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

Safe Banking Act Passes House, Extends Cannabis Safe Harbor Protections

First introduced in 2013, the SAFE Banking Act just passed the House 321-103. This bill, an exciting and promising development for cannabis advocates, provides safe harbor to banks and financial institutions doing business with state-legal cannabis businesses, and allows cannabis businesses to move away from conducting business exclusively in cash. Access the full article for more information.

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Learning from Recent Trademark Cases

Recent cases offer lessons for brewers navigating the often-tricky obstacles surrounding the selection, use and enforcement of trademarks. Whether a brewery is choosing a logo or naming a new beer, the latest decisions highlighted in this article underscore the importance of doing due diligence when it comes to trademarks. Access the full article. Originally published in The New Brewer, September/October 2019.

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2nd Circ. Tussle Distills Court Divide on Booze Laws

Sharp disagreements in the Second Circuit over whether a Connecticut liquor law runs afoul of antitrust law, recently exposed in a bitter dissent, highlight a circuit split that some experts predict will be taken up by the US Supreme Court. A three-judge panel upheld the law in February by batting down a retailer's challenge to three parts of Connecticut's liquor sales law, including a controversial "post and hold" provision that lets wholesalers match each other's prices. The panel rejected the retailers' claim that the provision forced wholesalers into illegal price-fixing deals. "There is a split, and it's an important area," said Raymond Jacobsen Jr., McDermott partner, backing the retailer's view that the "post and hold" requirement creates a clear state-sanctioned violation of the Sherman Act. He said he believes it's a question that will intrigue the justices. Access the full article. Originally published on Law360, September 2019.

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Court Dismisses Challenge to TTB’s Rejection of Health Claims on Vodka

In August, the US District Court for the District of Columbia issued its final decision in Bellion Spirits, LLC v. United States, Civ. No. 17-2538 (JEB). The Bellion case was brought by spirits company Bellion Spirits after the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) refused to approve a series of health claims advanced by Bellion in connection with its vodka products. According to Bellion, the infusion of its vodka with a compound called NTX will mitigate the damage alcohol inflicts on human DNA. In 2016, Bellion petitioned TTB to approve eight specific claims related to the NTX-infused vodka. After consulting with the federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA), in 2017 TTB rejected all eight claims. Bellion then brought suit, arguing that TTB’s actions with respect to two of its claims were illegal and unconstitutional. Bellion’s complaint advanced four counts alleging that: TTB impermissibly delegated authority to FDA by consulting with FDA during...

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TTB Label Approval System Survives First Amendment Challenge from DC Brewery

I. Factual Background During the 34-day government shutdown occurring between December 2018 and January 2019, producers and importers of beer, wine and distilled spirits needing label approval to bring new products to market were forced to wait until the shutdown was resolved, when TTB could begin again to process COLA applications. The difficulties presented by this situation included the prospect of needing to destroy valuable, perishable inventory. Unable to obtain a COLA due to the shutdown, Atlas Brew Works (Atlas) filed suit in January in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the constitutionality of the COLA system. Atlas alleged that the requirement to obtain label approval violates the First Amendment, since, in the event of a government shutdown, the COLA requirement amounted to a prior restraint on protected speech. As the court explained in its opinion, Atlas’s argument boiled down to the claim that “a law that prohibits...

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TTB Publishes New Nonbeverage Product Formula Form

On August 12, 2019, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published its updated Formula and Process for Nonbeverage Product, TTB Form 5154.1. The Nonbeverage Product approval process is critical to obtain “drawback” (a refund) on most of the alcohol excise tax on distilled spirits used to make such products deemed “unfit for beverage purposes.” The Nonbeverage Formula Form accordingly is important to producers of flavorings and extracts, soft drink concentrates and other non-beverage products made using potable alcohol. Nonbeverage drawback claimants, using the Formula Form, must show that taxpaid distilled spirits were used in the manufacture of a product unfit for beverage use. Today, most formulas are submitted online, although TTB’s National Laboratory in Maryland can still accept paper submissions. Notable features of the new form include: Previously, the Nonbeverage Formula Form requested information specifically if the finished product...

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Cannabis and Hemp Update

Cannabis legalization receives widespread popular support. According to opinion polls, more than two-thirds of Americans support full legalization—a steep rise in support considering that as recently as 2005, almost two-thirds of Americans opposed legalization. The country appears on the path to full cannabis legalization, but until that time, citizens and companies should be aware of the legal risks involved in entering the cannabis space. Access the full article. Originally published in The New Brewer, July/August 2019.

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FDA CBD Docket Closed, Agency to Soon Provide Status Report

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has increased its efforts to follow through on its commitment to provide guidance to stakeholders on the regulatory landscape for products containing CBD. On May 31, 2019, the FDA held a public hearing to obtain scientific data and information about the safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, labeling and sale of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds. Following the hearing, the FDA established a docket to allow the public to submit additional comments, research and information to the Agency. The docket closed on July 16 and received nearly 5,000 comments. On July 12, FDA Chief Information Officer and Principal Deputy Commissioner Dr. Amy Abernethy confirmed via Twitter that the Agency is “expediting its work to address” questions surrounding CBD and plans “to report on [its] progress around end of summer/early fall.” Due to the significant number of comments to the docket, it remains to be...

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Implications of the Supreme Court’s Tennessee Retailers Decision

As virtually everyone in the US alcohol beverage industry knows, last week the US Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Assn. v. Thomas, S.Ct. No. 18-96 (June 26, 2019). Now that over a week has passed since the release of that decision, it’s time to reflect on what it means and what is coming next.  1. Background Tennessee law imposes a two-year durational residency requirement on applicants for a license to operate a retail liquor store. (Two additional provisions struck by the lower courts—one ostensibly requiring 10 years of residency to renew a license and the other mandating that every shareholder of a corporate applicant be a Tennessee resident—were not defended by any party and therefore not at issue in the Supreme Court.) Two applicants that did not meet the residency requirements, one an affiliate of US retail giant Total Wine, sought licensing. The trade group for Tennessee’s liquor retailers, the Tennessee...

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TTB Publishes NPRMs to Repeal Standards of Fill for Wine and Distilled Spirits

On Monday, July 1, 2019, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published two eagerly anticipated notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs) to largely repeal the standards of fill for wine and distilled spirits containers. The highlights: In the preamble to both NPRMs, TTB advances a number of significant policy beliefs on the topic of standards of fill, including: Standards of fill are no longer needed to help protect the revenue and enforce the excise tax. Standards of fill are not critical to protecting consumers, because consumers can rely on mandatory net content statements on labels. The lack of any standards of fill for malt beverages has not created any revenue or consumer deception problems. For spirits, TTB proposes to eliminate all standards except for a minimum of 50 milliliters and a maximum of 3.785 liters (one gallon). The maximum reflects the Federal Alcohol Administration Act’s statutory maximum for distilled spirit containers. For...

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