of drugs containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds. The new guidance is disappointing to many in the cannabis industry because it does not provide insight into the FDA’s views on the marketing of nondrug, hemp-derived CBD products.
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.
Consumer class actions regarding CBD marketing are on the rise. In recent months, a number of federal judges have placed lawsuits concerning the marketing of CBD-infused products on hold because the U.S. Food & Drug Administration—tasked with regulating those products under the 2018 Farm Bill—still has not issued regulations governing how they can be marketed. This further complicates the already confusing federal-state regulatory structure concerning the treatment of CBD products.
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.”
For consumers, the widespread availability of products containing cannabidiol (CBD) is old news. But for those in the cannabis industry—and in particular, those monitoring applicable regulatory developments—the state of CBD remains largely in flux and continues to be marred by uncertainty.
Under the 2018 Farm Bill, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) retained its regulatory authority over products derived from hemp, including CBD incorporated into products it traditionally regulates, such as food, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. Unfortunately for the industry, FDA has yet to propose or issue formal regulations concerning the manufacture, distribution, or sale of such products. At the same time, FDA has issued numerous warning letters to producers and retailers incorporating CBD into products operating in the complex gray area between state and federal law. Nevertheless, recent events occurring across all three federal branches of government may reflect an impetus for change in FDA’s approach to CBD products.
Last week, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration published its current thinking on the research and approval process for cannabis-related drugs. The publication, which among other things recognizes the “increasing interest in the potential utility of cannabis for a variety of medical conditions,” contains critical information for businesses and consumers in the cannabis market—including those wishing to develop new cannabis-related drugs.
Duane Morris associate Kelly Bonner shares legal insight on CBD products and services in the January issue of DaySpa magazine.
From the publication:
Consider the source. CBD can be derived from both hemp and marijuana, which have different definitions in U.S. law and are subject to different statutory and regulatory requirements. Hemp-derived CBD products are not illegal to sell and possess under federal law, as long as they contain no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana has more than 0.3 percent THC, and is a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Get proof. Given the current lack of federal testing requirements for CBD products, it can be difficult to ensure that those purchased from third-party vendors contain no more than the permitted level of THC. So it’s extremely important that spas get anything containing CBD from a trustworthy supplier who can verify ingredients, confirm THC levels with third-party labs and/or provide certifi cates of analysis.
Act locally. While the 2018 Farm Bill lifted the federal ban on the commercial cultivation of hemp and derivatives that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC, the ability to manufacture, market and sell CBD products is still heavily regulated at the state level, and changing rapidly.
Make no promises. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warning letters to a number of CBD companies that have touted their products as having certain health benefi ts in their promotional materials and on packaging or websites. Spas should ensure that any products or services offered don’t come with false or misleading claims.
Handle with care. Although research into the risks of CBD use is ongoing, the FDA has noted potential adverse health effects linked to the use of cannabis products containing THC by pregnant or lactating women. Even though CBD topicals typically contain very low levels of THC, spas should be up front with clients about potential risks.
Since the 2018 Farm Bill passed in December 2018, removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and thus legalizing it under federal law, consumer goods containing the hemp-derivative cannabidiol (CBD) have become exceptionally popular. With that growing popularity among consumers has come increased scrutiny by federal regulators whose mission is consumer safety and protection, such as the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission, and now by the plaintiffs’ bar, which files consumer class actions based on advertising. As the recent spate of warning letters and consumer class actions demonstrate, hemp-derived CBD product manufacturers and others in the supply chain for those products have to be mindful of the claims they make to consumers about their products.