The New York City Department of Health has ordered a number of eateries in the city to refrain from selling CBD-infused foods and beverages. Since the incident, it has been revealed that at least 11 restaurants in the city have been ordered to refrain from using CBD as a food additive. And, apparently many more New York businesses that are adding CBD to items such as baked goods and beverages can expect the same action.
Eater.com, a website devoted to New York Cities millions of foodies, broke a story in early February about Fat Cat Kitchen’s, a bakery in the Gramercy Park neighborhood that was ordered to stop selling food with added CBD. According to the report, a cache of CBD-infused cookies and other pastries along with a container of CBD — about $1,000 worth of product in total — was “embargoed” by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Fat Cat’s co-owner C.J. Holm is still in possession of the goods, but the establishment’s popular line of CBD treats and beverages is on hold indefinitely.
Holm reported that city officials took action during a routine inspection and that they also paid at least two other visits to the establishment recently, but took no action, even though Fat Cat Kitchen advertises CBD foods with a sign outside the restaurant.
According to the report, Holm contacted the city for more information, and at least two city staffers did not even know what CBD was.
“They couldn’t even intelligently explain to me exactly what the problem was when I spoke to them on the phone,” Holm told Eater.
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Following the incident, Holm told NBC News, “We were the first ones in New York State to offer drinks with CBD, and it became a big deal for us. Now I don’t know what’s going to happen… All of this is very confusing. It’s legal to buy it and stick it on your tongue, but it’s not legal to buy it and stick it in your coffee? It’s like there’s no rules and too many rules.“
NBC News reports on the CBD ban in New York City
What’s the problem officer?
The problem is not unique to New York. Over the weekend, Maine health officials also announced a ban on CBD edibles. And last fall, California health officials ruled that CBD could not be added to foods and drinks. Ohio is also clamping down on the use of CBD as a food additive.
There are no reports of anyone having any health issues as a result of eating CBD-infused foods. So what’s the problem?
There are strict rules regarding food production and preparation at all levels of government. Manufacturers and retails are not allowed to put just anything in their products. According to a statement released by New York City officials, “restaurants in the city are not permitted to add anything to food or drink that is not approved as safe to eat.” The statement goes on to say that the Health Department “takes seriously its responsibility to protect New Yorkers’ health.”
Although hemp cultivation was recently legalized (with restrictions) by the federal government, and CBD was removed from the DEA’s list of prohibited drugs, according to the Food and Drug Administration, CBD must first be awarded GRAS status, meaning that the compound is “generally regarded as safe,” before it can be added to foods.
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So, in essence, states are perfectly willing to defy the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Department of Justice when it comes to instituting marijuana markets yet are timid about adding CBD to foods although the compound has medicinal benefits with no reported adverse side effects.
CBD, what is it good for?
CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid compound produced in cannabis — both hemp and marijuana. However, hemp is essentially devoid of THC, the compound responsible for the high experienced by marijuana users. Unlike marijuana, the sale of hemp foods and hemp extracts is no longer federally prohibited.
Consumer demand for CBD-infused products has exploded in recent years. Fat Cat’s bakery says CBD treats have become a best-seller since it started offering them about three months ago. When the products proved popular, the bakery began adding CBD to cookies, brownies, and marshmallow treats. CBD-infused treats now account for around 30 percent of the bakery’s business.
So what’s all the fuss about? Why are eateries adding CBD to food? And why are consumers “eating it up.”
In recent years, CBD has become increasingly popular due to its purported medicinal effects. Initial research suggests that CBD is beneficial in treating a wide array of medical conditions from chronic pain to anxiety to Alzheimer's disease, as well as numerous debilitating neurodegenerative conditions.
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After three rounds of clinical trials, the FDA last year approved the very first cannabinoid-based drug, a product called Epidiolex, which is prescribed to reduce epileptic seizures in patients with intractable cases of certain types of childhood epilepsy. The drug is essentially pure CBD. As a result, the DEA down-scheduled CBD to Schedule V, placing it with over-the-counter preparations such as cough syrup.
The future looks bright for CBD, but how far away is it?
Shortly after President Trump signed the farm bill last year, the Food and Drug Administration released a good-news-bad-news statement which caused both concern and optimism amongst stakeholders in the CBD market.
According to the FDA statement, it remains “unlawful… to introduce food containing added CBD or THC into interstate commerce.” The statement stressed that the FDA would continue to take action against businesses that make health claims related to CBD products or that attempt to introduce such products into interstate commerce.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in an official FDA statement, “In view of the proliferation of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived substances, the FDA will advance new steps to better define our public health obligations in this area. We’ll also continue to closely scrutinize products that could pose risks to consumers.”
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb's statement on CBD
The good news is that the statement also includes a pledge to pursue pathways that would allow businesses to legally market products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds, and saying that it is actively exploring those options.
“In addition, pathways remain available for the FDA to consider whether there are circumstances in which certain cannabis-derived compounds might be permitted in a food or dietary supplement. Although such products are generally prohibited to be introduced in interstate commerce, the FDA has authority to issue a regulation allowing the use of a pharmaceutical ingredient in a food or dietary supplement. We are taking new steps to evaluate whether we should pursue such a process.” — FDA
Moving forward, the FDA is in the process of gathering input relevant to “the lawful pathways by which products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds can be marketed, and how we can make these legal pathways more predictable and efficient.”
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Although the FDA has expressed interest in clearing a path for the addition of CBD in foods and beverages, there is no indication of when the compound might receive GRAS status.