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Agustin is sought after by clients for his strategic counsel on their most challenging competitive and regulatory compliance issues, including tobacco Master Settlement Agreement issues, federal and state enforcement investigations, licensing and excise tax issues, developing compliance programs, and evaluating advertising and marketing practices. A partner in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) Practice Group as well as its Tobacco and Cannabis law practices, he represents manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and suppliers in all aspects of their businesses, including regulatory compliance, FDA requirements, administrative disputes involving federal or state governmental entities, mergers and acquisitions, commercial agreements, and taxation matters.

The Senate recently passed the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act (the Act) by a voice vote after the House of Representatives passed the bill with strong bipartisan support (325-95) last July. The Act is the first stand-alone marijuana legislation passed in decades and, according to some news sources, President Biden will likely sign it within the next two weeks. Historically, conducting research with Schedule I controlled substances has been subject to numerous administrative hurdles and onerous security requirements that have deterred many potential researchers. The Act amends key sections of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to ease some of those restrictions and to facilitate research on marijuana and its potential therapeutic benefits, without changing marijuana’s designation as a Schedule I controlled substance. Some of the key provisions are summarized below.

Continue Reading Bipartisan Marijuana Research Bill Heads to Biden’s Desk

California voters have approved Senate Bill 793, which prohibits tobacco retailers from selling flavored tobacco products or tobacco product flavor enhancers. A lawsuit has been filed in federal court claiming that it is unconstitutional.

On November 8, 2022, California voters said “yes” to Proposition 31, a referendum on a 2020 law that would prohibit the retail sale of certain flavored tobacco products. The constitutionality of the referenced law, Senate Bill 793 (“SB793”), is at issue in a case filed the next day in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al. v. Bonta, et al., No. 3:22-cv-01755 (S.D. Cal.); however, the plaintiffs’ success in that case will likely depend on the development of favorable precedents in other cases pending before appellate courts.

Continue Reading California Voters Approve Flavored Tobacco Ban in Referendum; Is It Unconstitutional?

On November 3, Judge Gary L. Sharpe of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York issued a preliminary injunction, blocking cannabis regulators from issuing marijuana retail licenses for five geographic regions across the state, while a constitutional challenge to the program proceeds.

Continue Reading Federal Judge Finds NY Cannabis Residency Rules Likely Unconstitutional and Discriminatory Against Out-of-State Applicants

Over the past few years, at least five states and several hundred localities have passed, or attempted to pass, laws banning flavored tobacco products. There have been a number of challenges to those laws—few of which have been successful. In a recent ruling, the Washington County Circuit Court handed a win to businesses challenging a local ordinance (the Ordinance) seeking to impose a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products.

Continue Reading Oregon Court Sides with Businesses Challenging Local Flavor Ban Ordinance

In determining whether the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits a state’s taxation of a remote seller, the U.S. Supreme Court for decades has upheld a tax if (1) there is a substantial nexus between the taxing state and the taxpayer; (2) the tax is fairly apportioned; (3) the tax does not discriminate against interstate commerce; and (4) the tax is fairly related to the taxing state’s provision of services to the taxpayer.[1]

What kind of nexus is substantial enough to allow a state to tax a business’s sales in interstate commerce? In its 2018 decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court held that a business’s physical presence in the taxing state is not required.[2] Describing the remote-seller litigants as “large, national companies that undoubtedly maintain an extensive virtual presence,” the Court held that substantial nexus was clear in view of “both the economic and virtual contacts” that the remote-seller litigants had with South Dakota.[3] The U.S. Supreme Court recited the general rule that substantial nexus exists when a taxpayer has availed itself of the substantial privilege of carrying on business in the taxing state, and it appeared to describe “virtual contacts” and “virtual presence” as follows: “Between targeted advertising and instant access to most consumers via any internet-enabled device, ‘a business may be present in a State in a meaningful way without’ that presence ‘being physical in the traditional sense of the term.’”[4] Wayfair left many questions unanswered, including whether (and, if so, how) “virtual contacts” and “virtual presence” may be required for a substantial nexus to tax in compliance with the commerce clause.

Continue Reading State Taxation of Remote Sellers: US Supreme Court Declines Review of First Post-Wayfair Decision from a State Supreme Court

The Department has issued updated guidance addressing remote sellers’ cigarette and tobacco tax responsibilities after the Minnesota Legislature’s mid-2021 amendments to the State’s cigarette and tobacco tax and tobacco product delivery sales statutes, Congress’ late-2020 amendment of the Jenkins Act, and a 2018 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on permissible state taxation of remote sales.

On May 9, 2022, the Minnesota Department of Revenue (the “Department”) issued Revenue Notice # 22‑02 on remote sellers’ tax payment responsibilities under the State’s cigarette and tobacco tax and tobacco product delivery sales statutes. The notice applies to all delivery sales after December 31, 2021, and it revokes and replaces the Department’s earlier notice on these subjects.
Continue Reading Minnesota Department of Revenue Revokes and Replaces Guidance on Remote Sellers’ Tobacco Tax Responsibilities

On July 28, the Iowa attorney general’s office filed suit against Philip Morris, USA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., and 16 other tobacco companies, accusing them of defrauding Iowa of over $133 million by allegedly engaging in bad faith disputes over amounts due under the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).

Tobacco company signatories to the MSA, also known as participating manufacturers (PMs), must pay the settling states their portion of $9 billion dollars on an annual basis. These payments are subject to a handful of various upward and downward adjustments, one of which is known as the “Non-Participating Manufacturer Adjustment” or “NPM Adjustment.” The NPM Adjustment may reduce the amount of money a state is due from the PMs in a given year if the state did not enact and “diligently enforce” an “escrow statute,” requiring non-participating manufacturers (NPMs) to place money in proportion to their sales made into that state into an escrow account.
Continue Reading Iowa Attorney General Brings Suit Against Participating Manufacturers to the Master Settlement Agreement

FDA reports that the progress of its review of popular vapor products’ pending PMTAs remains in line with its first report.

On July 28, 2022, FDA filed a status report in American Academy of Pediatrics, et al. v. FDA, et al., No. 8:18-cv-00883 (D. Md.), addressing its review of pending premarket tobacco applications (“PMTAs”) for certain popular vapor products.  FDA filed the status report pursuant to a court order previously covered on this blog.  This is FDA’s second status report filed pursuant to that order, the first having been filed on May 13.
Continue Reading Deeming Regulations Litigation Update – FDA Files Second Status Report on Pending Vapor Products PMTAs

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced plans to publish a proposed rule that would establish a maximum nicotine level in cigarettes and certain “other combusted tobacco products.” At the moment, it is not clear what “other combusted products” FDA might have in mind. According to the Spring 2022 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, FDA is targeting May 2023 to issue the proposed rule, but that could always change.
Continue Reading FDA Set to Propose Maximum Nicotine Level in Cigarettes

On June 10, a bipartisan coalition of 31 state attorneys general, led by Idaho, Illinois, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania, sent a letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf, asking the agency to reject premarket tobacco product applications (PMTAs) for all products that contain nicotine not derived from tobacco, also known as non-tobacco nicotine (NTN) or synthetic nicotine.
Continue Reading Bipartisan Coalition of 31 State AGs Urge FDA to Deny Marketing Authorization for Non-Tobacco Nicotine Products