Tag Archives: express

It’s High Time for the Cannabis Industry to Pay Attention to Contact Compliance

By Daniel Blynn
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Communicating with consumers through the telephone—either by text messages or by calls—is a great way to engage with them. Indeed, a recent analysis of text messaging trends reveals that most consumers check their cell phones more than 20 times a day, with almost 20% saying they check it more than 50 times.1 Text messages have a nearly five-times higher open rate than email, and the average consumer has 96 unread emails in his inbox compared to about one unread text message at any given time.2 In short, used properly, text messaging is an effective medium to reach consumers. And cannabis companies have embraced texting with open arms, especially given that other forms of advertising currently are off limits to the industry.

But with the utility of text messaging consumers comes substantial risk. Cannabis companies are frequent targets of private litigation arising out of their texting practices. Over the past two years, dozens of class action lawsuits alleging unlawful text messages have been filed against cannabis companies, including well-known multistate operators and less recognizable ones. Most of these cases are ongoing and may rightfully be considered “bet the company” litigations. For example, a pending case against cannabis delivery company Eaze Solutions, Inc. alleges that unsolicited text messages were sent to 52,104 individuals.3 Assuming each putative class member received just one text from Eaze, the statutory damages exposure ranges between $26 million and $78 million. The court twice has rejected proposed class settlements of $1.75 million and, later, $3.5 million as being too low. Given the potential exposure, before cannabis companies click the send button on a text message, they need to ensure that they’re abiding by the law.

At the federal level, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) regulates all types of text messages, telemarketing and transactional/informational alike. Generally speaking, the TCPA governs how text messages are sent (i.e., manually versus automatically dialed), and how calls are conducted and voicemail messages delivered (live representative versus “artificial or prerecorded voice”).4 The TCPA also contains do not call rules applicable to marketing messages. The TCPA is enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and, notably, through private lawsuits, including class actions. Under the TCPA, a private plaintiff can seek statutory damages of $500 for each unsolicited autodialed text message (or unsolicited call that utilizes an artificial or prerecorded voice or delivers a prerecorded message). If a solicitation text is sent to a telephone number registered on the National Do Not Call Registry or the cannabis seller’s own internal do not call list, the statutory damages are “up to” $500 per call or text. In all cases, statutory damages may be trebled to $1,500 if the TCPA violation was committed either knowingly or willfully.

These rules fit atop myriad state telemarketing and do-not-call laws, which may be more restrictive than the TCPA.

While I could fill up this entire website with the various calling and texting issues with which sellers generally struggle under the TCPA—such as the use of artificial or prerecorded voices and prerecorded messages, how to handle reassigned numbers, revocation of consent issues, etc.—this article focuses on the basic rules governing how cannabis companies can text consumers, and what types of consent they need to do so under the Act.

Overview of TCPA’s Consent Rules

Under the TCPA, a seller is required to have a consumer’s “prior express consent” in order to send an autodialed non-marketing text message to a cell phone; The consent rule for autodialed marketing text messages to cell phones are different in that they require “prior express written consent” (EWC). No consent is needed in order to manually send a text message (and note that “manually” does not necessarily mean that an individual must dial all ten digits and click send from a standard smartphone).

“Prior express consent” is a lower level form of consent and generally exists where a consumer voluntarily has provided her telephone number to the seller.

“Prior express written consent,” on the other hand, is a heightened consent standard requiring a written agreement bearing (1) the signature of the person called (either traditional “wet” signature or an electronic/digital one) that clearly authorizes the seller to deliver or cause to be delivered to the consumer telemarketing messages; and (2) the telephone number to which the signatory authorizes such telemarketing messages to be delivered. If the seller utilizes an autodialer to send a marketing text message to a cell phone, then the written agreement with the consumer must also clearly and conspicuously disclose both that (a) the text may be sent using an autodialer, and (b) the consumer is not required to provide his consent as a condition of purchasing any goods or services. This EWC to be contacted must have been provided by the consumer before the text is sent. Unlike the lower standard for prior express consent, the mere provision of a cell phone number to the seller does not constitute the required EWC to be contacted at that number via an autodialer marketing purposes.

Confusing enough? Don’t worry, a table summarizing the current TCPA consent rules is below:

What Type of Text Are You Sending?

Generally, the type of consumer consent that is needed to send a text message is a function of the type of text and how it is being sent. “Telephone solicitations” are subject to more restrictions than purely informational or transactional text messages. The TCPA defines “telephone solicitation” to be “the initiation of a [text] message for the purpose of encouraging the purchase or rental of, or investment in, property, goods, or services.”

On the other end of the spectrum lie pure informational or transactional text messages. These are communications designed to provide information, rather than promote products and services (in the case of informational calls), and to “facilitate, complete, or confirm a commercial transaction that the recipient has previously agreed to enter into” (in the case of transactional calls). For example, customer satisfaction survey texts and texts to confirm orders and deliveries are informational and transactional, respectively.

Finally, the TCPA also covers a third category of text messages—“dual purpose” texts. These are texts with either a customer service or informational component as well as a marketing one. Because courts and the FCC take an expansive view of what constitutes telemarketing, dual purpose texts are treated as pure marketing messages and subject to the more rigorous standards to obtain the requisite level of consumer consent.

Common examples of texts that cannabis companies send and the corresponding level of consent needed are as follows: 

  • Autodialed Text Messages: Under the TCPA, an autodialer is defined to be equipment, which has the capacity to store or produce telephone numbers to be called using a random or sequential number generator, and to dial such numbers without a requisite level of human involvement. However, there currently is a “significant fog of uncertainty” as to what is and is not an autodialer, with different courts reaching conflicting decisions as to, for example, whether simply dialing from a curated list of targeted telephone numbers constitutes autodialing, or whether the numbers on that list must have been randomly or sequentially generated in order for a platform to constitute an autodialer.
  • While proceedings are ongoing at the FCC to clarify the autodialer definition, the Supreme Court recently agreed to decide the autodialer issue during its next term in a TCPA case filed against Facebook; a decision is expected by May or June 2021. Notably, in mid-September 2020, the Department of Justice filed a “friend of the court” brief taking the industry-favorable position that a platform itself must randomly or sequentially generate the telephone numbers that it texts to be considered an autodialer under the statute.
  • Texts sent by autodialer (whether the autodialing functionality is actually used to send the text or not) require consent from the recipient. Note that this rule generally applies to both individual and business cell phone numbers. As long as the text is not a solicitation message, then consent may be obtained orally. Alternatively, if a consumer provides his cellular telephone number to you via an online lead form or during the checkout process, then this should be sufficient to constitute “prior express consent” to receive autodialed non-solicitation texts, such as order confirmations or delivery updates. The key to obtaining prior express consent, however, is that the consumer provide you with his telephone number voluntarily.
  • However, EWC is required to send a text for marketing purposes using an autodialer. The EWC requirements are described above and examples of EWC are below.
  • Note that, under the TCPA, the seller has the burden of demonstrating that it had the requisite level of consent to send the text in question. Thus, cannabis companies should maintain records evidencing such consent. A good rule of thumb is to maintain such records for a period of five years from the date of text, which covers the TCPA’s statute of limitations and the limitations periods under most state telemarketing laws.
  • Manually-Dialed Text Messages: If a cannabis company manually sends text messages—e., using a device that does not have the capacity to autodial—then no special consent is needed. However, even for manually-dialed texts, applicable do not call lists must be checked.
  • Texts to Numbers on Do Not Call Lists: The TCPA also prohibits companies from sending marketing texts to consumers whose telephone numbers are registered on either the National Do Not Call Registry or the seller’s own internal do not call list, unless an exemption applies, such as calls with the consumer’s EWC or to consumers with whom the seller has an “established business relationship.”5 The TCPA’s do not call rules are agnostic to how a telephone number is dialed, whether it be manually or by automated means. Be sure to scrub against relevant do not call lists.

Best Practices for Obtaining Proper Consent

As noted above, for autodialed non-marketing text messages to cell phones, the lower level of simple “prior express consent” is required. Prior express consent is deemed to exist by virtue of a consumer having provided his telephone number to a cannabis company, either orally or in writing.

EWC for autodialed solicitation text messages, however, requires more. First, specific disclosures must be made “clearly and conspicuously” to the consumer. Specifically, a consumer should be advised and agree that, by providing his telephone number to the cannabis company, he is agreeing (1) to receive potentially autodialed (2) marketing text messages, and (3) that he is not required to provide his consent as a condition of making a purchase. This disclosure should not be placed beneath a submission button on a lead form or checkout page (unless an unchecked check box is utilized to demonstrate that the consumer has reviewed and accepted the disclosure); it needs to be unavoidable. The disclosure should be presented in readable, crisp font, both in size and in color, that contrasts against its background. For example, the following disclosures likely would pass muster to demonstrate EWC:

As you may now appreciate, the TCPA is a minefield (and this article just scratches the surface). However, with planning and a good compliance program, the law can be navigated to minimize risk while, at the same time, allowing for communications with cannabis consumers. Remember, an ounce of compliance now can lead to a pound of litigation prevention later.


Disclaimer: Using, distributing, possessing, and/or selling marijuana is illegal under existing federal law. Compliance with state law does not guarantee or constitute compliance with federal law. This informational overview is not intended to provide any legal advice or any guidance or assistance in violating federal law.


References

  1. Zipwhip, 2020 State of Texting, at 4 (2020).
  2. Id. at 11.
  3. See Lloyd v. Eaze Solutions, Inc., No. 3:18-cv-05176 (N.D. Cal.).
  4. Although the TCPA utilizes the term “calls,” courts have found the statute applies with the same force to text messages. This article focuses on text messaging but most of the principles extend to calls as well.
  5. There are two types of “established business relationships” (EBRs) under the TCPA: (1) inquiry EBRs and (2) transactional EBRs. Pursuant to a transactional EBR, a seller may text a consumer whose telephone number is listed on the National Do Not Call Registry for up to 18 months after the consumer’s last purchase, delivery, or payment—i.e., from the date of the seller’s last transaction with the former customer—unless the consumer asks the seller to stop calling him. In that case, the seller must honor the do not call request by placing the consumer’s telephone number on its own internal do not call list. Under an inquiry EBR, the seller may text a consumer who has inquired about its products or services, but only for up to three months. Again, if the consumer asks the seller to stop calling within that three-month timeframe, it must honor the request and add the consumer’s telephone number to its internal do not call list. Telephone numbers on the seller’s internal do not call list should remain on that list indefinitely or until the consumer subsequently provides her prior express written consent (or explicitly asks to be removed from the internal do not call list); a new EBR will not override an internal do not call request. Indeed, as to the latter, the Federal Trade Commission and several state attorneys general made this point clear in their briefing in a recent TCPA and Telemarketing Sales Rule litigation then-pending in Illinois federal court; the practical reason for the rule is that a consumer may wish to do business with a seller yet not receive telemarketing calls.

The First Map of the Cannabis Genome

By Aaron G. Biros
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Sunrise Genetics, Inc., the parent company for Hempgene and Marigene, announced last week they have successfully mapped the cannabis genome. The genome map was presented at the 26th Annual Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego, CA during the panel “Cannabis Genomics: Advances and Applications.”

According to CJ Schwartz, chief executive officer of Sunrise Genetics, the full genome map will allow breeders to develop strains using DNA sequence information to complement phenotyping. “In this way a breeding program can be guided by the breeder versus blindly as it is for just pheno-hunting,” says Schwartz. “At the DNA level, we can identify what version of a set of genes a plant contains, and make predictions as to the phenotype, without ever growing the plant. As we make more and more gene markers, we have more genes to track, and breeding becomes more rapid, efficient and precise.” Schwartz says this is essential for breeding stable, repeatable plants. “A commercial strain will be grown in different environments, with solid genetics, the phenotype will mostly stay true, a term we call Genetic Penetrance.”

Ancestry-painted chromosomes for marijuana Image: Chris Grassa / Sunrise Genetics

Determining a plant’s DNA can be extremely valuable and completing the map of the genome now makes this more precise. It can serve as a point of proof, according to Schwartz, providing evidence of lineage in a breeding project and confirming the uniqueness and identity of a strain. The genome map can also allow breeders to select specific genes to develop custom strains. And in addition to all that, it provides legal protection. “Knowing your plants DNA code is the first step to being able take action so no one else can protect it,” says Schwartz. “Well documented evidence in the development of a customized strains is essential to maintaining control of your plant and keeping those you distrust (big pharma) away, many of which have minimal interest in the whole plant anyhow.”

CJ Schwartz, chief executive officer of Sunrise Genetics

Schwartz says this project took them roughly 18 months to wrap up. “One of the biggest problems was just finding the right plants to grow,” says Schwartz. “In addition we used some emerging technologies and those had some challenges of their own.” According to Schwartz, a key aspect in all this was finding the right collaborators. They ended up working with CBDRx and the plant biology department at the University of Minnesota, where a DEA-licensed lab has been researching cannabis since 2002. “George Weiblen’s group at UM has been working on Cannabis for over a decade,” says Schwartz. “During that time they did repeated selfing to make highly inbred marijuana and hemp lines. The lines were instrumental in deterring the physical order of the genes.”

Ancestry-painted chromosomes for hemp Image: Chris Grassa / Sunrise Genetics

After finishing up some experiments, they expect to get the genome map published on public domain in less than a year, opening up their research to the general public and allowing breeders and growers to use their data. “This will be a very significant publication,” says Schwartz. “The genome assembly allows for the assimilation of all the currently incompatible Cannabis genome sequence datasets from academia and private companies,” says Schwartz. “Joining datasets from 1000s of strains, and from every continent, will generate an essential public resource for cannabis researchers and aficionados alike.” With a tool like this, we can discover the genes that help produce desirable traits. “This project is a major accomplishment for cannabis, bringing it on par with other important crops, providing a scientific tool to unravel the secrets of this incredibly versatile plant,” says Schwartz.

Sunrise Genetics is assisting cannabis businesses in evaluating strains and developing breeding programs, working with a number of customers currently to develop strains for many different specific traits. “We have the expertise to help select parental strains and guide the selection process at each generation using genotype and phenotype information,” says Schwartz. “Essentially we are bringing all the tools any modern plant breeder would use for improving strawberries to cannabis.”

Dr. Zacariah Hildenbrand
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Cannabis and the Environment: Navigating the Interplay Between Genetics and Transcriptomics

By Dr. Zacariah Hildenbrand
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Dr. Zacariah Hildenbrand

It is that time of year where the holidays afford us an opportunity for rest, recuperation and introspection. Becoming a new father to a healthy baby girl and having the privilege to make a living as a scientist, fills me with an immeasurable sense of appreciation and indebtedness. I’ve also been extremely fortunate this year to spend significant time with world-renowned cannabis experts, such as Christian West, Adam Jacques and Elton Prince, whom have shared with me a tremendous wealth of their knowledge about cannabis cultivation and the development of unique cannabis genetics. Neither of these gentlemen have formal scientific training in plant genetics; however, through decades of experimentation, observation and implementation, they’ve very elegantly used alchemy and the principles of Mendelian genetics to push the boundaries of cannabis genetics, ultimately modulating the expression of specific cannabinoids and terpenes. Hearing of their successes (and failures) has triggered significant wonderment and curiosity with respect to what can be done beyond the genetic level to keep pushing the equilibrium in this new frontier of medicine.

Lighting conditions can greatly impact the expression of terpenes (and cannabinoids) in cannabis.Of course genetics are the foundation for the production of premium cannabis. Without the proper genetic code, one cannot expect the cannabis plant to express the target constituents of interest. However, what happens when you have an elite genetic code, the holy grail of cannabis nucleotides if you will, and yet your plant does not produce the therapeutic compounds that you want and/or that are reflective of that elite genetic code? This ‘loss in translation’ can be explained by transcriptomics, and more specifically, epigenetics. In order for the genetic code (DNA) to be expressed as a gene product (RNA), it must be transcribed, a process that is modulated by epigenetic processes like DNA methylation and histone modification. In other words, the methylation of the genetic code can dictate whether or not a particular segment of DNA is transcribed into RNA, and ultimately expressed in the plant. To put this into context, if the DNA code for the enzyme THCA synthase is epigenetically silenced, then no THCA synthase is produced, your cannabis cannot convert CBGA into THCA, and now you have hemp that is devoid of THC.So what is the best lighting technology to enhance the expression of terpenes? 

With all of that being said, how do we ensure that our plants thrive under favorable epigenetic conditions? The answer is the environment; and the expression of terpenes is an ideal indicator of favorable environmental conditions. While amazing anti-inflammatories, anti-oxidants and metabolic regulators for humans, terpenes are also extremely powerful anti-microbial agents that act as a robust a line of defense for the plant against bacteria and pests. So, if the threat of microbes can induce the expression of terpenes, then what about other environmental factors? I am of the opinion that the combination of increased exposure to bacteria and natural sunlight enhances the expression of terpenes in outdoor-grown cannabis compared to indoor-grown cannabis. This is strictly my opinion based off of my own qualitative observations, but the point being is that lighting conditions can greatly impact the expression of terpenes (and cannabinoids) in cannabis.

A plant in flowering under an LED fixture

So what is the best lighting technology to enhance the expression of terpenes? Do I use full spectrum lighting or specific frequencies? The answer to these questions is that we don’t fully know at this point. Thanks to the McCree curve we have a fundamental understanding of the various frequencies within the visible light spectrum (400-700nm) that are beneficial to plants, also known as Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR). However, little-to-no research has been conducted to determine the impacts that the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum (also categorized as ‘light’) may have on plants. As such, we do not know with 100% certainty what frequencies should be applied, and at what times in the growth cycle, to completely optimize terpene concentrations. This is not to disparage the lighting professionals out there that have significant expertise in this field; however, I’m calling for the execution of peer-reviewed experiments that would transcend the boundaries of company white papers and anecdotal claims. In my opinion, this lack of environmental data provides a real opportunity for the cannabis industry to initiate the required collaborations between cannabis geneticists, technology companies and environmental scientists. This is one field of research that I wish to pursue with tenacity and I also welcome other interested parties to join me in this data quest. Together we can better understand the environmental factors, such as lighting, that are acting as the molecular light switches at the interface of genetics and transcriptomics in cannabis.