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.”
On July 22, the FDA issued a Warning Letter to Curaleaf with regard to Curaleaf’s “CBD Lotion,” “CBD Pain-Relief Patch,” “CBD Tincture,” and “CBD Disposable Vape.” The Warning Letter explains FDA’s view that Curaleaf’s CBD products are effectively “unapproved new and misbranded human drug products” because the claims Curaleaf has made about them on Curaleaf’s website and social media accounts demonstrate “they are 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,” but Curaleaf has not obtained prior approval from the FDA to market them as such. The Warning Letter also explains the FDA’s view that the subject products are not “dietary supplements” because (i) CBD has already been approved as an active pharmaceutical ingredient (epidiolex), (ii) CBD was not marketed as a dietary supplement or a conventional food prior to such FDA approval of CBD as an API; and (iii) the subject products are not “intended for ingestion,” which is a requirement of a dietary supplement. The FDA also warned about Curaleaf’s products with respect to animals, which I have not summarized. The FDA provided Curaleaf 15 days to establish a corrective action plan and to report such plan to the FDA. The Warning Letter demonstrates the FDA is actively monitoring CBD manufacturer websites and social media for over the line claims, and that CBD manufacturers need to follow the FDA’s guidance given the unsettled regulatory structure with respect to CBD.
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.
The cannabis industry is the next frontier, growing rapidly and becoming one of the highest grossing industries in the country. The problem is, through no fault of its own, it is also the “wild west” of industries in many ways operating without guidance or regulation from the federal agencies that have jurisdiction of its products.
On May 31, 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public hearing to allow stakeholders to share their experiences and challenges with cannabis or products containing cannabis-derived compounds. For this hearing, FDA requested information, scientific data, and stakeholders’ views on the safety of CBD-containing and cannabis-derived products. FDA hoped to obtain input on possible strategies that will allow for lawful marketing of CBD-containing and cannabis-derived products in a predictable and efficient manner, while still providing incentives for drug development with CBD and cannabis-derived compounds. Over 100 academic, industry, medical, and consumer stakeholders spoke or gave presentations at the hearing to a packed audience of about 500 attendees. In addition, over 1300 written comments have been posted to the FDA’s public docket FDA-2019-N-1482 for this hearing.
The hearing opened with remarks from Acting Commissioner Dr. Norman Sharpless. As expected, he made no new announcements about FDA’s current thinking about regulating products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds. He did restate the FDA’s current position that CBD and THC cannot lawfully be added to a food or dietary supplement and that FDA does not have a policy of enforcement discretion with respect to these products.
On Friday, May 31, 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public hearing to discuss scientific data and information about products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds. Acting Commissioner Sharpless made no new announcements about FDA’s current thinking about how it will regulate products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds. However, it was clear from the FDA panel’s questions to the various academic, industry, and other stakeholders that FDA is looking for as much data from as many sources as possible. In particular, FDA’s questions focused on age and youth restrictions, dose and route of administration and how they affect the safety of the products, adverse event reporting, and interactions between cannabis/cannabis-derived products and other drugs. In addition, FDA continued to inquire about whether deregulating cannabis and cannabis-derived products would affect the incentive for research on these products.
Industry stakeholders asked for a prompt, expedited, clear, and transparent regulatory framework for products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived products. Specifically, industry sought clear definitions for terms like “full spectrum,” “broad spectrum,” “isolate,” and “THC-free.” Further, industry requested regulations on labeling, testing, good manufacturing practices, and track and trace for products. Many industry stakeholders asked FDA to look to the dietary supplement and food regulations already in place as a guideline for regulations on cannabis.
When Congress legalized agricultural hemp with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, it seemed like the hemp industry would finally be out of the woods from a regulatory standpoint. So, it defies logic that the FDA is creating obstacles for hemp CBD producers and that every-day people are still being arrested for possession of hemp biomass and extracts.
Just last week, a 67-year-old great grandmother was arrested at the happiest place on earth when a Disney World employee discovered a bottle of CBD in her purse after a routine inspection at the park entrance. You may recall the truck driver who was arrested in Idaho with a load of freshly harvested hemp on its way from Oregon to a processing plant in Colorado just weeks after the hemp measure was signed into law.
Incidents like that leave most of us scratching our heads, considering that hemp is now legal at the federal level and hemp-derived CBD is a harmless molecule that is naturally produced in our own bodies when we’re young.
Let’s face it, legal hemp seems to be an oxymoron. Minutes after the hemp measure was signed into law, the FDA blindsided the elated industry with its stern warning that only one CBD product has ever been approved for sale in the U.S. and that all other hemp CBD products would remain illegal to sell until they can be approved by the FDA. The only exceptions would apply to the manufacturing and sale of CBD limited to states that had included CBD provisions in their state marijuana policy measures.
With the enactment of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (also known as the 2018 Farm Bill), hemp-derived CBD appeared to be on the table for marketing all across the country. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) press release issued that same day put a hold on the jubilation, stating that FDA considered any and all cannabis-containing or cannabis-derived products as drug products and not food or dietary supplements, regardless of whether the CBD was hemp-derived.
On April 2, 2019, departing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement about FDA’s next steps to advance a regulatory pathway for cannabis-containing and cannabis-derived products. At the same time FDA updated its cannabis-containing products and cannabis-derived products Q&A. It is clear that, at this point, FDA has not changed its position.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently issued warning letters to four companies concerning the marketing of products containing cannabidiol (CBD). FDA alleged that claims made on websites and social media webpages concerning the health benefits of CBD violated the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The products at issue included CBD-infused oils, edibles, tinctures and creams, and the manufacturers included statements claiming various health benefits from CBD.