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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.

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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The FDA recently issued Guidance announcing its decision to exercise enforcement discretion with regard to the Produce Safety Rule for entities growing, harvesting, packing or holding hops and wine grapes, as well as almonds and pulse crops (dry, edible seeds in the legume family harvested solely in dried form).

More specifically, while the FDA considers

On March 18, 2019, the Washington Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s decision that three advertising campaigns for 5-Hour Energy® made by Living Essentials, LLP and Innovative Ventures, LLP (collectively, Living Essentials) violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA) by making deceptive advertising claims.

Living Essentials makes and markets the energy drink 5-Hour Energy®. The three advertising claims at issue involve claims about the efficacy of the drink. Living Essentials claimed or implied that: (1) 5-Hour Energy® was “Superior to Coffee” (Superior to Coffee claim); (2) decaf 5-Hour Energy® was effective “for hours” (Decaf claim); and (3) 73 percent of doctors would recommend 5-Hour Energy® (Ask Your Doctor claim). The trial court found all three advertising claims in violation of the CPA. It also assessed a civil penalty against Living Essentials of $2,183,747 and awarded the State $1,886,866.71 in attorney fees and $209,125.92 in costs. The court of appeals affirmed.

Living Essentials argued on appeal that the trial court (1) erred by adopting the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) prior substantiation doctrine; (2) that the prior substantiation doctrine violates article I, section 5 of the Washington State Constitution and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; (3) that Living Essentials’ claims were mere puffery which did not require substantiation; (4) the trial court applied the wrong standard for necessary substantiation; and (5) the trial court erred in concluding that Living Essentials’ Ask Your Doctor claim was deceptive. Living Essentials also challenged the trial court’s penalty and award of attorney fees.
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On May 31, 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will hold a public hearing on cannabis products. The hearing seeks to obtain scientific data on cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds, along with additional information regarding health and safety risks, manufacturing and product quality, marketing, labeling and the sale of such products.

The FDA’s notice announcing the hearing recognizes that the regulatory landscape surrounding cannabis continues to evolve at both the federal and state levels. At the state level, 33 states and Washington, DC, allow for the medical use of marijuana and 14 additional states have medical programs limited to cannabidiol (a/k/a CBD) products. Moreover, 10 states and Washington, DC have legalized marijuana for recreational use, while 13 additional states have decriminalized recreational marijuana possession in some form.

At the federal level, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, Pub. L. 115-334 (often called the 2018 Farm Bill), removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, so they are no longer classified as controlled substances under federal law. This has prompted an avalanche of businesses marketing products containing hemp-derived compounds – most notably CBD – in ways that the FDA views as violations of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. According to the FDA, many questions remain concerning the safety implications of the widespread use of these products. Therefore, the FDA seeks relevant information to inform its position in regulating the development and marketing of cannabis products.
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On Friday, March 29, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri handed down its decision in Sarasota Wine Market v. Parson, No. 4:17CV2792. The decision upholds Missouri’s laws permitting in-state retailers to sell and deliver directly to consumers’ homes, but withholding that same privilege to out-of-state retailers. Plaintiffs had challenged the