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Marijuana giant settles 10 lawsuits over wellness drops tainted with THC

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One of nation’s largest marijuana companies has settled 10 lawsuits over wellness drops it sold in Oregon that were contaminated with a jumbo dose of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Massachusetts-based Curaleaf has acknowledged that employees at a Portland facility somehow confused its Select brand of CBD-based wellness drops, which are made from hemp but don’t usually contain intoxicating properties, with THC-based drops.

Curaleaf agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a case brought by an Idaho resident, Ayuba Agbonkhese, whose suit alleges he was taken to an emergency room in September after using Select CBD drops that he believed contained no THC. Agbonkhese said he wanted terms of his deal to be public to raise awareness about the incident.

“It was important for me to make sure that the company, as well as other companies like this, become more accountable. I want a safer community. That is my main reason for doing this in this way,” said Agbonkhese, an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq. He said Curaleaf has not apologized to him.

“I want them to be better and I want the industry to be better,” Agbonkhese said. “And I want a safer community.”

At least four other people reported going to the emergency room after unwittingly using the tainted drops. One newly filed case alleges an Oregon man died as a result of consuming the THC drops, though his death occurred weeks after the incident and he was infected with COVID-19 at the time of his death.

Willamette Week first reported the settlements Thursday. Terms of the other nine agreements weren’t disclosed. Three cases remain unresolved, including the wrongful death suit.

Portland attorney Michael Fuller is representing all the plaintiffs. He said nothing in Agbonkhese’s settlement constrains him from testifying in other cases or participating in the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission’s ongoing investigation of Curaleaf.

Agbonkhese said he took the CBD drops last September, hoping for relief from chronic back pain. He said he had taken his girlfriend and her daughter to dinner when he suddenly started feeling strangely.

Agbonkhese went home to rest, but his symptoms became more extreme, and he asked to be taken to the emergency room.

“I was in the hospital. I was stuttering and stammering. I couldn’t really walk. It was an awful experience,” Agbonkhese said. “I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I might be having a stroke.”

After doctors found THC in his system, Agbonkhese said he put two and two together and realized why he was intoxicated and what caused his extreme symptoms.

Curaleaf acquired Portland-based Cura Cannabis, also known as Select, in 2019. It sold hundreds of the mislabeled products through Oregon retailers last year.

The gaffe became apparent when unsuspecting consumers – some of whom had never used marijuana before – began experiencing extreme symptoms of marijuana use. The product labeled as CBD actually contained an extremely high dose of THC, several times the amount that recreational marijuana users typically consume.

Oregon recalled both products in September at the behest of Oregon regulators.

The OLCC is in its fourth month of investigating the incident, which represents of major test of how the state will enforce the safety rules that govern the legal production of recreational marijuana. The commission says it is nearing the conclusion of its investigation.

Curaleaf did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this week’s settlement.

The company said previously its manufacturing failure resulted from “human error,” and the company has said it has changed its manufacturing process to prevent similar problems in the future. Curaleaf has declined to specify, though, just how it made that mistake or whether it has held anyone accountable.

— Mike Rogoway | mrogoway@oregonian.com | Twitter: @rogoway |

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