ALCOHOL LAW ADVISOR
ALCOHOL LAW ADVISOR
Regulatory and Distribution Law Updates for the Alcohol Industry
ALCOHOL LAW ADVISOR
Regulatory and Distribution Law Updates for the Alcohol Industry

Florida Federal District Court Rules GRAS Regulation Preempts Florida Statute Criminalizing Ingredient

In an important ruling dismissing a proposed class action, the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled that the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) generally recognized as safe (GRAS) regulation preempts a Florida statute that criminalized adding grains of paradise to liquor. More specifically, the Court in Marrache v. Bacardi USA, Inc., 2020 US Dist. LEXIS 13668 (January 28, 2020), ruled that the Florida statute was preempted because it conflicts with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and the FDA’s regulations (21 C.F.R. § 182.10) which establish that grains of paradise are GRAS. 2020 US LEXIS 13668, at *4. The case started when Florida resident Uri Marrache purchased a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin at a Winn-Dixie store in Florida. After consuming the gin, Marrache filed suit under Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, claiming that Bacardi (the producer of Bombay Sapphire) and Winn-Dixie had engaged in...

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Mississippi Supreme Court Rejects ‘Passage of Title’ DTC Theory

Last week, the Supreme Court of Mississippi handed down an opinion in Fitch v. Wine Express Inc., No. 2018-SA-01259-SCT. A state court decision on the rather dry subject of personal jurisdiction often merits little comment, but the Fitch opinion features an emphatic rejection of the legal theory relied upon by many direct-to-consumer retail alcohol sellers today. As a “control” state for wine sales, Mississippi law generally prohibits the importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages (a term that includes wine) outside of the state’s monopoly control system. And, as in virtually every state, the retail sale of wine to consumers is reserved to state licensees and, in the case of control jurisdictions, the state itself. In 2017, the state investigated online wine retailers. While most did not accept orders for shipment to a location in Mississippi, the state found three online retailers that accepted such orders. After further investigation, the...

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Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Down New Distribution Statute as Unconstitutional

In a win for alcohol beverage suppliers, on Wednesday the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued an opinion in The Institute For Responsible Alcohol Policy v. State ex rel. Alcohol Beverage Laws Enforcement Comm’n. In a 5-4 ruling, the court struck down as unconstitutional a statute requiring the top 25 wine and spirits brands in the state, by volume, to be offered to all wholesalers without discrimination. The effect of the ruling is that a supplier of any brand of alcohol is free to choose its preferred or potentially exclusive distributor in the State of Oklahoma. As background, Oklahoma has historically prohibited suppliers of wine and spirits from having an exclusive distribution relationship with an Oklahoma wholesaler, and required suppliers to sell their products to any Oklahoma wholesaler desiring to purchase them. For those familiar with the concept of “franchise” laws in the alcohol beverage industry—which typically require suppliers and wholesalers to...

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Eighth Circuit Strikes Down Multiple Missouri Alcohol Beverage Advertising Laws

In another blow to the constitutionality of alcohol beverage laws, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit struck down on First Amendment grounds a number of Missouri’s alcohol beverage advertising laws on the basis that Missouri failed to meets it burden to demonstrate that such laws both advanced the state’s substantial interest and were narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. At issue in Missouri Broadcasters Ass’n v. Schmitt were familiar alcohol advertising laws that restricted: Suppliers and distributors for advertising at retail on tied house grounds (e., advertising qualified as a “financial interest” in the retailer); Retailers from advertising discounted prices outside of their establishments; and Retailers from advertising below-cost alcohol inside their establishments. In applying the four factor test articulated by the US Supreme Court in Central Hudson to assess the validity of governmental regulation of commercial speech, the Court...

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Federal Alcohol Excise Taxes 101

There are many laws at both the federal and state level that govern the production and distribution of distilled spirits. For example, craft distillers must comply with licensing and permitting requirements, trade practice laws, advertising restrictions, and, depending on the jurisdiction, alcohol franchise law. One of the most fundamental—and most complex—areas of law governing distilled spirits is excise taxes. An article authored by McDermott’s Bethany K. Hatef in the Winter 2020 issue of Artisan Spirit Magazine provides a high-level overview of the federal alcohol excise tax system and some specific features that apply to distilled spirits, and also explains the current status of the Craft Beverage Modernization Act, the legislation temporarily providing for reduced tax rates for certain amounts of distilled spirits. Access the full article. Originally published in Artisan Spirit Magazine: Winter 2020.

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EPA Approves Use of 10 Pesticide Products on Hemp

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its approval of 10 new pesticides for use on hemp products. EPA’s approval of nine biopesticides and one conventional pesticide provides greater certainty to hemp farmers in time for the 2020 planting season. The hemp industry awaits further guidance from other federal regulatory agencies. In December 2018, Congress passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill), which explicitly removed hemp from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. The 2018 Farm Bill directed the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish a regulatory framework for hemp production in the United States. USDA recently released its interim final rule including proposed rules and regulations regarding USDA’s approval of hemp production plans submitted by States and Indian Tribes, and the establishment of a Federal Plan for hemp growers in States without a USDA-approved plan. Comments...

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McDermott’s Marc Sorini Named a 2019 NLR ‘Go-To Thought Leader’

We are very pleased to share that one of our editors for Alcohol Law Advisor and head of McDermott’s Alcohol Regulatory & Distribution Group Marc E. Sorini was named a 2019 National Law Review Go-To Thought Leader. The National Law Review’s 2019 “Go-To Thought Leader Awards” spotlight 75 legal authors—less than 1% of the publication’s 15,000 thought leaders—selected from a pool of over 100,000 news articles published in 2019. Sorini was one of three thought leaders recognized in the “Food & Drug” category. According to the awards description, “The NLR Go-To Thought Leadership recipients not only demonstrate a depth of legal knowledge but also outline the steps needed for compliance and/or adaptation. These designated authors are not only reader favorites but are often quoted in other publications and/or syndicated in other media.” Recognized as one of the leading lawyers in his field, Sorini has represented alcohol beverage suppliers before federal...

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Craft Beer Mergers and Acquisitions

Over the past several months, 15 notable deals have taken place in the craft beer space, continuing a trend toward consolidation in the industry. While the terms of most transactions remain undisclosed, the deals generally fall into three buckets: Strategic deals designed to combine leading brands and brewers and leverage distribution capacity; Targeted asset acquisitions designed primarily to expand brewing capacity; and Restructuring transactions. McDermott’s Marc Sorini, Thomas Conaghan and Daniel McGuire walk through notable strategic deals, asset/capacity purchases and restructurings. Access the full article. Originally published in The New Brewer, November/December 2019.

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What to Know About FDA’s Recent Statements on CBD

Last week FDA issued a public release on CBD titled, “What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis derived Compounds, Including CBD.” The FDA document does not break much new ground, though it emphasizes again FDA’s concern with the safety of CBD, some of which comes from FDA’s review of the CBD-based epilepsy drug Epidiolex. FDA does not believe it has enough information about certain aspects of CBD, such as what happens if someone takes CBD daily for sustained periods. In addition, FDA specifically identifies as a potential harm the use of CBD with alcohol because of the increased risk of sedation and drowsiness, which can lead to injuries. FDA, in addition to issuing this document, sent 15 warning letters to companies marketing CBD products that FDA views as unapproved drugs primarily because of the drug like claims made for such products. FDA appears to be on a path toward considering a...

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Congressional Committee Takes Historic Step Toward Decriminalizing Marijuana

For the first time in American history, a congressional committee approved a marijuana legalization bill. On November 20, 2019, after more than two hours of debate, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 (H.R. 3884) in a 24 to 10 vote. If the MORE Act becomes law, it would effectively end the federal prohibition of cannabis in the United States. Currently, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin and LSD, under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs are those that the federal government considers to have no proven or acceptable medical use and a high abuse potential. The MORE Act, if passed into law, would remove marijuana from Schedule I. The House Judiciary Committee’s actions are particularly significant on the heels of Veterans Day. Under current federal law, doctors at the VA can discuss marijuana use with patients, but they cannot recommend it, even in states...

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