Pennsylvania Governor Calls for Cannabis Legalization and State Alcohol Tax Relief

Pennsylvania’s governor is urging the state’s legislature to legalize recreational marijuana and pass a six-month reduction or cancellation of the state’s alcohol tax on the hospitality industry. Pennsylvania would join 11 other states and Washington, D.C., in fully legalizing marijuana, which can be lucrative for states.

“It’s almost, from a legislative and a state government perspective, a no brainer, because it’s a new source of revenue that you don’t have at a time where you need it desperately,” McDermott Will & Emery partner Alva C. Mather said in a recent Brewbound article. “And there’s lots of precedent for how to make it work in many other states, so the tide has turned quite a bit in the last several years where I think it’s not as taboo as it used to be.”

“States are in a very difficult situation in light of the pandemic, in terms of how they’re going to be able to generate more revenue and more job opportunities,” Mather said. “This is an entirely new industry that brings both to the table.”

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Five Tips for Making Boozy Ice Cream That’s Legal

When you think of the relationship between alcohol and food, the classics come to mind: tiramisu, coq au vin and beer cheese. While there is a long culinary tradition of using alcohol in food, the newest trend is to utilize alcohol in innovative ways in the culinary world. Recently, a popular food/alcohol combo has been in the freezer aisle where alcohol has lent its flavor to ice cream and freezer pops. Fans consider this a win-win…it cools us down in the summer and acts as a little adult refreshment at the same time. As the tasty treats gain popularity, more and more states are approving the manufacture and sale of such items. 

Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that allows ice cream to be mixed with liquor. He stated this would, “help New York’s dairy farmers, liquor and craft beverage producers, dairy processors and manufacturers, food retailers, and restaurants meet the increasing consumer demand for these new and innovative products.” While New York has been able to have beer and wine mixed ice cream, liquor is new. Other states, like Ohio, have created special licenses for the explicit manufacture and sale of ice cream with beer or intoxicating liquor. 

While we believe this is a win-win for adults, this space lends itself to a number of legal hurdles. We suggest the following tips:

1. Advertise specifically to adults. While this is a given in alcohol beverages, it is a good reminder to gear your advertising towards adults only. 

2. Ensure your label is clearly marked with 21+ and the Government Warning Statement. New York specified in its most recent legislation that the label must have warnings and label requirements similar to confectionary products that contain beer, wine and cider.

3. Avoid the risk of unaware consumption. Ensure that the packaging and marketing make it very clear that the product contains alcohol.

4. Check each state to learn its specific laws. For example, in New York the maximum alcohol by volume allowed in ice cream is 5% while Ohio allows up to 6%.

5. Food that has alcohol mixed in requires the submission of a nonbeverage formula to the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).   



Ohio Case Will Likely Determine Whether Other States Use 21st Amendment Enforcement Act

As was widely reported in the alcohol trade press, the state of Ohio filed suit against several online retail outlets a week ago after an investigation into direct-to-consumer shipments of wine and spirits into the state. The suit follows an investigation where employees of the Division of Liquor Control ordered wine and spirits online through retail outlets and received the alcohol at the Division’s headquarters. Ohio argues that the online retail outlets did not have a license to ship the alcohol directly to consumers in Ohio, and therefore violated Ohio law. The crux of the suit is that the only way to ship wine to consumers in the state of Ohio is by obtaining an “S Permit”.  Unfortunately for the online retail companies, an “S Permit” can only be obtained by wine manufacturers and importers who produce less than 250,000 gallons of wine per year. The lack of any other license essentially prevents the vast majority of manufacturers, wholesalers and online retail companies from shipping wine to consumers in the state of Ohio directly.

What makes this case special is it marks the first time the 21st Amendment Enforcement Act, passed in 2000 has been utilized by a state. The likely reason it hasn’t been utilized is that when going through Congress the Act was stripped of the ability for states to collect monetary damages and left them with only the ability to seek injunctive relief. That said, Ohio, as a control state for spirits, generates a massive amount of revenue through the sale of spirits and taxation of wine in the state. Online retailers and direct to consumer shipments puts that revenue in jeopardy. The case also hints that Ohio is protecting instate interests of wine retailers and wholesalers who stand to lose the most money with the expansion of direct to consumer shipments. Even though the state can’t seek monetary damages under the 21st Amendment Enforcement Act, this suit is on its face all about money as the state makes no argument regarding the need to protect the public health and safety of Ohio residents.

The interesting part will be if and how the online retailers companies defend their actions. The case seems to go against both the trend of loosening direct to consumer laws across the country (such as neighboring Kentucky’s recent expansion of direct to consumer rights) as well as successful retailer challenges to state laws that run afoul of the ”dormant” Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The online retailers could use this as an opportunity to test the recent Supreme Court’s holding in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Assn. v. Thomas reinforcing the “dormant” commerce clause. In the Tennessee Retailers case the Supreme Court held that the two-year residency law implemented by the state was not justified by the public health and safety measures raised and was unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause.  As a reminder the Commerce Clause limits states authorities to regulate economic activity in interstate commerce. Among other things, this has been interpreted to prevent states from enacting neutral laws that place an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce. The balance between the limitation on states authority under the Commerce Clause and states’ rights under the Twenty-first Amendment is something that is still being played out, and this case could certainly test exactly where that line is. While factually the Ohio case is different from the Tennessee Retailers case, most notably Ohio seems to simply ignore the Supreme Court’s requirement that the state law advances public health and safety, the case certainly has the potential to test the limits of a state’s economic protectionist behavior. 

How the defendants will choose to structure their defense and their ultimate success will likely determine if other states try to use the 21st Amendment Enforcement Act in protecting their own instate licensee economic interests. Whether this case will be the catalyst to further determine just how much immunity states have from the commerce clause or further weaken states attempt at restricting direct to consumer laws remains to be seen. We will be keeping a close eye on this one.



Non-Alcoholic Beer Regulation 101

As part of the general move to better-for-you beverages, non-alcoholic (NA) options have been and will likely continue to be on the rise. However, how NA is treated, or not treated, as “beer” has significant impact on its potential route to market. The below summarizes the overall treatment of NA beer under US federal law, as well as examples of restrictions on direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipments imposed by certain states.

FEDERAL TREATMENT OF NA BEER

  • Tax Treatment: The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) regulations define “beer” as a fermented beverage containing 0.5% or more alcohol by volume (ABV) and brewed or produced from malt, wholly or in part, or from any substitute for malt. (See: 27 C.F.R. § 25.11.) The regulations refer to a malt beverage containing less than 0.5% ABV as a “cereal beverage.” (See: 25.11.) Because NA beer contains less than 0.5% ABV, TTB will not treat it as a “beer” under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), and accordingly it will not be subject to federal alcohol excise taxes in the United States.
  • Formula Requirements: Once a process is developed for an NA malt beverage and prior to production, a formula must be submitted and approved by TTB. If an NA malt beverage is “alcohol-free,” TTB policy is to require submission of laboratory testing results.
  • Labeling: The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA Act) regulates malt beverages, regardless of their alcohol content, if they meet the Act’s requirements of containing some malted barley, some hops (or hop parts or products) and having been subject to fermentation. An anomaly exists because the FAA Act’s definition of “malt beverage” does not include any minimum or maximum threshold of alcohol content. Because nonalcoholic and alcohol-free beers are produced like conventional beer and then de-alcoholized, they fall under TTB’s labeling and advertising jurisdiction. Several regulations specifically address such products. (See: 27 CFR § 7.71.)
  • FDA Requirements: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires NA beverages that are not malt beverages under the FAA Act (beverage without malt and hops or an unfermented beverage) to be labeled in accordance with the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA) 15 U.S.C. §§ 1451-1461, and the Nutrition Education and Labeling Act 21 U.S.C. §§ 343-350. (Click here for more information.) These statutes and the FDA regulations require a full ingredient list and nutritional facts label. If an NA beverage without malt or hops or an unfermented beverage is being considered, a full explanation of the FDA requirements will be needed to develop a compliant production, labeling and marketing plan. The FDA has industry guidance on labeling and formulation of “dealcoholized beer.” (See: FDA CPG Sec. 510.400, updated Nov. 2005.)
  • Production Process Issue: If the production process for an NA beverage includes removal of alcohol from beer through reverse osmosis or other processes that separate alcohol from the other components of a beverage, the process may be considered distilling operations, which will require a federal basic permit for a distilled spirits plant. (SeeATF Ruling 85-6.)

STATE REGULATION OF DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER SHIPMENT OF NA BEER

NA beer presents opportunities for brands looking to distribute their products directly to consumers in most states without the stringent regulations that apply to distributing beer.

State regulation of direct-to-consumer NA beer varies. A vast majority of states have statutory definitions of “beer” similar to the IRC’s definition, which include a minimum threshold of 0.5% ABV. Some states, such as Arizona, Georgia, Idaho and Tennessee, have broad definitions of “beer” or “malt beverage” that are not tied to a specific alcohol content (similar to the FAA Act). Meanwhile, other states like Pennsylvania and Kansas have specific legislation which directly regulates NA malt beverages.

The most permissive state regulations in the majority of states allow both in- and out-of-state suppliers to make unlimited shipments of NA beer for consumers’ personal use. However, as noted above, a minority of states which have broad definitions of “beer” or “malt beverage” potentially restrict the ability to sell NA beer directly to consumers. For example:

  • Georgia defines “malt beverage” as any alcoholic beverage obtained by the fermentation of any infusion or decoction of barley, malt, hops or any other similar product, or any combination of such products in water, containing not more than 14% alcohol by volume and including ale, porter, brown, stout, lager beer, small beer and strong beer. (See: Ga. Code Ann. § 3-5-24; Ga. Comp. R. & Regs R. 560-2-8-.01.) “Alcoholic beverage” means and includes all alcohol, distilled spirits, beer, malt beverage, wine or fortified wine. (See: Ga. Code Ann. § 3-1-2.) Thus, to the extent the product will undergo at least some minimal amount of “infusing” and will include some malt, it will qualify as a “beer” for purposes of Georgia’s regulatory regime. As a “beer,” direct shipment is prohibited. (See: Ga. Code Ann. §§ 3-6-31; 3-6-32; Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. 560-2-9-.02.)
  • In Texas, NA beer falls outside of the definitions of “beer” and “alcoholic beverage”; however, exclusive territory and beer franchise law apply to distributors who sell a “nonalcoholic beverage, produced or sold by a brewer of malt beverages and that bears the name, emblem, logo, or brand of a brewer of malt beverages is the same as a sale of malt beverages.” (See: Tex. Alco. Bev. Law § 102.071(e).)
  • Illinois generally defines “non-alcoholic merchandise” as a commodity containing less than 0.5% ABV. (See: 235 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1-3.41.) But Illinois’ Beer Industry Fair Dealing Act expressly applies to malt beverage products containing less than 0.5% ABV that are marketed as an alternative to beer. (See: 815 Ill. Comp. Stat. 720/1.1(1).) In other words, in Illinois, an NA beer is not considered alcohol, but would be subject to the beer franchise law.


CBD Products in the Time of COVID-19: Best Practices for Making Your (Trade)mark

In the midst of an unprecedented and unsettling global pandemic, one constant remains: certain entrepreneurial-minded folks will not miss the opportunity to file trademark applications for new “brands” that align with the latest news cycle. COVID-19 is no different. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has experienced a swell of new US trademark applications for COVID-related trademarks, with many of the marks using descriptive terms or phrases that have become commonplace in a shelter-in-place, #wfh and social distancing world.

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