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Marc E. Sorini concentrates on issues facing the alcohol beverage industry, with a particular focus on the supplier tier and non-beverage alcohol users. He heads the Firm's Alcohol Regulatory & Distribution Group and is recognized as one of the leading lawyers in his field. Read Marc Sorini's full bio.

As virtually everyone in the US alcohol beverage industry knows, last week the US Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Assn. v. Thomas, S.Ct. No. 18-96 (June 26, 2019). Now that over a week has passed since the release of that decision, it’s time to reflect on what it means and what is coming next. 
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I. Introduction

On May 23, the Mississippi Supreme Court published its opinion in the case of Rex Distributing Company v. Anheuser-Busch, LLC, et al. The ruling partially reverses the trial court’s decision to dismiss all of Rex’s claims against Anheuser-Busch and rival distributor Mitchell Distributing Company (Mitchell). The ruling will allow Rex Distributing Company (Rex) to proceed with its lawsuit alleging that Anheuser-Busch violated Mississippi’s Beer Industry Fair Dealing Act (BIFDA) by refusing to approve Rex’s attempt to sell its distribution rights to Anheuser-Busch products. In addition, the ruling will allow Rex to proceed with a claim against Mitchell for tortious interference and civil conspiracy.

The ruling clarifies Mississippi beer franchise law by limiting the rights of beer suppliers in the context of distributor transfers, effectively rendering Anheuser-Busch’s “match and redirect” contractual provisions unenforceable under Mississippi’s Beer Industry Fair Dealing Act (BIFDA).
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On May 28, 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a legal opinion to address questions raised by several hemp-related provisions of the Agricultural Act of 2018, better known as the 2018 Farm Bill. The USDA opinion clarifies four areas of the 2018 Farm Bill:

  1. the removal of hemp as a controlled substance and schedule I drug became effective upon enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill;
  2. following the publication of implementing regulations, states and Indian tribes cannot prohibit interstate transportation and shipment of hemp and hemp-based products, and the USDA confirmed that this preemption also covers hemp produced under the 2014 Farm Bill;
  3. pending certain exceptions, individuals with certain controlled substance felony convictions will be barred from producing hemp; and
  4. following the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill, states and Indian tribes still retain the ability to regulate hemp production, including the ability to grow or cultivate hemp in that state or territory.


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For those who follow developments in the law and craft brewing with equal passion, every year has its share of substantial issues. This year has been no exception, with a pending Supreme Court case; a substantial upswing in federal trade practice enforcement activity; a massive rewrite of US Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) labeling and

The spring edition of the federal government’s semi-annual Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Regulatory Agenda) has been published. Like other federal agencies, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) uses the Regulatory Agenda to report on its current rulemaking projects.

The Regulatory Agenda provides glimpses into TTB’s policy focus and aspirations. But, readers should recognize that TTB rulemaking moves very slowly, and the Agency often does not meet the aspirational dates published in the Regulatory Agenda. 
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On May 7, 2019, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (VABC) published a decision confirming the enforceability of arbitration clauses in distribution agreements between brewers and beer distributors under Virginia’s Beer Franchise Act (BFA). In Loveland Distributing Co., Inc. and Premium of Virginia, LLC v. Bell’s Brewery, Inc., the VABC panel ruled unanimously in favor of compelling the parties to resolve their dispute through arbitration, as provided for in the parties’ distribution agreement (the Agreement).

The decision is good news overall for beer and wine suppliers hoping to avoid the cost of litigation before the VABC. Continue reading for details of the dispute and further considerations.
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On April 25, 2019, TTB published Industry Circular 2019-1. It addresses the hot topic of alcohol beverages (especially beer) infused with hemp-derived ingredients–with cannabidiol (CBD) as the clear focus of industry interest. While hardly surprising, the Industry Circular takes or reiterates the following positions:

  1. TTB will require a formula for any product containing a

Last week the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) made public three new warning letters to Cannabidiol (CBD) and hemp oil product companies sent by FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). FDA has previously targeted cannabis product companies.

The new warning letters are consistent with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s recent statements that the FDA will go after manufacturers of CBD products that make health and wellness claims that FDA views as egregious. For example, the CBD companies in question allegedly marketed their products for Alzheimer’s disease, fibromyalgia, inflammation, skin conditions, autoimmune disorders, anxiety, cancer pain, PTSD and depression, to name a few symptoms. These companies are making food, dietary supplements, and cosmetic products, as well as products for pets (CBD for dogs).
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