On Wednesday, January 9, 2019, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) announced the leadership team of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus for the 116th Congress. In addition to Mr. Blumenauer, the Caucus will be co-chaired by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK).

Mr. Blumenauer helped found the Caucus in 2017 with the goal of providing a bipartisan forum for discussing and collaborating on sensible federal cannabis legislation. The Caucus has a particular focus on harmonizing federal and state laws with regard to medicinal or adult-use of cannabis. The group also works to address issues related to researching cannabis, providing veterans access to medicinal marijuana and business needs, including reforming the tax code. Two of the founding co-chairs have since left Congress: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who lost his re-election bid in November, and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), who was elected governor of Colorado. Continue Reading Congressional Cannabis Caucus – 116th Congress

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a new regulation that would require food manufacturers to disclose information about bioengineered (BE) food and BE food ingredients. The proposed rule is the result of a 2016 law that required the USDA to establish a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard for all food. For purposes of the BE disclosure law, “food” includes alcohol beverages intended for human consumption as well as non-alcohol beverages.

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Originally published in The New Brewer, November/December 2018.

Earlier this week, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued further guidance on the procedures for importers to take the lower tax rates and credits available under the Craft Beverage Modernization Act (CBMA).

Key points of the new guidance:

  1. CBP will process drawback claims on an oldest-entry-first basis.
  2. Failure to substantiate drawback claims by January 31, 2019, risks a loss of the CBMA rates/credits for the entries in question.
  3. Going forward, every entry seeking to claim CBMA rates/credits must be accompanied by a CBMA Spreadsheet based on a template provided by CBP.
  4. Each importer must also submit a Controlled Group Spreadsheet, based on a template provided by CBP, for each controlled group it belongs to (foreign producers have the option of providing this information directly to CBP). Importers are responsible for immediately reporting to CBP any changes to the information in the Controlled Group Spreadsheet.
  5. Each foreign producer must provide their importer or CBP with an Assignment Certification based on a template provided by CBP.

With this guidance, importers can now start benefiting from the CBMA lower rates and credits on entries going forward, and make drawback claims for imports entered since January 1, 2018.

As more states legalize the recreational use of marijuana, beer servers will undoubtedly face situations in which a patron is too impaired to drive due to the consumption of both cannabis and alcohol. State laws do not provide a crosswalk of breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) limits and nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a driver’s body fluids. But a few states have established limits on the nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of THC that may be present in a driver’s blood or urine. States will continue to create and modify statutory and regulatory schemes focused on marijuana impairment. In doing so, state legislatures will likely revisit the policy discussions on limits for alcohol consumption.

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Originally published in The New Brewer, July/August 2018.

The latest development in a lengthy legal challenge to advertising restrictions in Missouri’s tied house laws and regulations raises practical economic issues for the alcohol beverage industry and significant legal and policy issues for legislators and regulators at all levels of government. On June 28, Judge Douglas Harpool of the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri filed a decision in Missouri Broadcasters Association vs. Dorothy Taylor. The Missouri Broadcasters Association (MBA) is a trade association representing media outlets. Two licensed Missouri retailers were also plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Ms. Dorothy Taylor is the Supervisor of the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (DATC).

The basic issue in the case is whether several Missouri alcohol beverage advertising restrictions violate the plaintiffs’ commercial speech rights protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

The June District Court decision follows a bench trial held in February 2018. The trial occurred as the result of prior legal proceedings culminating in a 2017 decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which found that the MBA’s amended complaint “plausibly demonstrates that the challenged provisions [of Missouri’s tied house law] do not directly advance the government’s asserted substantial interest, are more extensive than necessary and unconstitutionally compel speech and association.”

Perhaps the most important Missouri law challenged in this litigation is an exception in the tied house laws that authorizes a manufacturer to pay for advertising that lists “two or more affiliated retail businesses selling its products” subject to four conditions:

(a) The advertisement shall not contain the retail price of the product;

(b) The listing of the retail businesses shall be the only reference to such retail businesses in the advertisement;

(c) The listing of the retail businesses shall be relatively inconspicuous in relation to the advertisement as a whole; and

(d) The advertisement shall not refer only to one retail business or only to a retail business controlled directly or indirectly by the same retail business.

This language may be familiar to many practitioners and regulators as a nearly identical provision appears in the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) tied house regulations. Laws and regulations of several states include similar express exceptions and TTB regulations are incorporated by reference in the trade practices regulations of other states. Innumerable TTB and state tied house laws and regulations restrict advertising in similar ways and may be invalidated if the analysis in Missouri Broadcasters is applied by other courts and ultimately upheld by federal appellate courts.

Other Missouri laws and regulations that were successfully challenged by MBA in the trial court prohibit (a) media advertising of price discounts, (b) beer and wine coupons, (c) outdoor advertising of discounts by retailers and (d) below cost advertising.

Unlike many cases based solely on theoretical legal arguments and the text of laws and regulations, the trial in the Missouri case resulted in a wide-ranging inquiry that included expert witnesses on advertising and the level of effort invested by the Missouri DATC in enforcing the challenged laws and regulations. The court’s decision suggests that the state struggled to provide any credible evidence that the challenged laws “directly reduce[] overconsumption of alcohol and underage drinking.”

The court found that the plaintiffs’ expert testimony provided substantial evidence “that there is in fact no demonstrative relationship between media advertising of alcohol and overall consumption rates of underage drinking…The State failed to present any evidence contradicting the testimony, empirical studies, and statistical analysis relied on by the Plaintiffs’ expert.”

The court agreed with the plaintiffs and cited language from the 8th Circuit decision that “the multiple inconsistencies within the regulations poke obvious holes in any potential advancement” of the state’s interest, “to the point the regulations do not advance the interest at all.” This finding is a threat to dozens of federal and state alcohol beverage laws that are riddled with exceptions that allow alcohol beverage advertising in one context and expressly prohibit the same advertising in another context (e.g., prohibiting exterior signs and permitting indoor signs).

Because the challenged Missouri laws restrict commercial speech rights protected by the First Amendment, the court also awarded legal fees to MBA and the retailer plaintiffs.

Advertising can be removed from the “marble cake” of state and federal tied house restrictions without dire consequences for regulators. If the reasoning in Missouri Broadcasters survives, the most significant effects will occur in intra-industry negotiations where parties will determine how advertising costs and activities are apportioned across the three-tier system.

Before proclaiming the death of the three-tier system, hundreds of state licensing and tied house laws have nothing to do with advertising. Prohibitions on ownership interests in more than one tier of the alcohol beverage industry are not affected by the recent decision along with substantial restrictions on industry trade practices other than advertising.

Finally, the reasoning in Missouri Broadcasters may have to survive another appeal and must be adopted by other courts to broadly affect house restrictions on advertising throughout the United States. Perhaps a state (or more likely a state with support from interested industry members) will develop credible evidence to support similar laws in other jurisdictions. For example, California aggressively defended analogous laws and regulations, which were ultimately upheld last year by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In an article published by The New Brewer, Marc Sorini discusses five issues most likely to have a meaningful impact on craft brewers in the coming years, including:

  1. The Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act’s (CBMTRA) new tiered excise tax rate structure, its extending benefits to foreign producers, and its authorization for brewers to transfer beer in bond between breweries of different ownership.
  2. The Sixth Circuit’s published opinion in Byrd v. Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association, affirming a decision finding that the “durational-residency” requirements imposed by Tennessee law for alcohol beverage retail licensees are unconstitutional under the “dormant” Commerce Clause.
  3. The TTB’s creation of a new unit within its Trade Investigations Division to focus on trade practice enforcement.
  4. The opinion in Mission Beverage Co. v. Pabst Brewing Co. from the California Court of Appeals, which found that “an existing distributor’s receipt of the ‘fair market value of the affected distribution rights’ under [the California statute] does not necessarily make that distributor whole.”
  5. The US District Court for the Northern District of California’s decision in a putative class action alleging that the labeling and marketing of a successful California-based craft brewery was false and deceptive.

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Originally published in The New Brewer, May/June 2018.

On May 17, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued an Industry Circular, No. 2018-1A, clarifying that under the recently-enacted tax reform legislation (Tax Act), wineries may tax determine and tax pay wine they produce and that is stored untaxpaid at another bonded wine cellar or bonded winery as if the wine were removed from the producing winery’s bonded premises.

Among the Tax Act’s many changes to the Internal Revenue Code, the new legislation (which went into effect on January 1, 2018) prescribed new tax credits for wine and suspended (through 2019) the previous tax credit. The Tax Act also suspended the prior law’s transfer provision, which allowed small wineries eligible for tax credits to transfer their credits to another bonded winery. This threatened to leave small wineries transferring their wines to larger bonded wineries without their tax credits. To apply the tax credits to such wines under the Tax Act, the producing winery would need to physically bring the wine back to its premises and remove and tax pay the wine. Continue Reading TTB Announces Extension of Tax Credits for Wines Stored at Bonded Wine Cellars and Bonded Wineries

The Agricultural Marketing Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently published a proposed rule containing regulations to implement the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard mandated by Congress in 2016. See 83 Fed. Reg. 19860 (May 4, 2018). The proposed regulations would govern the labeling of raw agricultural products and packaged foods whose labeling is governed the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetics Act, including wines below 7 percent alcohol by volume and non-malt beer (e.g., “hard seltzers”). The proposed regulations would not directly apply to alcohol beverages whose labeling is governed by the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, including all distilled spirits, wines containing 7 percent alcohol by volume or greater, and beer containing malted barley and hops. Nevertheless, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau may look to the bioengineered food disclosure regulations as persuasive guidance in developing its own policies towards the disclosure of bioengineered ingredients (often called “genetically modified organisms” or “GMOs”). Continue Reading USDA Publishes Proposed GMO Labeling Regulations

On Friday, April 13th, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) announced that President Trump assured him that the Department of Justice’s decision to rescind the Obama-era guidance on marijuana enforcement would not affect Colorado’s legal marijuana industry. President Trump also promised Senator Gardner that he would support a federal legislative fix that takes into account state decisions to legalize marijuana. In turn, the senator lifted holds on all Department of Justice nominees, ending an intra-GOP standoff over the Department’s cannabis policy.

In January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded guidance that outlined eight marijuana enforcement priorities, heightening the possibility of a federal crackdown in states that legalized recreational and medical cannabis. Pro-legalization advocates feared that Sessions’ announcement granted federal prosecutors broader discretion to pursue criminal charges against marijuana businesses operating legally under state law in states like Colorado, Washington, California and elsewhere. Sen. Gardner immediately responded that he would block all DOJ nominations over the new policy. Continue Reading President Trump Commits to Protect Colorado’s Legal Marijuana Industry