Tag Archives: law

Two Recalls Hit California Cannabis Market

By Aaron G. Biros
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Just weeks ago, the first voluntary cannabis product recall occurred under California’s new regulations. According to an article on MJBizDaily.com by John Schroyer, the recall for their vaporizer cartridges affects almost 100 dispensaries in California.

Bloom Brands, the company issuing the voluntary recall, mentioned in a press release that batches sold between July 1-19, 2018 were contaminated with the pesticide Myclobutanil and therefore does not meet the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) standards. Below is an excerpt from the press release:

We are working closely with the BCC to remedy this issue and expect clean, compliant products to be back on shelves in three weeks…. At Bloom, we are continuing to work with the BCC and other partners to ensure that the space is properly regulated and safe for all customers. Transparency and safety remain our top concerns and we will provide updates as additional information becomes available. We apologize for any concern or inconvenience this serious misstep has caused. We thank you for your continued trust and confidence in our products.

Then, just days later, Lowell Herb Co. issued a voluntary recall on their pre-rolls. First reported by MJBizDaily.com, it appears the products initially passed multiple lab tests and was cleared for retail sales. Weeks after the batch passed tests, a laboratory reversed its decision, saying the products failed to pass the state’s testing standards. The contaminant in question was not mentioned.

The CCIA post calling out the BCC
The CCIA post calling out the BCC

Many seem to think these recalls are a product of the BCC’s unrealistic expectations in their lab testing rules. In a Facebook post days ago, the California Cannabis Industry Association called out the BCC for their unworkable rules. “The BCC has set testing standards that are nearly impossible to meet,” reads the post. “As a result recalls like this will be the norm and the industry will suffer a bottleneck in supply. Testing standards need to be realistic, not impossible.”

On July 13, California issued the first draft of their proposed permanent regulations, which would update and change the current emergency regulations. The proposed action levels for a batch to pass a pesticide test can be found on pages 105 and 106. The state’s regulatory bodies are holding public meetings on the proposed rules throughout August and stakeholders can also submit comments via email.

Dr. Ed Askew
From The Lab

Quality Plans for Lab Services: Managing Risks as a Grower, Processor or Dispensary, Part 4

By Dr. Edward F. Askew
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Dr. Ed Askew

In the last three articles, I discussed the laboratory’s responses or defenses used to reply to your questions about laboratory results that place stress on the success of your business. The Quality Control (QC) results can cause this stress if they are not run correctly to answer the following questions:

  1. Are the laboratory results really true?
  2. Can the laboratory accurately analyze sample products like my sample?
  3. Can the laboratory reproduce the sample results for my type of sample?

Now let’s discuss the most important QC test that will protect your crop and business. That QC sample is the Matrix Sample. In the last article in this series, you were introduced to many QC samples. The Matrix Sample and Duplicate were some of them. Take a look back at Part 3 to familiarize yourself with the definitions.

The key factors of these QC sample types are:

  1. Your sample is used to determine if the analysis used by the laboratory can extract the analyte that is being reported back to you. This is performed by the following steps:
    1. Your sample is analyzed by the laboratory as received.
    2. Then a sub-sample of your sample is spiked with a known concentration of the analyte you are looking for (e.g. pesticides, bacteria, organic chemicals, etc.).
    3. The difference between the sample with and without a spike indicates whether the laboratory can even find the analyte of concern and whether the percent recovery is acceptable.
    4. Examples of failures are from my experiences:
      1. Laboratory 1 spiked a known amount of a pesticide into a wastewater matrix. (e.g. Silver into final treatment process water). The laboratory failed to recover any of the spiked silver. Therefore the laboratory results for these types of sample were not reporting any silver, but silver may be present. This is where laboratory results would be false negatives and the laboratory method may not work on the matrix (your sample) correctly. .
      2. Laboratory 2 ran an analysis for a toxic compound (e.g. Cyanide in final waste treatment discharge). A known amount of cyanide was spiked into a matrix sample and 4 times the actual concentration of that cyanide spike was recovered. This is where laboratory results would be called false positives and the laboratory method may not work on the matrix (your sample) correctly.
  2. Can the laboratory reproduce the results they reported to you?
    1. The laboratory needs to repeat the matrix spike analysis to provide duplicate results. Then a comparison of the results from the first matrix spike with its duplicate results will show if the laboratory can duplicate their test on your sample.
      1. If the original matrix spike result and the duplicate show good agreement (e.g. 20% relative percent difference or lower). Then you can be relatively sure that the result you obtained from the laboratory is true.
      2. But, if the original matrix spike result and the duplicate do not show good agreement (e.g. greater than 20% relative percent difference). Then you can be sure that the result you obtained from the laboratory is not true and you should question the laboratory’s competence.

Now, the question is why a laboratory would not perform these matrix spike and duplicate QC samples? Well, the following may apply:

  1. These matrix samples take too much time.
  2. These matrix samples add a cost that the laboratory cannot recover.
  3. These matrix samples are too difficult for the laboratory staff to perform.
  4. Most importantly: Matrix samples show the laboratory cannot perform the analyses correctly on the matrix.

So, what types of cannabis matrices are out there? Some examples include bud, leaf, oils, extracts and edibles. Those are some of the matrices and each one has their own testing requirements. So, what should you require from your laboratory?

  1. The laboratory must use your sample for both a matrix spike and a duplicate QC sample.
  2. The percent recovery of both the matrix spike and the duplicate will be between 80% and 120%. If either of the QC samples fail, then you should be notified immediately and the samples reanalyzed.
  3. If the relative percent difference between the matrix spike and the duplicate will be 20% or less. If the QC samples fail, then you should be notified immediately and the samples should be reanalyzed.

The impact of questionable laboratory results on your business with failing or absent matrix spike and the duplicate QC samples can be prevented. It is paramount that you hold the laboratory responsible to produce results that are representative of your sample matrix and that are true.

The next article will focus on how your business will develop a quality plan for your laboratory service provider with a specific focus on the California Code Of Regulations, Title 16, Division 42. Bureau Of Cannabis Control requirements.

CannaVation logo

Jefferson University Cannabis Innovation Competition Accepting Submissions

By Aaron G. Biros
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CannaVation logo

Thomas Jefferson University’s Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp announced recently that it is co-sponsoring the third annual JAZ Tank Challenge: CannaVATION Edition.

Jefferson Innovation’s 2018 JAZ Tank Challenge: CannaVATION Edition is currently accepting submissions of innovative business models for a chance to compete on October 3, where finalists will each present their business ideas in a 10-minute pitch. Winning submissions could get one free provisional or utility patent application and business and clinical consulting services. The competition will be accepting submissions through August 20, 2018.

Finalists will compete for a $10,000 grand prize, legal support and business consultation services.  According to the announcement, in addition to the grand prize winner, up to two other teams could win $5,000 in financial support, one free provisional or utility patent application and consulting services as well.

to Zoe McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center
Zoe McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center

According to Zoe McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center, the competition is designed to have a national focus, not just on the Pennsylvania cannabis industry. “We are excited to shine a spotlight on Pennsylvania, and Thomas Jefferson University specifically, as a hub for research in medical cannabis, but like the competition, the Lambert Center has a national and even international focus,” says McKinley. She says this is also the first year that the JAZ tank is exclusively focused on cannabis.

Jefferson’s Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Rose Ritts, notes “the competition is about creating a platform for emerging concepts to get a toe-hold on the path to potential commercialization. Anything that will improve patient access or outcomes …or improve the industrial hemp market in the U.S. is definitely of interest,” says Ritts. “We welcome companies to jump into the Challenge, and we also welcome investors or anyone thinking about getting into this space to be in the audience for our event on October 3.”

Dr. Rose Ritts, Jefferson’s Chief Innovation Officer
Dr. Rose Ritts, Jefferson’s Chief Innovation Officer

The challenge is an annual healthcare startup competition, where new businesses with particularly innovative ideas and technology solutions for the legal cannabis space submit their business models to a panel of judges for review. “This event will bring together the most inventive minds to pitch their solutions to stakeholder problems in the still-emerging medical and medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp industries,” reads the announcement. The Lambert Center is seeking applicants in a wide variety of business areas, including patient access, product design, plant science, information management, horticultural technology, sustainability, transportation, security, workforce training, community outreach, banking and public education.

Lambert Center Director Charles Pollack, MD sees the massive growth potential of the legal cannabis industry. “At our Center we are dedicated to identifying new approaches to developing cannabinoid-based therapies that help patients with various debilitating symptoms and diseases,” says Pollack. “Our JAZ Tank Challenge may identify the next great idea in medicinal cannabis.”

CannaVation logoThrough the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp, Jefferson is the first major university in the US to provide a comprehensive academic resource for the medicinal, medical and industrial applications and business of cannabis and hemp. The Lambert Center, the first of its kind in academia, provides “expert-developed, unbiased information to clinicians and patients about medical cannabis and cannabinoid-based therapies,” according to their website. They want to “support the development of entrepreneurial and socially responsible business and clinical approaches within the emerging medical cannabis industry and explore and develop new ways to use hemp in medical, industrial, and consumer products,” reads the website.

McKinley mentions they are looking for creative approaches to solving problems in the medical cannabis and industrial hemp industry. “These could be anything from new products or supply chain innovations to patient support tools to energy management systems that lower the environmental impact of grow facilities,” says McKinley. “We are hoping to see companies that have already launched, or are ready to very quickly.” The third annual JAZ Tank Challenge: CannaVATION Edition is accepting submissions through August 20. Click here for more information.

UKflag

British Government Agrees To Loosen Rules on Prescribing Medical Cannabis

By Marguerite Arnold
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UKflag

After a year of embarrassing missteps and revelations, along with two well-run advocacy campaigns by the parents of children with drug-resistant epilepsy, the British government is finally throwing in the towel on medical cannabis.

Sadly, politics rather than science has driven the pace of British cannabis legalizationIn the last week of July, a mere two weeks after announcing his review of the issue against mounting domestic pressure and outrage in the media, Sajid Javid, the home secretary, announced that cannabis medications will be rescheduled by the fall, allowing doctors to prescribe them more widely.

“Fall,” it should be noted, is not only when the Canadian government moves ahead with its own fully recreational market, but also when the German bid respondents need to file their paperwork to participate in the country’s first grow bid, Round II.

A Political Embarrassment Beyond Brexit

Sadly, politics rather than science has driven the pace of British cannabis legalization, just like it has in other places. However the UK is one of the best examples of how far medical knowledge has outstripped the pace of political change, and in this case, exposed bare the banal reason.

News broke this summer, as two families mounted a highly successful battle in the public for medical access, that the Prime Minister herself has personally profited from a status quo that is only now slowly going to change.

How and why?

Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK
Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK
Image: Annika Haas, Flickr

It was bad enough in May that the publicly anti-pot reformer Victoria Atkins, the cabinet level British drugs minister, was married to the managing director of British Sugar, the company with the exclusive right to grow cannabis in the British Isles. British Sugar is also the sole cultivator for GW Pharmaceuticals, the only company with the license to produce cannabis medications in the UK (and export them globally). In June, however, it emerged that Prime Minister Theresa May’s husband, Phillip May, is employed by Capital Group– an investment firm that is also the largest shareholder in GW Pharma. This is against the backdrop of news that broke earlier this year that GW Pharma had made the UK the single largest exporter of cannabis-based medicine annually. Globally. Even more than all of the Canadian firms combined currently exporting to Europe and beyond. Even as the drug is largely denied to British residents.

You don’t even have to be British to think the entire situation is more than a bit of a sticky wicket.

Vested, If Not Blueblood Interests

This development also came to light right as GW Pharma’s newest focal epilepsy drug faltered to failure in Eastern European trials and as Epidiolex, the company’s drug for certain kinds of childhood epilepsy, was given the green light in the U.S. by the government as the “first” cannabis-based medication to be allowed for sale in America.Epidiolex-GW

No one has yet defined exactly what kind of cannabinoids will be allowed to be prescribed in the UK come fall, but here is the most interesting development of all that still hangs over the British Isles like stale smoke: Will competitors to GW Pharma be allowed to sell their products to medical customers in the UK or will this new opening for patients just create more of a monopolized windfall for one company whose profits, at least, lie in “pharmatizing” the drug rather than creating greater access to the raw plant or its close derivatives? And those profits flow to women (and men) with the greatest political control over the development of the industry in the country.

Is This Really A “Legalization” Victory?

In the short term, no matter how limited, the answer is actually yes. Rescheduling the drug is a step that has not even been taken in the U.S., and will serve, medically, to reset the needle if not the debate about the circumstances under which cannabis should be used for patients.GW logo

It will also move the punishment discussion in a way that still has not happened in places like Germany where, technically, the drug has not yet been decriminalized even though doctors are prescribing it and public health insurers cover the costs for increasing numbers of patients. Large numbers of Britons, just like everywhere else, are incarcerated every year or obtain black marks on their records for mere possession that in turn can affect lives.

Finally, it will put recreational reform in the room, even if still knocking at the door. This discussion too has been gaining in popularity over the past year in particular as reform moves elsewhere. Like Germans, like Canadians and like Americans, reform in Colorado and Washington set loose a global revolution, which will clearly not be stopped.

Even if in places like the UK, it is still moving far slower than it should be. For political and business reasons, not driven by science.

EVIO Logo

EVIO Labs Massachusetts Accredited to ISO 17025

By Aaron G. Biros
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EVIO Logo

EVIO Inc.’s Massachusetts lab announced yesterday they received ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation from the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA). According to the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, the body in charge of regulating the state’s cannabis industry, accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025: 2017 is a requirement for cannabis testing labs.

The press release says this makes EVIO Labs Massachusetts one of only a few operating and accredited testing laboratories serving the state’s medical cannabis industry. With recreational sales coming shortly to the state, EVIO is preparing for a higher demand in their lab testing services. “We are very proud of all of the teams’ hard work that resulted in this advanced accreditation,” says James Kocis, lab director of EVIO Labs Massachusetts. “With the state-mandated laboratory regulations, EVIO upholds the high standards of testing and plays a pivotal role in ensuring consumer safety and confidence in the states burgeoning marijuana market.”

According to Adam Gouker, general manager at A2LA, EVIO Labs Massachusetts, based in Southborough, MA, is the first cannabis laboratory they accredited in the state. “A2LA is excited to expand our cannabis accreditation program into yet another state, promoting the value of independent third-party accreditation to support quality products in the industry,” says Gouker. “Having the opportunity to work with a prominent name in the industry such as EVIO Labs and assess their exceptional Massachusetts laboratory has been an additional bonus.”

EVIO LogoAccording to the A2LA press release, by achieving ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation, EVIO Labs Massachusetts demonstrates that they “have management, quality and technical systems in place to ensure accurate and reliable analyses, as well as proper administrative processes to ensure that all aspects related to the sample, the analysis, and the reporting are standardized, measured, and monitored.” It also requires that personnel are competent to perform each analysis.

EVIO Inc. operates in the cannabis testing market with lab services in a number of states, including Oregon, California and Florida among others. Their Florida location was the first accredited cannabis lab in the state and they recently earned the same accreditation for their Berkeley, California location.

Maureen Smyth headshot
Soapbox

Raising the Standard for Dispensary Education: Building a Better Budtender

By Maureen Smyth
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Maureen Smyth headshot

At the National Cannabis Industry Association’s (NCIA) Cannabis Business Summit and Expo last week there was a presentation titled, “Raising the Standard for Dispensary Education: Building a Better Breed of Budtender.” Speakers included Adam Cole, learning and development specialist at Native Roots Dispensaries and Dr. Aseem Sappal, provost and dean of faculty at Oaksterdam University. Nancy Whiteman, owner of Wana Brands, was the moderator. Let’s look at some of the ways they have standardized their process in cannabis retail education.Health effects achieved in one patient are not always replicated for every patient. This is true of all medicine.

The standard education module at Native Roots (20 retail locations throughout Colorado, and were awarded licenses in Manitoba, Canada) for onboarding a budtender includes laws and compliance, ID checking and sales limits, customer service and physical effects. Oaksterdam University provides cannabis education and focuses on botany, introduction to the endocannabinoid system, bioavailability, CBD, and edibles vs. smoking as a delivery mechanism. In addition to the already mentioned classes, Wana Brands also teaches the concept of sustained release and capsules (due to product specificity). The Native Roots educational program contains continuing education in the history of cannabis, the endocannabinoid system, methods of consumption, phytocannabinoids and terpenes. For those of you in medical professions beginning your cannabis education, these modules provide a great outline to launch your own learning and development program.

How can dispensaries integrate the medical profession at the point of distribution?The presentation highlighted the legal aspects of providing cannabis information and cannabis products. A licensed medical professional oversees all educational content and everything is run through a legal department. It is important that all cannabis providers use language that offers no definitive medical outcomes. Health effects achieved in one patient are not always replicated for every patient. This is true of all medicine. At Native Roots Dispensary, they address symptoms not diseases. They have specific language to avoid giving medical advice. For good reason, there is a state regulatory body called the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) that oversees dispensaries and their adherence to the “no medical advice” decree, along with a slew of other regulatory compliance issues.

Dispensaries offer careful symptom-based product recommendations to many types of consumers. How can dispensaries integrate the medical profession at the point of distribution? Native Roots has partnerships with doctors and the Rocky Mountain Cancer Institute. Additionally, the CEO of Wana Brands mentioned the use of medical kiosks in some dispensaries. My question to Adam Cole was, “Would you like to see trained cannabis nurses on staff or on board as a consultant in dispensaries to deal with patients and have the budtenders service the customer?” His answer: “Absolutely.”

2018 Food Safety Consortium

Save the Dates for the 6th Annual Food Safety Consortium conference in Schaumburg, IL, a summit of Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) industry experts and government officials. The 2018 Food Safety Consortium will have a cannabis track this year where topics will include: regulations, standards, cannabis food safety & quality and much more.

NCIA Releases Cannabis Testing Policy Guides

By Aaron G. Biros
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The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) announced earlier this week the release of two white papers at their Cannabis Business Summit in San Jose, California. The first white paper, dedicated to cannabis testing policy, offers recommendations for state’s addressing cannabis testing, advising them on how to write rules for the testing market.“As wonderful as cannabis is, we’ll face a crisis together as an industry way too soon.  When it happens, the key will be how we respond to it,” says Moss.

The NCIA Policy Council is like a think tank for helping for and shape state and federal level policy related to cannabis. Kurshid Khoja, principal at Greenbridge Corporate Counsel and member of the Policy Council, says this release of the testing policy recommendations demonstrates how we can help shape policy on the state level. “As both an NCIA Board member and a member of the Policy Council, I am really excited about the Council’s work,” says Khoja. “Somewhat under the radar, the Policy Council is establishing itself as the think tank for the cannabis industry. On topics ranging from tax policy to pesticides to international competition, the Policy Council is churning out quality papers to raise awareness and educate policy makers in DC. With the release of its testing policy recommendations this week, the Policy Council is demonstrating that it could also help shape policy on the state level.”

The second white paper is meant to provide guidance to businesses dealing with crisis communications. The manual describes best practices in crisis communications, showing businesses how to identify and avoid potential public communications issues in the cannabis industry.

Jeanine Moss, Crisis Manual Subcommittee Chair of NCIA’s Marketing & Advertising Committee, says the creation of a crisis manual is meant to preempt problems we might face soon in the cannabis industry. “As wonderful as cannabis is, we’ll face a crisis together as an industry way too soon.  When it happens, the key will be how we respond to it,” says Moss. “That’s why we think it is so important for NCIA members to have an easy and practical guide that can not only help protect businesses during a crisis, but also the industry as a whole. This manual will help businesses prevent problems, keep issues from spiraling out of control, and share positive messages during times of stress.”

The guides will be presented this week at the NCIA’s Cannabis Business Summit & Expo in San Jose, California.

The Importance of Medical Cannabis Trials In Europe

By Marguerite Arnold
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Calls for more testing have been a watchword of both cannabis reform advocates and opponents alike for many years.

However, now is a really good time for cannabis companies to consider sponsoring medical trials across Europe for their cannabis products. This is why:

The Current Environment On The Ground

Germany is Europe’s biggest consumer of both prescription medications and medical devices dispensed by prescription. It is, as a result, Europe’s most valuable drug market. And ground zero for every international cannabis company right now as a result.Targeting Germany for your latest pharmaceutical product is difficult no matter who you are.

Here, however, are a few problems that face every pharma manufacturer, far beyond cannabis. Targeting Germany for your latest pharmaceutical product is difficult no matter who you are.

  1. The vast majority by euro spending on all drugs and devices dispensed by prescription must be pre-approved. To add to this problem, before they can be prescribed, new drugs must get on the radar of doctors somehow. To put this in stark relief, the entire prescription drug and medical device annual spend is about 120 billion euros a year in Germany. Only 20 billion euros of that, however, may be obtained relatively easily (without pre-approval from an insurer). Preapproval also only comes when there is trialor other scientific evidence of efficacy.
  2. There are strict rules banning the advertising of prescription drugs to patients and highly limiting this outreach to doctors.
  3. There are strict rules prohibiting the use of the word “cannabis” to promote anything.
  4. There is a strong reliance on what is called “evidence-based medicine.” That means that large numbers of doctors and insurance company approvers need to see hard data that this drug or device actually works better than what is currently on the market.

How then, is a new drug supposed to get on the radar of those who prescribe the drug? Or patients?

If this sounds like an impossible situation to navigate, do not despair. There is a way out.

The Impact of the European Medicines Agency

This agency has been much in the news of late. Namely, the British do not want to exclude themselves from the regulatory umbrella of this organization.

Largely unknown outside Europe, this agency actually has a hugeinfluence on how drugs are brought into the region. Specifically, this is the EU-wide agency (aka the EMA) that both regulates all drugs within Europe, but has also, since 2016, been making clinical reports submitted by pharmaceutical companies, available to anyone who asks for them. That includes doctors, members of the public and of course, the industry itself.

In the middle of July, the agency also published a report on the success of its now three-year-old program, including the usage of its entry website. Conveniently written in English, it is possible to easily search new trial data, which, also now must be made public.

Medical trial data, in other words, that can be created by sponsored cannabis company backed trials.

It remains the best way to get patients, doctors and insurance companies familiar with new drugs. Or even new uses for old drugs in the case of cannabis.

Will Trials Move Legalization Discussions?

Of all the established cannabis companies now in operations with producton the ground, GW Pharmaceuticals has learned that this strategy can actually cut both ways.GW logo-2

However,there are no other cannabis companies in the position of GW Pharma – namely with a monopoly on a whole country (the UK), where it alone can legally grow cannabis crops and process the same into medication and further for very profitable export. In addition, even more disturbingly, and clearly an era that is coming to an end, the vast majority of British patients have been excluded from access to cannabis except in the case of GW Pharma products.

The current row over expanded medical use in the UK, in fact, was triggered by two things. The failure of the latest GW Pharma trial for drug resistant epilepsy in Eastern Europe. And the deliberate importation by several desperate families, of good old cannabis (CBD) oil into the UK. No medical processing required.

GW Pharma said their product Epidiolex (for the treatment of childhood epilepsy) is being considered by the European Medicines Agency

However, that is the UK.

Other cannabis companies can take a page out of the company’s handbook. All that is required for faster market entry, is a slightly altered recipe.

By sponsoring cannabis-related trials in each country they want to enter, starting with Germany, cannabis companies can literally put themselves on the medical map.

Why?

Because doctors, patients andother researchers will be easily able to see and access country-specific medical data on each use of cannabis covered by a trial, per EU country. All made possible, of course, by the new open door policy of the EMA.

Growing the Medical Market

While this may sound like an “expensive” proposition, there are really few other alternatives. And with no advertising budget, plus a marketing budget that must include outreach to everyone in the supply chain including doctors, distributors and even pharmacies, the trial approach in the end may be the most efficacious in broadening both the demand and market. Not to mention the cheaper option.

How such a trial strategy might be coordinated at a time when domestic cultivation is still on hold is still a question. However for those companies considering market entry and cultivation bid if not domestic processing strategies for their products is an industry strategy that will pay off in spades.

Its role in the legalization of cannabis as medicine, as well as the speedier introduction of new drugs overall into the European system,cannot be underestimated, even if it is currently underutilized by the cannabis industry specifically now.

David Kluft headshot

How to Protect Your Trademarks When You Can’t Protect Your Trademarks

By David Kluft
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David Kluft headshot

Federal trademark registrations are invaluable tools for emerging businesses. They put the world on notice of a company’s name; they can secure nationwide priority over others using similar names; they distinguish a product in the marketplace; they provide crucial advantages in trademark infringement lawsuits; and they are instrumental in building goodwill. But if you sell cannabis, a federal trademark registration will not do any of those things for you … because you can’t get one.

Someday, the USPTO policy may change and there could be a gold rush for federal cannabis trademark registrations.The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) continues to refuse to register federal trademarks for cannabis businesses, even if the sale of cannabis is legal in the state where the businesses are located. The USPTO’s reasoning goes something like this: federal trademark law allows for the registration of trademarks associated with goods in “lawful” commerce, which means that the goods are not illegal under federal law. Cannabis, and its psychoactive component, THC, remain Schedule I substances under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Therefore, irrespective of state laws to the contrary, and irrespective of whether the federal law is actually enforced, the manufacture and sale of cannabis is not “lawful” commerce.

This reasoning is of fairly recent vintage. In 2009, by which time about fifteen states had legalized medical cannabis, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Drug Enforcement Administration would cease raids on state-sanctioned medical cannabis facilities. The USPTO followed Holder’s lead in 2010 and created a new category of acceptable goods and services for marks related to “medical marijuana.” Within months, however, the USPTO had retreated from this “mistake” and changed its practice manual expressly to preclude such registrations.

David Kluft headshot
David Kluft, partner in the Boston office of Foley Hoag, LLP

Many argue that the USPTO’s position is unjustifiable as a matter of public policy. Making it easier to infringe the trademarks of state-sanctioned businesses does not advance the purposes of the CSA, and it directly undermines a key goal of trademark law, which is to prevent the proliferation of confusingly similar trademarks. But the merits of these arguments have been lost on the USPTO, which continues to refuse to register marks for anything it perceives to be prohibited by the CSA.

So if you own a cannabis business, what can you do to protect your goodwill while the federal government maintains its current policy? Below are some ideas. Admittedly, none of them– individually or collectively – is a substitute for federal registration. But each of them is better than nothing, and all of them may help to establish your ownership and priority when and if the USPTO changes its policy.

  1. State Trademark Registrations. Each state has its own trademark registration system. State registration may offer protection from infringers within the state, or at least within the parts of the state where the registrant operates, and for that reason alone it is probably worth the small cost involved. However, state registration will have little to no efficacy outside the state. You cannot use a State A registration to file a lawsuit in State B, or to stop infringement in State B, or even to prevent conflicting registrations in State B. Additionally, most state trademark registrants, unlike federal registrants, do not benefit from presumptions of validity and ownership in the litigation context.
  2. Related Federal Registrations. Many cannabis businesses also pursue federal registrations for whatever aspects of their business are not prohibited by the CSA. For example, even though the USPTO refused the POWERED BY JUJU mark for cannabis vaporizers (because it was CSA-prohibited “paraphernalia”), it allowed the same company to register the same mark for “vaporizers for smoking purposes not for use with cannabis.” The USPTO has also allowed registrations for cannabis-related business consulting (e.g., CANNACARD; PRAIRIEJUANA); investment analysis (e.g., FORTUNE420); clothing (e.g., CANNABIS COUTURE, THE MARIJUANA COMPANY); and for CBD – as opposed to THC – derivatives (e.g., CBD LIQUID GOLD). Once the USPTO permits federal registrations for cannabis marks and the inevitable disputes over ownership arise, such federal registrations for these related products and services are likely to be highly persuasive evidence in the registrants’ favor. Moreover, even in the current legal climate, federal registrations (especially when cited in a demand letter) are of great practical use in convincing others not to use confusingly similar marks.
  3. Common Law Unfair Competition. Unfair competition is a state common law cause of action that was a precursor to modern trademark law, and it is still available to protect commercial goodwill even in the absence of a state or federal trademark registration. However, unfair competition law has similar territorial restrictions as state registration. In some cases, the protected territory may be even narrower, limited only to the area within which the plaintiff can prove consumer recognition of the mark.
  4. Other Intellectual Property Protection. Copyright law, unlike federal trademark law, has no “lawful” commerce requirement, and the U.S. Copyright Office regularly issues registrations for cannabis-related copyrights. While copyright will not protect a short phrase such as a business name, it will protect a creative logo design or original packaging, and can be very effective when it comes to getting infringing uses taken down from the internet. Note also that the USPTO does not appear to have the same qualms about legality when it comes to patents, and it often grants patent protection to useful, new and non-obvious inventions related to the cannabis industry.
  5. Save stuff. Finally, if you do nothing else, save stuff. Document that first sale; keep a copy of that first shipping invoice; and save that file containing your original packaging design. Someday, the USPTO policy may change and there could be a gold rush for federal cannabis trademark registrations. Your lawyer is going to ask you for proof of your first uses of the mark, and you don’t want your response to be a glassy stare. So keep your eyes on the eventual prize and stay ready.