By: Dae Y. Lee, Pharm.D., Esq., CPBS
Six class action lawsuits have been filed against cannabidiol (CBD) manufacturers immediately following the November 25, 2019 warning letters issued by the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA). These warning letters were sent to 15 companies for selling products containing CBD. The FDA maintains that food and dietary supplements are not allowed, under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), to contain any level of CBD. The FD&C Act makes it clear that any product intended to treat a disease or otherwise have a therapeutic or medical use, and any product (other than food) that is intended to affect the structure or function of the body of humans or animals, is a drug. The FDA has not approved any CBD products other than Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. The FDA has sent numerous warning letters to companies that sell CBD products in interstate commerce that claimed to prevent, diagnose, mitigate, treat or cure serious diseases. However, the FDA has not launched a judicial action against a CBD manufacturer.
The class action lawsuits are identical to each other and each complaint mimics the FDA’s concerns over illegal sale of the CBD products. Four cases, DaSilva v. Infinite Product Co. LLC, Davis v. Green Roads of Florida, LLC, McCarthy v. Charlotte’s Web Holdings, Inc., and Colette v. CV Sciences, Inc., alleging that the manufacturers’ CBD products were mislabeled as dietary supplements. Two cases, McCarthy v. Elixinol, LLC, and Fausett v. KOI CBD, LLC, note that the defendants sold CBD products as dietary supplements as well as animal foods. KOI CBD, LLC is among the 15 companies that received the most recent FDA warning letters. Prior to these lawsuits, there have been several lawsuits that have been filed against CBD manufacturers including a shareholder class action lawsuit filed against Curaleaf Inc. when the company’s stock fell abruptly after it received a warning letter from the FDA.
The recent lawsuits suggest a new wave of litigation in the CBD industry given that the FD&C Act does not provide for a private right of action under which members of the public can commence a civil action to enforce the FD&C Act. The putative classes assert, instead of arguing that the use of CBD in products violates the FD&C Act, that the CBD products are mislabeled and falsely advertised under state consumer protection laws. More specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants manufactured and sold CBD products in violation of California and Arizona state laws including, but not limited to, California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, and Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and Arizona’s Consumer Fraud Act.
Many future lawsuits are expected to focus on allegations of mislabeling, accusing the companies of falsely representing the CBD content of their products. The lawsuits will likely involve not only the manufacturers but also other stakeholders in the supply chain including extraction and remediation companies. CBD stakeholders should prepare for the possibility of litigation and actively seek to mitigate the risks of unwanted attention by FDA or civil lawsuits. It is likely that more issues will surface given the ever-evolving regulations in the CBD industry. Frier Levitt helps CBD companies and manufacturers navigate complex issues, including many services based on flat fees. Contact Frier Levitt today to speak to an attorney.