It has been more than one year since the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (better known as the 2018 Farm Bill) was enacted removing hemp and hemp-derivatives like CBD from the Controlled Substances Act. And while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has held a public hearing on the use of cannabis, including hemp-derived CBD, in products like food and beverage, the industry anxiously awaits guidance or rules on advertising and labeling (which includes the label and packaging, as well as anything that you say about the product, including any claim that you make on your label, package, website, social media, etc.) for CBD-containing products.
Add to this lack of guidance, FDA currently takes the position that CBD may not be incorporated into and sold as food or a dietary supplement. A number of states have also specifically prohibited the use of CBD in foods, such as Massachusetts, Washington and North Carolina. Therefore, any company wishing to include CBD in food or beverages should proceed with caution. On the other hand, a broad spectrum of statutes and regulations exist from other states on the advertising and labeling of CBD-containing foods and beverages, including some states that require any product containing CBD to be packaged in be child-resistant, tamper-evident, and light-resistant containers. Even if you are not selling in a state that requires this type of packaging, it can still be beneficial from a products liability perspective to follow the more stringent packaging regulations.
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.