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24th Annual Wine, Beer & Spirits Law Conference

On September 16–17, CLE International will host the 24rd Annual Wine, Beer & Spirits Law Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. Those attending will include the alcohol beverage industry’s leading practitioners, including in-house counsel for producers, distributors and retailers, as well as industry lawyers and state administrators. Conference topics include:

  • Updates on TTB developments and trends
  • An overview of recent developments in alcohol trade practice and trademark law
  • The significance of regulatory compliance, and the state of data security and ownership
  • Updates on the cannabis industry, including the latest legalization efforts and how it could affect the alcohol beverage industry

McDermott partner Marc Sorini serves as co-chair for the event and will also present. Other McDermott presenters will be Michael Kimberly and Anthony DeMaio.

Click here for the full agenda and registration information.




Winds of Change Blowing for Craft Brewers

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 advertising regulations; and prospects for extending the biggest cuts in the excise tax on beer since the repeal of Prohibition.

As these developments play out over the next year, we may see changes translate into the marketplace. Find out what you can expect.

Access the full article.

Originally published in The New Brewer, May/June 2019.




TTB Spring 2019 Updates to Semi-Annual Regulatory Agenda

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.  (more…)




Congress Can Open Financial Institutions to Legal Cannabis Industry with SAFE Banking Act

Federal statutes create risk for banks that want to operate in the cannabis space. Banks face the threat of civil actions, asset forfeiture, reputational risk, and even criminal penalties if they do business with customers in the cannabis industry. Further, because most banks will not touch cannabis money, the growers, processors, and retailers in the industry must often operate on a cash-only basis. The Internal Revenue Service has even had to build “cash rooms” to accommodate taxes paid by legal cannabis companies.

Access the full article.




FDA Releases Warning Letters to CBD and Hemp Oil Companies

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). (more…)




Washington Court of Appeals Upholds Multi-Million Dollar Fine for 5-Hour Energy Advertising Claims

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. (more…)




The Future of Direct Shipping

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 applicants is unconstitutional. Specifically, the question Tennessee retailers posed to the Court is whether the 21st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives states the authority to, consistent with the so-called “Dormant” Commerce Clause of the Constitution, regulate sales of alcohol beverages by imposing residency requirements on retail (or wholesale) license applicants. The court heard oral arguments on January 16, 2019.

In an article published by The New Brewer, Marc Sorini and Bethany Hatef discussed the Sixth Circuit’s opinion in the Byrd case, the circuit split it created and the potential impacts of the pending SCOTUS decision.

Read the full article.

Originally published in The New Brewer, March/April 2019.




A History of Alcohol Law

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, and cider’s treatment under alcohol excise tax laws.

Marc’s talk begins at the 19:30 minute mark.

Listen to the full presentation.




Second Circuit Rejects Total Wine Challenge of Connecticut Pricing Laws

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. (more…)




House Financial Services Committee to Consider Cannabis Banking Issues

116th Congress’ first cannabis-related hearing

Next week, Congress will hold a long-awaited hearing on the future of banking in the cannabis industry.

On Wednesday the 13th, the House Financial Services Committee Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions Subcommittee will convene a hearing entitled, “Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses.”

Among the discussion points will be the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which was introduced and championed in the last Congress by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), a member of the committee. The Perlmutter bill provides safe harbor to banks working with businesses in the cannabis industry operating legally within their jurisdiction. Groups including the Credit Union National Association and the Independent Community Bankers of America support such legislative efforts. Last year, a bipartisan group of 19 state attorneys general sent a letter to Congress urging passage of the SAFE Banking Act. The bill had 95 cosponsors (including 13 Republicans) in the last Congress. Its companion legislation in the Senate, introduced by Jeff Merkley (D-OR), had 20 bipartisan cosponsors.

Banks, particularly the largest financial institutions, remain hesitant to provide services to the cannabis industry for fear of violating federal money laundering laws. That leaves many businesses in the industry to deal in cash. For a $10 billion (and growing) industry, “cash only” is not a sustainable policy. Business interests, regulators and (increasingly) Congress agree that something must be done in order to bring the cannabis industry into the banking system. Next week’s hearing is the first significant step of the 116th Congress to address this issue. In the coming weeks, banking legislation will be re-introduced, negotiated, marked-up in the Financial Services Committee, and possibly brought to the floor of the House.

Hearing details:

House Committee on Financial Services – Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chair

Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions – Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chair

Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses

Wednesday, February 13, 2019 at 2:00 pm ET

2128 Rayburn House Office Building

Streaming on https://financialservices.house.gov




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