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New York City’s CBD Crackdown Worries Restaurateurs

CBD Crackdown Worries NYC Restaurateurs
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New York City’s CBD Crackdown Worries Restaurateurs

CBD-infused foods and beverages are the targets of a crackdown in New York City. But the issue is the FDA’s failure to keep pace with federal law — not the inherent risks of cannabidiol.

Health authorities in New York City have placed an “embargo” on inventory and are threatening enforcement action against eateries, cafes and cocktail lounges that offer food and drink prepared with the fashionable cannabinoid CBD.

In January, inspectors from the city Department of Health & Mental Hygiene started to “embargo” CBD comestibles and beverages, which means that restaurants and other establishments are on notice to stop offering them. So far, officials have placed five establishments on notice, according to the foodie website Eater, which broke the story. The first on-site embargo enforcements took place last week.

“Restaurants in New York City are not permitted to add anything to food or drink that is not approved as safe to eat. The Health Department takes seriously its responsibility to protect New Yorkers’ health,” the department said in a statement, adding that CBD has not been “deemed safe as a food additive.”

The statement said the department will start issuing fines of between $200 and $650, depending on the quantity found, starting July 1.

Jaundiced Media Coverage of the CBD Crackdown

On Feb. 1, a health inspector arrived at the Fat Cat Kitchen on Manhattan’s East 14th Street, sealing the restaurant’s supply of CBD-infused baked goods in a plastic bag marked “embargoed.” Fat Cat proprietor CJ Holm told Eater for a follow-up story that she was still in possession of the goods, but is barred from selling them. She complained that she was unable to get clear information when she had earlier called the Health Department asking how to comply.

The New York Times noted the lack of clarity:  “Whether the compound is legal has been a source of confusion. In June, the federal Food and Drug Administration approved the first CBD prescription drug to be sold in the United States. But the Drug Enforcement Administration has said CBD is illegal because it comes from cannabis, a banned Schedule 1 drug. And on its website, the FDA says products with CBD cannot be sold as dietary supplements or in food that crosses state lines.”

But the Times ironically adds to the confusion by failing to mention the federal Farm Bill passed in December, which removed hemp-derived CBD from the schedule system. The Times’ headline is also misleading: “New York City Cracks Down on CBD Edibles, Saying the Cannabis Derivative Is Unsafe.” Actually, no. City authorities are not saying CBD is unsafe — only that it has not yet been approved for use in food and drink under the FDA regulations.

In other words, the Times is engaging in baseless fear-mongering, when what is really at issue here is that the FDA regulations have not yet caught up with federal law.

A CBD Restaurateur Speaks

Also feeling the pinch is Adriaen Block, an eatery in the Queens neighborhood of Astoria which bills itself as “the first CBD restaurant and bar in NYC.” It opened in August, and got off to a “really good start.”

That’s what owner George Csonka, a Budapest-born longtime New York restaurateur, said when contacted by Cannabis Now. “It was a great formula, we were booming,” Csonka said. “Now sales are down 40 percent. This is really affecting our business.”

Csonka was quick to add that he isn’t looking for a fight. “We do want to comply and be a good citizen for New York. But before the city cracks down and begins confiscating product and imposing fines of up to $600, they should have a regulation issued and give small business a chance to comply. Simply cracking down without any written rule, that’s what pisses me off.”

Adriaen Block is still offering its full menu, but without the CBD tincture that could previously be added by request. “Everything is a la carte,” he said. “Nothing is pre-made. CBD gummy bears are still available, because that’s a retail item, not food, and we don’t produce them.”

Optimistically, he concluded: “Hopefully this will prove temporary. It’s my opinion that this is going to be resolved as soon as the Health Department and FDA find the rules and regulations for this new industry. Hopefully soon. This business is not going away. New York City should figure out how to make money from it. As soon as the city figures that out, we should be back to normal.”

Maine and Ohio, Too

New York City isn’t alone in unleashing authorities on purveyors of CBD comestibles. On Feb. 5, more than 100 people gathered for a rally outside the Maine statehouse in Augusta to protest a “removal order” by the Pine Tree State’s health authority. The rally drew CBD users, hemp farmers, medical marijuana caregivers and retailers of CBD products. It was held to coincide with the introduction of a bill that would suspend the removal order, giving stakeholders some time while the legislature hashes out a solution, the Portland Press Herald reports.

In Ohio, the state Department of Agriculture is similarly working with health authorities and police agencies statewide to “embargo” ingestible products containing CBD.

Kate Zaidan, the proprietor of Dean’s Mediterranean Imports in Cincinnati’s Findlay Market, said city health inspectors visited her shop Feb. 5 and told her to stop selling CBD products or risk having her inventory “embargoed.”

Zaidan told the Cincinnati Enquirer: “They basically came in and laid down the law and said we were no longer allowed to carry any CBD products. The saddest thing is my customers no longer have access to something that was really helping them.”

TELL US, do you regularly eat or drink any CBD-infused products?

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