Seth Goldberg, partner and team lead of Duane Morris’ Cannabis Industry Group, and Justin M. L. Stern, Duane Morris associate, authored the Cannabis Industry Journal article, “Consumer Class Actions Against CBD Companies Are Hitting a Snag.”
Excerpt from the article:
Over the past year, more and more consumer class actions have been filed against manufacturers and distributors of CBD-infused products. These actions typically assert claims based on how the product is marketed, such as whether it (i) contained the advertised amount of CBD, (ii) contained more THC than it should have or (iii) has the ability to provide the therapeutic benefits touted. The marketing of these products is subject to regulation by FDA, which has yet to issue pertinent regulations that have been expected since passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp and CBD products derived therefrom. Thus, in recent months, a number of federal courts have stopped these class actions in their tracks pending further guidance from FDA as to how CBD-infused products should be regulated. This growing body of precedent should be welcome news for the CBD supply chain, as it may provide a disincentive to the plaintiffs’ bar to expend their resources on similar actions until the regulatory framework is clear.
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.
Seth Goldberg, partner and team lead of Duane Morris’ Cannabis Industry Group, discusses with Law360 how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the industry and shares how he and his family have been adapting.
Below are highlights from the article:
What challenges has the pandemic created in your specific area of work?
From a pure business standpoint, the pandemic has been bittersweet for the cannabis industry. Many of our clients have fared well because state-licensed medical marijuana businesses have been deemed “essential” in all states that have legalized medical marijuana. However, as in every industry, the pandemic has created workforce issues and has also impacted performance. […]
How are you and your family adapting at home?
It’s fun, especially if you like practicing law while teaching fourth-grade math, negotiating screen time for two 13-year-olds, and keeping a college-bound senior interested in completing high school remotely. A breakthrough was convincing the four kids that the internet on their laptops would be faster if they turned the wifi on their cellphones off!
What is the most creative or productive response to the crisis you’ve witnessed so far?
My daughters insisting that buying three “fancy mice” would be a good substitute for friends and classmates.
Duane Morris has developed a tremendously responsive and informative COVID-19 task force that is, on a daily basis, providing incredibly insightful information about all aspects of the legal issues and implications of the pandemic, including contractual, employment, insurance and health care issues. […]
Seth Goldberg, partner and team lead of the Cannabis Industry Group, is also ranked as a national leading attorney in Cannabis Law.
What the team is known for Utilizes cannabis expertise on a nationwide basis and across a broad spectrum of practice areas, with practitioners specializing in IP, corporate transactions and regulatory advice within the sector. Offers expanded capabilities in the wake of the 2018 Farm Bill for clients trading in hemp and hemp-derived CBD products. Also boasts litigators able to handle contentious issues for producers and distributors across the industry.
Strengths“Outstanding is the first word I’d choose to describe their service,” says one client, who notes that the team is “creative and always very informative in an industry changing on an almost daily basis.“
Another client says: “The group is very polished, professional and experienced.”
Work highlights Represented iAnthus Capital Holdings as US counsel in connection with its all-stock merger with MPX Bioceutical.
Notable practitioners Seth Goldberg boasts high-level experience advising cannabis businesses throughout their life-cycle. Clients say: “Seth is a great businessman – not only does he understand the law, but also the business realities of things, which makes him a great adviser from that perspective.”
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.
Since the 2018 Farm Bill passed in December 2018, removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and thus legalizing it under federal law, consumer goods containing the hemp-derivative cannabidiol (CBD) have become exceptionally popular. With that growing popularity among consumers has come increased scrutiny by federal regulators whose mission is consumer safety and protection, such as the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission, and now by the plaintiffs’ bar, which files consumer class actions based on advertising. As the recent spate of warning letters and consumer class actions demonstrate, hemp-derived CBD product manufacturers and others in the supply chain for those products have to be mindful of the claims they make to consumers about their products.
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.”
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.