Quality Plans for Lab Services: Managing Risks as a Grower, Processor or Dispensary, Part 5

Protection in the Court of Public Opinion

In the last four articles, I have outlined areas that impact your operations as they apply to laboratory quality programs. But this article will take a different path. It will focus on protecting your crop and brand along with any business that utilizes your crop, such as dispensaries or edible manufactures in the court of public opinion.

Now, the elephant in the room for cannabis companies is the difference between rules written by the state and their enforcement by the state. There are many anecdotal stories out there that can be used as case studies in identifying ways to protect your brand. Remember, consumers and the media caught them, not the regulators.

Cheating in the cannabis industry: growers, dispensaries, edibles manufactures, etc. This includes:

  1. Finding laboratories that will produce results that the client wants (higher potency numbers)
  2. Not testing for a particular contaminant that may be present in the cannabis product.
  3. Selling failed crops on the gray or black market.
  4. Claiming to regulators that the state rules are unclear and cannot be followed (e.g. So, give me another chance, officer)

So why should you be worried? Because, even if the state where you operate fails to enforce its own rules, the final end-user of your product will hold you accountable! If you produce any cannabis product and fail to consider these end-users, you will be found out in the court of public opinion by either the media or by the even more effective word of mouth (e.g. Social Media).

So, let’s take a look at some recent examples of these problems:

  1. “Fungus In Medical Marijuana Eyed As Possible Cause In California Man’s Death”
  2. “Pesticides and Pot: What’s California Smoking?”
  3. Buyers beware: California cannabis sold Jan. 1 could be tainted”

Each of these reports lists contamination by microbial stains or pesticides as being rampant within the California market whose products are used for medical or recreational use. Just imagine the monetary losses these cannabis businesses faced for their recalled cannabis product when they got caught. Remember, consumers and the media caught them, not the regulators.Institute a quality program in your business immediately.

How can you be caught? There are many different ways:

  1. Consumer complaints to the media
  2. Secret shopper campaigns (more to come on that in the next article)
  3. Media investigations
  4. Social media campaigns

What are the effects on your business? Product recalls such as these two to hit the California market recently.

So, what should you do to produce an acceptable product and provide reasonable protection to your cannabis business? Institute a quality program in your business immediately. This quality program will include areas of quality assurance and quality control for at least these areas.

  1. Growing
  2. Processing or formulating
  3. Shipping
  4. Dispensing
  5. Security
  6. Training of staff
  7. Laboratory services

Setting up and supporting these programs requires that your upper management impose both a rigorous training program and make employee compliance mandatory. Otherwise, your business will have an unreasonable risk of failure in the future.

Further information on preparing and instituting these types of quality assurance and quality control programs within your business can be found at the author’s website.

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Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights for Cannabis Put to Test in Federal Court

A number of cannabis businesses have pursued federal intellectual property protection for their cannabis-related innovations, such as U.S. patents that protect novel cannabis plant varieties, growing methods, extraction methods, etc. Enforcement of such federal IP rights requires that the IP owner file suit in federal court asserting those rights against another cannabis company. However, given that cannabis is still illegal under federal law, the industry is uncertain about whether a federal court will actually enforce cannabis-related IP rights. This question might be answered soon.

The potential impact of this case goes way beyond the two parties involved Orochem Technologies, Inc. filed a lawsuit in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois on September 27, 2017, seeking to assert and enforce trade secret rights against Whole Hemp Company, LLC. According to the complaint, Orochem is a biotechnology company that uses proprietary separation methods to extract and purify cannabidiol (CBD) from industrial hemp in a way that produces a solvent-free and THC-free CBD product in commercially viable quantities.

The complaint goes on to say that Whole Hemp Company, which does business as Folium Biosciences, is a producer of CBD from industrial hemp and that Folium engaged Orochem to produce a THC-free CBD product for it. According to the allegations in the complaint, Folium used that engagement to gain access to and discover the details of Orochem’s trade secret method of extracting CBD so that it could take the process and use it at their facility.

The complaint provides a detailed story of the events that allegedly transpired, which eventually led to an Orochem employee with knowledge of the Orochem process leaving and secretly starting to work for Folium, where he allegedly helped Folium establish a CBD production line that uses Orochem’s trade secret process. When Orochem learned of these alleged transgressions, it filed the lawsuit, claiming that Folium (and the specific employee) had misappropriated its trade secret processes for extracting and purifying CBD.

While the particular facts of this case are both interesting and instructive for companies operating in the cannabis industry, the potential impact of this case goes way beyond the two parties involved.

If it moves forward, this case will likely provide a first glimpse into the willingness of federal courts to enforce IP rights that relate to cannabis. Orochem is asserting a violation of federal IP rights established under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) and is asserting those rights in federal district court. As a result, the federal district court judge will first need to decide whether a federal court can enforce federal IP rights when the underlying intellectual property relates to cannabis.

If the court ultimately enforces these federal trade secret rights, it could be a strong indication that other federal IP rights, such as patent rights, would also be enforceable in federal court. Since the outcome of this case will likely have a far reaching and long lasting impact on how the cannabis industry approaches and deals with intellectual property, it’s a case worth watching.

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