Cannabis Beverages are On Fire! – Ingredients and Labeling

Here’s another installment in this blog series on Cannabis beverages, which are on fire!  As an example,  as reported in Cannabis Business Executive, just the other day, Curaleaf, a major hemp product manufacturer, announced that it signed an agreement with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits – the world’s largest distributor of beverage alcohol.  This blog entry provides a quick snapshot of cannabis beverage ingredients and labeling.

Although the most popular, THC and CBD are not the only cannabinoids the cannabis plant produces. Other cannabinoids are well-known for having potential therapeutic benefits, and cannabis consumers are also highly attuned to the different terpenes produced in cannabis that create different flavors and effects, such as bisabol, which some believe can be fruity and may provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits; linalol, which some believe can be floral and may provide sedation; and myrcene, which some believe can be fruity and may provide relaxation.  Whether and how to include different cannabinoids and terpenes in beverages is going to be important in expanding cannabis product lines.

Likewise, transparency in labeling those ingredients may be necessary to ensure consumers are enjoying cannabis beverages safely and to the greatest effect. Moreover, so that consumers can understand the experience intended with a particular beverage, “claims” about the intended effect, e.g., stimulating, euphoric, relaxing, may be necessary.

Ingredients and labeling are a hot button issue for cannabis products. Those familiar with the FDA’s discretionary enforcement of “claims” in hemp-derived CBD products know this is an area of particular interest for the FDA. State-specific regulation of ingredients in cannabis products is also getting a lot of attention right now.  For example, the Pennsylvania Office of Medical Marijuana recently instituted a state-wide “vaporization product review” purportedly to assess the safety of terpenes, like those above, in vape products.  Given that they occur naturally in cannabis, many in the industry believe terpenes should not be regulated in the same way, if at all, as other ingredients.

Lastly, on this topic, ingredients and labeling are the focal point of a growing number of products liability and consumer fraud class actions and mass actions, where plaintiffs are asserting physical or economic injuries because, they claim, ingredients did not perform as intended or were not consistent with the labeling. Cannabis beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers need to particularly mindful of the possibility of such claims, which can deplete resources.

 

Cannabis Beverages are on Fire! — THC Limits

In the second edition, and first substantive blog, in my series on Cannabis Beverages, entitled Cannabis Beverages are on Fire!, I am writing about THC limits, which is one of the hot-button issues for cannabis beverage producers and consumers.  Given its psychoactive effect, there is no denying that the amount of THC in a beverage should be measurable and limited so that consumers can safely ingest them and obtain the experience they are seeking. This means that a serving size of a beverage might have a THC limit, and so might there be a total container limit.

Cannabis beverage manufacturers are not starting from scratch in this area, however. Popular THC serving size limits in edibles and similar products include 5mg and 10mg could likely be applied to THC beverages, resulting in a total container limit based on the container size and number of servings. The current offerings of cannabis-infused drinks vary and the markets within states offer a wide variety of different THC levels. For example, Cann, a bestselling THC drink, contains 2mg THC and 4mg CBD per 12 ounce can. Cann is available in over 200 California dispensaries. Similarly, Tomato Jane drinks have 10mg THC per 12 ounce bottle. Comparatively, Matt’s High Soda offers an infused beverage called Uncle Arnie’s Iced Tea Lemonade with 100mg of THC per bottle—although each bottle is considered to be 10 servings.  As the market for cannabis beverages develops, THC limits are certain to be an issue that gets a lot of attention.  In the next installment of this series I’ll touch on cannabis beverage ingredients and labeling.

Cannabis Beverages are on Fire!

Want to know where the cannabis industry is going? How about the beverage industry? The answer is cannabis beverages! The hottest new product segment in both markets. Don’t believe me… just run an internet search for “cannabis beverages” and you’ll see cannabis-infused beverages tied to major beverage companies like Constellation Brands, such as Canopy Growth’s Quatreu water, and Molson Coors, with its Truss brand, and dozens of  smaller cannabis beverage brands, such as Forth, Kikoko, and Recess. 

A cannabis beverage generally contains either THC derived from marijuana grown pursuant to state adult-use marijuana and/or medical marijuana laws, or containing CBD derived from marijuana or derived from hemp grown pursuant to a state’s hemp laws.  Given the federal prohibition on marijuana, the federal legality of hemp, and the FDA’s current restriction of CBD in foods and beverages, the federal and state regulatory framework for producing, distributing, and consuming cannabis beverages is complex, to say the least.  In the coming weeks I will be covering in a series of short blogs some of these issues, including product labeling, THC and CBD percentages, serving size, and social consumption.

Notes from New York Cannabis Control Board Meeting, October 2021

By Michael D. Schwamm and Joy Karugu

There were several outcomes of the inaugural New York Cannabis Control Board (CCB) Meeting held on October 5, 2021. The Meeting revealed that the CCB and the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) will be increasing their staff and taking steps to extend the medical cannabis program and cannabinoid hemp licensing. Also during the Meeting, Jason Starr was announced and voted in as the Chief Equity Officer of the OCM. He will work with Executive Director Chris Alexander in building New York’s social equity program. Continue reading “Notes from New York Cannabis Control Board Meeting, October 2021”

SAFE Banking Act Reintroduced in the House with Broad Support

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

With the explicit support of the American Banking Association, and after passing in the House during the last congress, the SAFE Banking Act was reintroduced in the House on March 18, and a companion Act is expected to be introduced in the Senate next week. The proposed legislation would allow financial institutions to provide their services to cannabis – marijuana and hemp – clients without fear of federal sanctions. The proposed legislation enjoys bi-partisan support, and is in “position A” for passing in 2021.  

Given the billions of dollars of revenues, including tax dollars, generated by the industry, which are generated by cannabis companies and companies that provide services to the industry, cannabis banking is truly a public concern. The very laws that seek to create transparency as to the public fisc, such as the Bank Secrecy Act, have forced cannabis to be a cash business, which means not all of the cannabis dollars may be accounted for as in other industries, thereby undermining the objectives of those laws.  The SAFE Banking Act would resolve those concerns by allowing core and ancillary companies to utilize all of the electronic banking, checking, payroll, and accounting functionality that businesses in all other industries enjoy. There is no question the passage of this legislation would provide a game-changing boost to the cannabis space.

Bipartisan Adult-Use Bill To Be Introduced in Pennsylvania

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Senators Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) are introducing legislation that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use in Pennsylvania. This is the first time a republican senator has backed such a bill. The proposed legislation will attempt to generate revenue for the commonwealth and to promote social equity by way of increasing the number of licenses to operate, imposing a 6% sales tax, and imposing a 10% excise tax that would go toward a Cannabis Business Development Fund to provide aid, grants, and technical assistance to businesses and individuals in areas that have been disproportionately impacted by criminal prosecution for cannabis violations. Expungement of cannabis crimes would also be available.

Laughlin’s pragmatic views may encourage his republican colleagues in PA’s legislature to join him. As Laughlin stated during a press conference: “Our proposal prioritizes safety and social equity. And furthermore, it will let Pennsylvania’s robust agricultural industry participate in marijuana cultivation.” And both Laughlin and Street encouraged PA legislators to keep pace with lawmakers in New Jersey and New York, stating in their co-sponsorship memo: “This year our neighbors in New Jersey have signed adult use marijuana into law and our neighbors in New York are likely to legalize. It is our duty to taxpayers to seize the initiative and legalize marijuana concurrently with bordering states. Failure to do so risks permanently ceding hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue as well as thousands of jobs at a time when taxpayers can least afford it.”

 

Merrick Garland’s Comments Suggest Return to Cole-like Prioritization

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

During his confirmation hearing on February 22, 2021, Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland’s comments hearkened back to the Obama-era de-prioritization of enforcement against marijuana-related crimes under the Cole memorandum, stating: “This is a question of the prioritization of our resources and prosecutorial discretion… It does not seem to me a useful use of limited resources that we have, to be pursuing prosecutions in states that have legalized and that are regulating the use of marijuana, either medically or otherwise. I don’t think that’s a useful use.”

In addition, Garland explained that social justice warranted such deprioritizing, acknowledging that people of color are arrested for non-violent marijuana-related crimes at far greater rates than white people.  According to Garland, the federal government should not be expending resources criminalizing non-violent marijuana related crimes, as doing so in the past “has disproportionately affected communities of color and damaged them after the original arrest because of the inability to get jobs.”

While proposed legislation such as the MORE Act and the SAFE Banking Act could provide greater certainty for the cannabis industry, until such time as laws like those are passed, the establishment of priorities regarding federal enforcement of state-legal cannabis would encourage greater participation in the cannabis industry, as the risks of federal enforcement would become more clear and thus easier to weigh against the rewards of entering the still emerging market.  The DOJ has been largely hands off of the state-legal cannabis market since the Cole memorandum, even though it was rescinded by AG Session, but clarity from Merrick Garland would nonetheless be very well-received by industry participants.

 

House Passes Bill To Legalize Marijuana at the Federal Level

Deanna Lucci

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Today, the House of Representatives passed the groundbreaking MORE Act – legalizing marijuana at the federal level.  The bill passed by a vote of 228 to 164. 

As we previously discussed in our November 10th and September 4th blog posts, the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) legalizes marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates some cannabis criminal records.

While the bill represents a first step toward legalizing cannabis, states would need to adopt similar measures to fully decriminalize its use – currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized (or recently voted to legalize) cannabis for adult recreational use, and 35 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis.

The bill also makes other changes, including:

  • Replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
  • Establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
  • Imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund,
  • Makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
  • Prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
  • Prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction), and
  • Establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.

While Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), the Vice President-Elect, introduced a counterpart bill (S.2227) in the U.S. Senate, its passage in the chamber is unlikely this Congress as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declined to endorse the bill.

While this legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate this Congress, proponents of cannabis legalization have hailed the House vote as historic, and an important first step toward generating the momentum and support needed to favorably position the measure for future congressional consideration.  And whether the measure would be approved by the next Congress likely depends on the outcome of the two Georgia Senate runoff elections scheduled for January 5, 2021.  If both Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, win the runoffs, then the Democrats will control both the House and Senate, with Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

However, it is unclear if President-Elect Joe Biden would sign the bill since he has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts as opposed to removing it entirely from the list of scheduled substances.  While Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes – he has said he wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states.  Nonetheless, marijuana legalization advocates believe this symbolic vote on the legislation could send a strong signal to the Biden administration that this is a Democratic priority.

Even though federal legalization may not be on the immediate horizon, the passage of the MORE Act in the House, and the legalization of adult-use and/or medical marijuana in five more states on November 3, 2020, could influence a Biden-appointed attorney general’s views on enforcement of marijuana related activities. While AG Sessions attempted to reverse the liberal Obama administration marijuana policies set forth in the Cole Memorandum, and AG Barr has reluctantly acknowledged that the Cole priorities have been relied on and should thus be followed, an AG appointed by Biden, given the current pro-legalization wave, Biden’s favoring of state’s rights on this issue, and Kamala Harris’s favoring of decriminalization, might endorse an approach consistent with, if not even more liberal than, the Cole priorities.   Thus, while the appointment of AG Sessions sent shockwaves through the cannabis industry, market participants and those who have been standing on the sidelines eager to get on the field seem to have a lot to look forward to.

 

 

 

State-Legal Marijuana a Clear Winner in 2020 Voting

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Voters in the five states where the legalization of marijuana was on the ballot voted in favor.

In the populous states of New Jersey and Arizona, voters legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults over the age of 21. Given New Jersey’s proximity to New York and Pennsylvania, where medical marijuana programs have been popular, legalization in New Jersey could have a domino effect in the northeast, especially considering the tax revenue that will be gained by New Jersey from New York and Pennsylvania residents who travel there every day for work, the Jersey shore and casinos, and other reasons.

Voters in South Dakota and Montana also voted to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, South Dakota voters also approved medical marijuana, and voters in Mississippi voted to legalize marijuana for medical purposes to treat 22 qualifying health conditions.

Seth Goldberg is a Team Lead of the Cannabis Industry Practice at Duane Morris

© 2009- Duane Morris LLP. Duane Morris is a registered service mark of Duane Morris LLP.

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

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