Seth A. Goldberg, Duane Morris partner and team lead of the Cannabis Industry Group, spoke with Law.com’s Higher Law on the health issues surrounding vaping and implications for the cannabis industry.
Yesterday, I blogged about a Washington Post article that reported that vitamin E acetate in marijuana vaping products is being considered as possibly being linked to alleged vaping related lung injuries. I cautioned cannabis manufacturers, processors and dispensaries, i.e., the cannabis supply chain, that articles like WP’s, which referred to vitamin E acetate in cannabis vapor as a “contaminant,” could be the impetus for product liability lawsuits.
Today, WP provided an update to yesterday’s article. WP now states as many as 450 vaping illness cases have been reported across 33 states. Up from yesterday’s report of 250 cases across 25 states. WP’s new article refers to the vaping related health claims as possible a “new lung disease” based on a study by the New England Journal of Medicine that reports about a possible lung disorder being experienced by certain consumers of vape. However, WP appears to acknowledge scientists have not yet identified a specific chemical in vape, or whether vaping of nicotine or marijuana, is resulting in an increased risk of the lung disorder reported by NEJM. Indeed, scientific research and investigation is needed in this area.
Nevertheless, as I explained yesterday, having represented pharmaceutical companies in product liability matters involving alleged “contaminants,” product liability lawsuits are often, if not usually, filed without any scientific proof of injury causation. Accordingly, the cannabis supply chain should be careful to ensure the safety of their products, and implement necessary compliance measures.
Likewise, cannabis consumers should be mindful that many of the reports of vaping related health issues concern “black market” vape products, not those manufactured by state-licensed cannabis companies who are required by law to maintain strict standards for their products.
Today, the Washington Post reported that federal and state regulators have identified the chemical vitamin E acetate as being contained in certain cannabis vaping products allegedly linked to lung injuries. According to WP, 215 cases possibly arising out of cannabis vapes containing the chemical have been reported in 25 states, and two deaths have been linked to marijuana vaping.
WP refers to vitamin E acetate in cannabis vapor as a “contaminant,” which is a loaded term that could get the attention of the plaintiffs’ product liability bar. Articles like this are often the impetus for lawsuits to be filed. Consequently, products’ liability claims may soon become a reality for the cannabis vape supply chain.
However, as even the WP article makes clear, whether vitamin E acetate in marijuana vapor can cause an increased risk of injury of any kind to vaping consumers is being investigated, and has not been proven. The article also identifies the fact that many users of marijuana vape also vape nicotine, which is likely one of many confounding factors. Thus, product liability claims asserting injuries from marijuana vaping brought now are likely to be unsupported by science.
Nevertheless, those in the cannabis supply chain, e.g., manufacturers, processors, and sellers, should be aware of the likelihood of such claims, as product liability claims are often asserted without any scientific evidence of causation. Those in the supply chain should know that a range of compliance measures can be implemented to better protect against against such claims.
On September 4, 2019, the Ninth Circuit issued its ruling in Big Sky Scientific LLC v. Jan Bennetts et al, the case involving the seizure of an interstate shipment of hemp that occurred after the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill. In a three-page opinion, the court sidestepped the substantive issues presented on appeal and held that the parties should pursue their claims in state court.
In January 2019, a hemp cultivator in Oregon attempted to ship a truckload of hemp to a processor in Colorado. But as the cargo passed through Idaho, the Idaho State Police seized the shipment and arrested the driver, alleging violations of Idaho state law. The Idaho police charged the driver with a crime and filed a civil complaint in state court against the hemp itself. The Idaho civil case was stayed pending resolution of the criminal proceeding.
On August 28, 2019, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judges Hawkins, McKeown and Bybee heard oral argument in Big Sky Scientific LLC v. Jan Bennetts et al.
To review the background briefly, Big Sky Scientific, LLC, a Colorado-based hemp processor, purchased federally lawful hemp from a state-licensed hemp cultivator in Oregon. The parties arranged to ship the hemp from Oregon to Colorado via motor carrier. En route to Colorado, the shipment entered Idaho, where the Idaho police seized the cargo and arrested the driver, alleging violations of Idaho state law. Idaho initiated a state court criminal proceeding against the driver, and a state court civil proceeding against the hemp itself, to ensure the hemp would not be returned to Big Sky. In response, Big Sky filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in federal court to force the Idaho State Police to return the seized cargo and stop seizing hemp shipments that pass through the state. The District Court denied Big Sky’s motion, and Big Sky appealed. That appeal was the basis of the oral argument. Duane Morris filed an amicus brief on behalf of the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp in support of Big Sky, arguing that an adverse ruling would have a serious negative impact on the hemp industry. (Duane Morris is the national law firm partner of the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp.)
On July 30, 2019, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law S.B. 57, legislation that overhauls Ohio’s laws concerning hemp. Significantly, the bill also contains an emergency provision, meaning that the bill, some critical aspects of which are discussed below, takes effect immediately.
One of the most important aspects of the emergency bill is its amendment of the definition of the word “marihuana” under the state’s Controlled Substances Act to expressly exclude hemp and hemp products. The bill defines “hemp products” broadly, providing that the term includes “cosmetics, personal care products, dietary supplements or food intended for … human consumption” as well as any other product containing hemp-derived cannabinoids (such as CBD), provided the product contains a THC concentration of no more than 0.3%. Moreover, the bill clarifies that the addition of hemp or a hemp product to any other product does not render the other product “adulterated.”
Further, the bill provides that the state shall issue licenses for the cultivation and processing of hemp in the state. However, because the process of license application and issuance has not yet been established, and further because the regulations implementing the new law have yet to be promulgated, Ohio farmers are unable to start growing hemp for the time being. That said, the Ohio Department of Agriculture stated that its “goal is to have farmers licensed and able to plant the crop by spring of 2020.”
In any event, the delay to be experienced by farmers is not likely to apply to retailers—according to the ODA, “[i]t is now legal to sell properly inspected CBD products in Ohio. The Ohio Department of Agriculture will be testing all CBD products for safety and accurate labeling to protect Ohio consumers.”
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.
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.
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the “2018 Farm Bill”), signed into law on December 20, 2018, altered the federal government’s treatment of hemp in a number of ways. The 2018 Farm Bill expanded the definition of “hemp” to include, explicitly, derivatives, extracts and cannabinoids, and removed hemp from the definition of federally unlawful marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). See 2018 Farm Bill, Pub. L. No. 115-334 §§ 10113, 12619, 132 Stat. 4490. Notably, the 2018 Farm Bill also explicitly permitted the interstate transportation of hemp: “No State or Indian Tribe shall prohibit the transportation or shipment of hemp or hemp products produced in accordance with subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (as added by section 10113).” Id. at § 10114.
Subtitle G, for its part, provides that “[n]othing in this section prohibits the production of hemp in a State or the territory of an Indian tribe—(1) for which a State or Tribal plan is not approved under this section, if the production of hemp is in accordance with section 297C or other Federal laws (including regulations).” Id. at § 10113 (emphasis added). This final clause, “or other Federal laws,” is significant because the Agriculture Act of 2014 (the “2014 Farm Bill”) is also a “federal law,” and to date approximately 40 states have instituted industrial hemp programs pursuant to the 2014 Farm Bill. Under the language of the 2018 Farm Bill, then, states may not interfere with the interstate transportation of hemp produced in accordance with either the 2014 Farm Bill or—once regulations are implemented and state hemp programs are approved—the 2018 Farm Bill.
Notwithstanding the language of the 2018 Farm Bill, the absence of federal regulations implementing the new law and sanctioning state hemp programs revised pursuant to the 2018 Farm Bill has caused significant confusion regarding the true impact of the act.
Getting a patent for a cannabis product is no more difficult than getting a patent for any other kind of product. However, with a high number of cannabis patent applications being approved, it is likely that many will be challenged for invalidation in the coming years.
Already one of these patents has gone to court in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. In United Cannabis v. Pure Hemp Collective, United Cannabis Corp. claims that Pure Hemp Collective Inc. used a cannabis extract that United Cannabis had a patent on. Pure Hemp filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing United Cannabis should not have had a patent on the extract because it was something that occurred naturally. In April, U.S. District Judge William Martinez found the strain was altered and would not have occurred naturally and denied the motion for partial summary judgment. The case is still pending..
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