Photo of Marc Sorini

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 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).
Continue Reading

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.
Continue Reading

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.
Continue Reading

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

In September 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari brought before the Court by the Tennessee Retailers in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Byrd. The petition requested that the Court review the lower court’s decision upholding a finding that Tennessee’s two-year residency requirement for retail license

In this lunchtime talk at CiderCon 2019 (the annual conference of the US Association of Cider Makers), Marc Sorini discusses the historic development of the current legal structure regulating alcohol beverage businesses. Topics include the origins of “tied house” laws and the evolution of the three-tier system, the often-confusing status of cider under federal law,

Last week, in Connecticut Fine Wine and Spirits LLC v. Seagull, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a lower court’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit from Total Wine & More challenging parts of Connecticut’s Liquor Control Act and related regulations. Though the decision represents a victory for state alcohol regulatory regimes, the Second Circuit’s ruling was decided on the basis of established antitrust law and did not raise or rely on state regulatory authority under the 21st Amendment. Nonetheless, state alcoholic beverages regulators will embrace the court’s ruling.

In Connecticut Fine Wine, Total Wine challenged three sets of provisions in Connecticut’s alcohol laws. First, Total Wine challenged “post-and-hold” provisions. Under the post-and-hold provisions, state-licensed wholesalers are required to post a “bottle price” and “case price” each month with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. Those prices are then made available to industry participants. During the four days after prices are posted, wholesalers may “amend” their posted prices to match—but not drop below—lower prices offered by competitors. Wholesalers are then obligated to “hold” their prices for a month.

Second, Total Wine challenged the state’s minimum-retail-price provisions. The minimum-retail-price provisions require retailers to sell alcohol beverages to customers at or above a statutorily defined “cost,” which is determined by adding the posted bottle price and a markup for shipping and delivery. Combined with the post-and-hold provisions, the minimum-retail-price provisions bind retailer prices to wholesaler prices.

Third, Total Wine challenged the state’s price discrimination and volume discount provisions. The price discrimination/volume discount provisions preclude wholesalers from offering a given product to different retailers at different prices and from offering discounts to retailers who are high-volume purchasers.
Continue Reading

In late September 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari (i.e. the Court agreed to hear a case) brought before the Court by the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association (Tennessee Retailers) in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Byrd. The petition requested that the Court review the