A lot can change in a decade. From illicit plumes of smoke cloaking skate parks and college dorm rooms, to a multibillion-dollar legitimate industry, cannabis has come a long way. In 2019, New Frontier Data – an organisation dedicated to providing information on the legal cannabis market – estimated the industry to be valued at $13.6 billion, with over 300,000 jobs involved.
As is common to growing industries like this (we’re here all day!), lawyers are getting very busy within this new revolution. To this end, we spoke with Duane Morris partner Seth Goldberg to unpack some of the realities of working in such an embryonic space. Goldberg leads Duane Morris’ dedicated Cannabis Industry Group and has been at the forefront of the legal cannabis sector.
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.
As a commercial litigator who has handled a broad range of claims in highly regulated industries over the past 20 years — particularly in complex matters such as class actions involving claims brought by consumers and shareholders — and given my experience spearheading the development of Duane Morris’ cannabis industry group, which has included providing regulatory and business advice to a number of businesses and individuals with cannabis-related interests, I have been expecting the maturing cannabis industry to eventually mirror other industries when it comes to using commercial litigation to resolve disputes between businesses and to address claims of injury allegedly experienced by aggreived consumers and shareholders. It appears the time has come. Now, as opposed to even just a few months ago, not a day goes by when the daily legal news outlets that report on litigation matters filed in federal and state courts around the country do not include matters pertaining to adult use marijuana, medical marijuana, and/or hemp.
Today alone, legal news outlets are reporting about a shareholder deriviative action being filed against the manufacturer of cannabinoid-containing transdermal patches, a maker of mobile hemp dryers suing a distributor for alledgedly stealing trade secrets, a publicly-traded company that owns cannabis brands being sued for breach of contract by an MSO arising out of a failed merger agreement. Claims like these are among the many product liability, stock-drop and securities fraud, tradmark infringement, FLSA, and employment litigation matters to be filed in 2020 relating to cannabis; not to mention the federal and state regulatory cannabis-related enforcement actions also commenced. Just as in other industries, COVID-19 is likely to spur litigation in the space because of strains on resources and performance caused by business disruptions and the slower economy. To be sure, the plaintiffs’ bar has cannabis on its radar.
Thus, now more than ever, it is critically important for cannabis businesses to implement the necessary compliance measures, including making sure appropriate insurance coverage, e.g. premises, products, and D&O, has been obtained, that could protect their businesses from the cost and disruption of commercial litigation. Likewise, cannabis-specific nuances, such as the enforceability of contracts and jurisdictional questions, require careful evaluation by experienced counsel advising plaintiffs and defendants who are considering filing, or who have been brought into, a commercial litigation.
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.”
On Tuesday, April 21, 2020, Seth A. Goldberg, partner and team lead of the Duane Morris Cannabis Industry Group, and Justin M. L. Stern, Duane Morris associate, will present at the webinar, “Cannabis 303: Civil Litigation and COVID-19 Implications for the Cannabis Industry: An Unavoidable Consequence of a Maturing U.S. Cannabis Market.”
Please join the attorneys to review the recent landscape of cannabis-related commercial litigation, discuss the potential impact of COVID-19 on marijuana- and hemp-related civil litigation, and learn best practices for businesses with respect to preparing for, and possibly preventing, potentially resource-draining and almost always disruptive civil litigation matters.
Although the cannabis reform movement has made incredible strides over the past 25 years, our industry and the medicinal potential of the plant are still not recognized at the federal level. The COVID-19 pandemic is drastically altering our lives but difficult times are able to expose many truths, including the understanding that legalization and safe access to cannabis is critical, especially during a crisis.
Thankfully, many states already have come to the realization that cannabis, especially medicinal use, is not a luxury but a necessity. Although states are restricting access to public places and prohibiting gatherings, many governors have designated cannabis dispensaries as an “essential service.” […]
“Opponents of federal legalization are likely to argue the categorization was merely a natural extension of the law in states that have already legalized medical marijuana to treat certain conditions, and that the uniqueness of the COVID-19 situation limits the ‘essential’ designation to that very urgent and unprecedented fact pattern,” Seth Goldberg, attorney and partner at Duane Morris LLP told mg.
Banking has been an impediment for the cannabis industry because the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 (BSA) and related regulations―which seek to prevent money laundering and other financial crimes―place onerous requirements on banks when a transaction is suspected to involve illegal activity. 12 C.F.R. Section 21.11. Notwithstanding billions of state-legal cannabis dollars exchanging hands, the commercial banking industry, which is largely federally regulated, is virtually nonexistent in the cannabis space. In 2014, the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) provided guidance intended to enhance the banking of cannabis-related monies by establishing a category of suspicious activity reporting for “marijuana related businesses.” But, according to FinCEN, as of June 30, 2019, just 553 commercial banks and 162 credit unions had filed an SAR for a “marijuana-related business.”
Among other key provisions, the new regulatory framework provides for USDA’s approval of State and Tribal Land hemp programs established under the 2018 Farm Bill, which will end debate as to whether hemp activities in a State or Tribal Land receiving such approval are federally lawful. To be approved, those plans will have to contain stringent requirements for testing the THC content of hemp to ensure it does not meet the definition of marijuana, and contain procedures for the enforcement of violations of the State or Tribe’s hemp program. Importantly, the regulatory framework provides for USDA’s granting of hemp production permits in states and territories that do not establish hemp programs for approval by USDA.