A newly proposed federal rule would expand workplace drug testing programs by allowing certain employers to collect and analyze samples of workers’ hair, a move critics say would lead to disproportionate job-related punishments for people of color.
Federal agencies can already test workers’ urine and saliva, which provide evidence of more recent drug use, but “hair testing potentially offers several benefits when compared to urine, including directly observed collections, ease of transport and storage, increased specimen stability, and a longer window of drug detection,” the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) argued in a notice of proposed rulemaking published in the Federal Register on Thursday.
If adopted, the change would affect thousands of government employees as well as private workers in certain federally regulated industries such as those who work in transportation or at nuclear power plants.
Drug reform advocates are skeptical about the move.
“It’s shameful that these harmful federal drug testing guidelines are even being considered again,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment. “Not only is hair follicle testing discriminatory against people of color due to its sensitivity to melanin and darker hair, it gives no indication of someone being impaired on the job. This just goes to show how far behind the federal government is on cannabis policy.”
Paul Armentano, deputy director for the advocacy group NORML, said it is “mind-boggling that, in 2020, SAMHSA is considering expanding federal drug testing guidelines.”
“Hair follicle testing is highly problematic,” Armentano said. “A positive test, even when confirmed, provides neither evidence of behavioral impairment nor recent drug exposure. Moreover, the sensitivity and accuracy of the test is highly variable.”
Because hair exists outside a person’s body, for example, it’s more vulnerable to contamination—including secondhand smoke and other chemicals—than other sample types. That can put workers at risk of false positives unless results are checked through another testing method.
“Arguably most problematic,” Armentano said in an email, “is the reality that these tests discriminate against certain ethnicities because it is influenced by melanin content and is thus more sensitive to those with darker hair—while far less sensitive to those with gray hair.”
Other factors, such as humidity and hormones, could also affect test outcomes, Armentano added.
SAMHSA in its proposal acknowledges that numerous studies “provide scientific evidence that melanin pigments may influence the amount of drug incorporated into hair,” as well as that hair products more commonly used by people of color could lead to false positives. “As noted,” the filing says, “the Department wishes to solicit feedback on scientific studies comparing drug results and hair color and comparing urine to hair.”
The proposal is the latest effort by SAMHSA to expand federal drug screening to include specimens besides urine, including hair, saliva and even sweat. SAMHSA initially floated the idea of hair-based testing in 1997, and the agency put forward a rulemaking proposal along those lines in 2004. Regulators ultimately rejected that proposal amid concerns over accuracy, but SAMHSA has pursued the plan ever since. In recent years, the agency expanded testing to include saliva.
Unlike urine and saliva, hair can take up to a week to show evidence of drug use, rendering it especially useless as a measure of a worker’s immediate impairment. SAMHSA is proposing that hair testing be used only in pre-employment drug screening and random testing—not in cases where workers are suspected of recent use.
In an effort to protect workers from false positives and ensure that hair tests hold up in court, the proposal includes a directive that an alternate specimen, such as urine or saliva, be collected in order to verify a positive hair-test result. “This two-test approach,” SAMHSA’s summary says, “is intended to protect federal workers from issues that have been identified as limitations of hair testing, and related legal deficiencies.”
Marijuana-related cases, however, may not qualify for that additional layer of scrutiny. “The Department is specifically requesting comments, including support from the recent scientific literature, on whether hair tests that are positive for the marijuana analyte, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol-9-carboxylic acid (THCA), should be excluded from the requirement to test an alternate authorized specimen,” the proposal says.
Workers, some labor unions and even a Federal Drug Testing Advisory Board (DTAB) member have criticized the SAMHSA proposal as misguided, warning that the proposal is getting away from the science.
As reported in the trade publication Freight Waves, which covers the shipping and logistics industries, independent truck drivers are opposed to the rule, citing bias toward hair color and texture as well as a general lack of evidence that hair testing would improve driver safety. Major trucking companies, however, generally support the change.
DTAB member Michael Schaffer criticized the rulemaking process as “fatally flawed” because the board was left out of discussions.
“This means that these proposed guidelines were developed without the expertise needed to ensure that they are scientifically accurate and defensible,” said Schaffer, a toxicologist at a drug-testing lab, according to a Freight Waves report. “I fear that these proposed guidelines are going to unnecessarily restrict the use of hair drug testing, an incredibly effective tool at detecting drug use, for reasons which have no scientific basis.”
Armentano at NORML said that doubling down on a testing procedure that could exacerbate racial disparities simply doesn’t make sense, especially given today’s political climate.
“Given the heightened awareness surrounding the need for social and racial equity,” he said, “the idea of proposing a testing procedure that will inherently deny more people of color opportunities than it would others who have engaged in exactly the same activities is beyond tone deaf and counterproductive.”
SAMHSA estimates that about one percent of the 275,000 drug tests it expects federal agencies to do every year will be for hair specimens. When it comes to workers in jobs regulated by the Department of Transportation, the agency anticipates that 1.53 million of a total 6.1 million drug tests will be hair-focused. For nuclear workers, 15,000 of 150,000 total tests would be of hair specimens.
“These projected numbers are based on existing annual pre-employment testing that currently occurs in the regulated industries and current hair testing being conducted,” SAMHSA wrote
The agency is accepting public comments on the proposal through November 9.
This story was updated to add comment from Lee.
Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske
GW Pharma Scores Interim Victory In Cannabis Extraction Patent Infringement Fight With Canopy (Op-Ed)
“GW’s claim construction victory bodes very well for their ultimate success in defending this lawsuit.”
Last week, U.S. District Judge Alan D. Albright issued a claim construction order favoring GW Pharmaceuticals in the high-stakes, high-profile cannabis patent litigation brought by Canopy Growth Corporation. Canopy has accused GW of infringing U.S. Patent No. 10,870,632, titled, “Process for producing an extract containing tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol from cannabis plant material, and cannabis extracts,” and generally directed to CO2 extraction methods.
Canopy filed this lawsuit on December 20, 2020—the same day the patent issued—in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, which has a reputation for patent-friendly juries and rapid litigation. Canopy had acquired the rights to the allowed patent application several weeks prior. The patent-in-suit claims priority to a German patent application dating all the way back to October 2000, rendering the pool of potentially invalidating prior art extremely small.
“Claim Construction” is the legal process where a judge interprets the meaning of language in an asserted patent claim. Later in a patent infringement litigation, this interpretation is used by the jury (or, sometimes, the judge) to determine whether the accused products or methods infringe the patent and whether the patent is rendered invalid by prior art. Generally, the patent owner seeks a claim construction broad enough to ensure that the accused method infringes; conversely, the defendant generally seeks a claim construction narrow enough to ensure that the accused method does not infringe.
This claim construction dispute focused on the following limitation of claim 1 of U.S. Patent No. 10,870,632: “(1) subjecting the cannabis plant material or primary extract thereof to CO2 in liquefied form under subcritical pressure and temperature conditions to extract cannabinoid components.”
The Court explained the parties’ positions as follows:
“[GW] contend[s] that ‘subcritical pressure and temperature conditions’ means that both the pressure and temperature need to be below the critical pressure and critical temperature, respectively. [Canopy], by contrast, contends that ‘subcritical’ simply means ‘not supercritical.’ As such, at least according to [Canopy], because being supercritical requires both the pressure and temperature to be above the critical pressure and critical temperature, respectively, if either the pressure or temperature—but not both—is above its corresponding critical value, then the CO2 is not supercritical, but rather is subcritical.”
In its claim construction order, the court agreed with GW that subjecting cannabis material to CO2 under conditions corresponding to the striped area of the phase diagram below is outside of the scope of the claim language and would not infringe. Canopy’s argument that subjecting cannabis to CO2 under striped-area conditions is within the scope of its patent claims was rejected.
In many patent infringement cases, a litigant who loses claim construction may concede an inability to win the case. Conceding early may enable the losing party to immediately appeal the claim construction order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit without wasting resources litigating an otherwise doomed case. Here, it is not yet clear how Canopy will respond to its claim construction loss. Canopy may concede noninfringement under the claim construction so that they may promptly appeal. Alternatively, Canopy may believe that they can still prevail on their infringement allegations and continue litigating in the Western District of Texas. Another potential consequence is that the claim construction order may push the parties closer to a negotiated settlement and corresponding dismissal of the case.
Ultimately, GW’s claim construction victory bodes very well for their ultimate success in defending this lawsuit. Additionally, the narrower claim construction adopted by the court should be welcome news for CO2 extraction companies and equipment manufacturers: At least for the time being (for those operating in stripped-area conditions), the pending threat of a patent infringement lawsuit by Canopy has been greatly diminished.
Larry Sandell, a registered patent attorney with Mei & Mark LLP and the head of the firm’s cannabis practice, focuses his practice on counseling clients on strategic intellectual property matters; drafting and prosecuting patent applications; litigating patent infringement and other matters in federal district courts and the International Trade Commission; arguing federal appeals; and handling patent-related Amazon.com take-down disputes. He can be reached at [email protected].
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Please note that this article may be considered attorney advertising in some states. Prior results described on this article do not guarantee similar outcomes in future cases or transactions. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Mei & Mark LLP (818 18th St., NW, Suite 410, Washington, DC 20006), its clients, Marijuana Moment® LLC, or any of their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
Read the full claim construction order below:
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.
Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Partners With Marijuana Industry On Internship Program For Future Cannabis Leaders
A marijuana industry organization is teaming up with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) to provide internship opportunities to black students and recent graduates who will get first-hand work experience at major cannabis companies next year.
The U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) is sponsoring the spring 2022 program, which will place nine interns at one of eight marijuana firms like Canopy, Columbia Care, Curaleaf, the Marijuana Policy Project and Weedmaps.
For more than 30 years, CBCF has been supporting internships to help build leadership skills and give young people the professional experience to enter into public service. The foundation’s “Pathways to C-Suite Internship Program” is a more recent iteration that helps place black undergraduates and graduates in the private sector.
Now, in yet another sign of the normalization of the cannabis industry, CBCF and USCC are working together to mold the next generation of marijuana entrepreneurs and reform advocates.
NOW OPEN! Apply to CBCF's Pathways to the C-Suite #internship program presented by the @USCannabisCncl. Benefits of this program include housing, a stipend, professional development courses, & networking opportunities. The deadline is December 3, 2021. https://t.co/CroYYI2DDh pic.twitter.com/5Vr5UbUwQc
— CBCF Inc. (@CBCFInc) November 12, 2021
“Black Americans are woefully underrepresented in today’s cannabis industry,” Donna Fisher-Lewis, co-interim president and CEO of CBCF, said in a press release. “We’re excited to partner with USCC and its members to help build a diverse talent pipeline for the cannabis industry.”
Interns selected for the program will be able to network with industry professionals and learn the ins and outs of cannabis policy while gaining professional experience, and they will be provided a stipend and housing credit.
Applications for the internship are due by Friday, December 3.
“Really the overall goal of the program is to create pathways for future leadership in the cannabis industry, especially in upper management and future executives of cannabis,” Tahir Johnson, director of social equity and inclusion at USCC, told Marijuana Moment.
Learn more about CBCF's Pathways to C-Suite #internship program presented by the US Cannabis Council at a virtual information session! Speak directly with the Leadership Institute team & ask any questions you may have about the application and program. https://t.co/t9a0cuaP3h pic.twitter.com/WtEdaZNRuI
— CBCF Inc. (@CBCFInc) November 21, 2021
“We know that there’s a lack of [black ownership in the industry], so we want to be able to make sure that we’re training, preparing and giving opportunities to get their foot in the door at cannabis companies to help to lessen that gap and be able to create opportunities for entrepreneurship and future leaders and executives in cannabis,” he said.
Cedric Haynes, who serves associate vice president for government relations at Weedmaps and went through the CBCF Emerging Leaders internship program in 2009, said he is “a testament to the impact of these programs and the many opportunities that such an internship affords.”
“I had a front row seat to the federal legislative process while living in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “The experience that CBCF provided jump started my career in public policy, and I am forever grateful for it.”
The Spring 2022 Pathways to the C-Suite internship program will partner Black college seniors & recent college graduates with leading cannabis companies & organizations, including ACHEM, @CanopyGrowth, @ColumbiaCare, @Curaleaf_Inc, Holistic, @MarijuanaPolicy, USCC and @weedmaps.
— U.S. Cannabis Council (@USCannabisCncl) December 1, 2021
CBCF was founded about five years after the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) came together in 1971. Its board is comprised of private industry executives, educators and several current members of the legislative caucus such as Reps. Colin Allred (D-TX), Dwight Evans (D-PA) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX).
“The Pathways to the C-Suite internship program will provide our members with top-notch talent while helping build a more equitable industry,” Steven Hawkins, CEO of USCC, said. “Interns will gain valuable work experience in a dynamic, growing and evolving field. Their on- the job experience combined with the professional development provided by the internship program will set them up for success in cannabis and other professional paths.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
California Marijuana Businesses Seek Tax Amnesty After Spate Of Robberies In Oakland
Members of the marijuana business community in Oakland, California are calling on state and local officials to provide “tax amnesty” after numerous cannabis companies were robbed earlier this month.
At a press conference on Monday, the Oakland-based association Supernova Women urged officials to deliver financial relief after more than 25 licensed marijuana businesses were burglarized or robbed during the week of November 15.
Specifically, the non-profit group wants to see a repeal of the state’s cannabis cultivation tax and a “significant reduction” in the excise tax on marijuana products. They say that would help sustain small and minority-owned firms that are facing up to $5 million in losses following the robberies.
“All types of licensed cannabis businesses were impacted—cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and retail, delivery and storefront,” Amber Senter, executive director of Supernova Women, said at the press conference. “The cannabis industry needs tax relief.”
“Cannabis equity businesses in particular need more money and resources. Small businesses and small farmers need help,” she said. “Piling on and increasing taxes—and now with the threat of robberies and violence—is proving to be unbearable for cannabis operators. When we’re faced with targeted attacks, the effects are magnified. Our communities do not have the runway for robberies and tragedies of this time.”
Raeven Duckett, a social equity licensee who founded Text Johnnie, emphasized that “cannabis companies operating in Oakland pay at least a 6 percent tax rate while other non cannabis companies pay 0.12 percent—so cannabis companies are paying 600 percent more taxes than any other Oakland company.”
“Yet when organized crime organizations target at our facilities, we get little to no response and zero compassion from local law enforcement and city officials,” she said. “Our businesses are hurting. These operators are scared. These operators deserve the right to a safe work environment and local support in a city where we pay an exorbitant amount of taxes.”
Across the bay in San Francisco, activists have similarly criticized the police response to marijuana burglaries. Surveillance video from earlier this month that was obtained by The San Francisco Chronicle showed local police apparently observing and not intervening as suspects got away after they responded to a 911 call about a dispensary being burglarized.
State officials say they understand where the activists concerns are coming from and said that changes to laws might be needed to make it easier for businesses victimized by robberies to get relief.
“We appreciate hearing from and deeply sympathize with cannabis operators impacted by the recent increases in organized cannabis theft,” Nicole Elliott, director of the California Department of Cannabis Control, told Marijuana Moment. “Though state law does not require excise and sales tax to be paid on stolen goods, the complexities of the current cannabis tax structure mean that, in practice, it can be difficult for retailers to recover those taxes.”
“We encourage businesses to focus their advocacy on addressing the broader cannabis tax challenges and engage with their state legislators on policy proposals to reform and simplify California’s cannabis tax structure,” she said. “A 2/3 vote is needed to amend the law related to cannabis taxes so any changes will require a collective effort.”
When a theft of cannabis occurs, a retailer seeking a refund of taxes needs to work with a distributor to amend relevant tax filings. Unlike other systems where tax is due only at point-of-sale, California’s cannabis tax process—where retailers must pay estimated excise tax to distributors, who then remit the payment to state tax authorities—is relatively long and cumbersome, and requires arduous record keeping.
Senter ended Monday’s event with a clear message to city and state officials: “Listen to us. This is our cry for help. Help us.”
“We’re not going to hire people with AK-47s and put them on the roof. That’s not our job,” she said. “That’s not why we started to sell weed. We didn’t decide to get into cannabis to kill people. We’re here to provide medicine and improve people’s lives.”
Prior to the spate of cannabis-related robberies, California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) celebrated the 25th anniversary of the state’s move to legalize medical cannabis and described today’s market as “number one in the world.” However, he did acknowledge that more work needs to be done.
Separately, California officials started accepting concept proposals last month for a program aimed at helping small marijuana cultivators with environmental clean-up and restoration efforts.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) did veto a bill last month that would have allowed cannabis businesses to advertise on billboards along most highways in the state.
The governor also recently approved a bill to boost the state’s hemp industry by legalizing retail sales of a wide range of consumable products derived from the plant—including CBD-infused foods, beverages, cosmetics and dietary supplements. It will also eventually allow the sales of smokable hemp products in the state.
In September, Newsom signed separate legislation to require hospitals to permit medical marijuana use by certain patients in their facilities.
California officials are also making millions of dollars available for grants programs to support marijuana social equity initiatives and assist localities in processing pending cannabis business license applications.
Next year’s California State Fair will host a first-of-its-kind, state-sanctioned cannabis competition.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.