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The cannabis edible brand Kushy Punch is now embroiled in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a 28-year-old woman who allegedly died hours after consuming the brand’s THC-infused gummies.
The lawsuit was filed in San Diego Superior Court on behalf of the parents of Le’Sharia Bre’Aun Steele, a 28-year old woman from Alabama who died in San Diego, CA after reportedly consuming a Kushy Punch Tropical Hybrid gummy. The suit was filed against the companies involved in the design, manufacture, distribution and sale of the product, including Kushy Punch and other related enterprises, with multiple counts of negligence and product liability claims. The suit calls for punitive damages and a jury trial.
As reported by Weed Week, Steele was a health-conscious woman who rarely drank alcohol and had only tried marijuana a small number of times. She was working as a flight attendant when she tried the Kushy Punch gummies, the suit says, due to them being misleadingly advertised as a safe, healthy product.
According to Insurance Journal, the family’s attorney Robert J. Francavilla said the woman experienced severe psychological and physiological symptoms after consuming a gummy, including trouble breathing, uncontrollable movements, increased heart rate, uncharacteristic behavior, and panic attacks. She died hours after ingestion on Oct. 2018.
“These companies disguise and market their products as safe, fun and healthy, going so far as to represent to consumers that the products ‘deliver(ed) the wellbeing and relief to all those that seek it.’ What they do not tell consumers is that the use of their products carry extreme risk of serious injury or even death,” Francavilla reportedly said.
Francavilla further noted that though the defendants disclose to the public that their gummies, with apparently the same dosage as others, “hit heavier,” with more potency than competitors, but they do not however include important warnings related to these statements on their packaging and disregard and misrepresent the increased risks of injury and death attributed to ingesting a highly potent edible known for powerful and dramatic bodily effects.
The suit alleges the defendants knew or should have known the health risks associated with marijuana edibles, which are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration due to cannabis being federally illegal. However, it doesn’t specify the cause of Steele’s death and the death certificate included in the suit lists the cause as “pending.”
California regulators filed suit against Vertical Bliss, Kushy Punch’s parent company, alleging the company manufactured and distributed $64M worth of infused gummies at an unlicensed facility. The company is facing civil penalties from that case that could amount to nearly $500M.
As noted by Weed Week, while the overconsumption of cannabis edibles can cause intense distress, incidents of them being directly fatal are very rare. Most medical professionals indicate that THC consumption cannot be fatal on its own, but there is no consensus on the subject. Consumers could also be potentially harmed by other substances found in edibles.
On Nov. 13, Kushy Punch provided a statement expressing their condolences for the deceased and defending their business, as reported by Weed Week: “Unfortunately, these allegations raise more questions than provide answers. The cannabis industry has proven itself to meet and even exceed the standards required by highly regulated markets. We are proud of being on the frontlines of a movement that has overcome unfounded biases every step of the way. This industry helps countless licensed patients, and we all must be careful not to demonize an industry that has set itself out to increase access to safe, clean and tested cannabis, which hurts countless medical patients and consumers across the country.”
If the defendants are held liable, the lawsuit could have broad implications for cannabis operators.