Rollout of ban on CBD-infused food and drink leaves restaurateurs scratching their heads

Caffeine Underground in Bushwick said CBD-infused products account for a third of its sales, according to owner Ian Ford.
Caffeine Underground in Bushwick said CBD-infused products account for a third of its sales, according to owner Ian Ford. Photo Credit: Uplift Studios

The city has begun cracking down on bars and eateries serving CBD-infused foods and drinks without taking time to ensure the industry had time to digest the recently enacted embargo, the New York City Hospitality Alliance said. 

The  alliance said it has received many questions over the last couple of days from members confused about an embargo initiated last month that, for the time being, forbids the sale of CBD-infused food and drinks. Owners have received little-to-no guidance on the new rules, and the trade group said several businesses have expressed concerns about just how dramatically the embargo may cut into their revenue.

"This aggressive enforcement is another example of New York City’s regulatory approach: Issue fines first, and educate last," the alliance said in a statement.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a marijuana extract that does not contain THC and, therefore, includes no psychedelic effects. The federal government made CBD more widely available for consumer and medicinal use when Congress passed last year’s farm bill.  

Ford said the news of the crackdown came as a complete shock.
Ford said the news of the crackdown came as a complete shock. Photo Credit: Caffeine Underground, Brooklyn, NY

The Hospitality Alliance said it learned about the new regulations Monday while reading a post in Eater, which reported that during an inspection of Fat Cat Kitchen in East Village, the city Health Department "embargoed" or sealed CBD cookies and other goods in bags and prohibited their sale until further notice. Although the eatery was able to maintain possession of the items,  co-owner C.J. Holm told the site that inspectors could not provide him with detailed information about related rules. 

A Health Department representative said the department has been in communication with city restaurants and bars and alerting them of the embargo. The health code requires that "any nonfood item added to food be approved or generally recognized, among qualified experts, as safe under the conditions of its intended use," according to the  department. 

"The Health Department takes seriously its responsibility to protect New Yorkers’ health. Until cannabidiol (CBD) is deemed safe as a food additive, the Department is ordering restaurants not to offer products containing CBD,” the agency said in a statement. 

The Health Department person said five establishments have been ordered to stop using CBD as a food additive in their products, but noted that the owners were allowed to keep  thoe products.

The sale of medicinal CBD products, such as prescriptions for epilepsy  in small dosage vials, is still permitted in pharmacies. Food products purchased outside the city are not illegal, the Health Department spokesperson said. 

The agency did not comment on the Hospitality Alliance’s statement.

For one owner of a CBD-themed coffee shop, the new rules came as a complete shock.

Ian Ford, who opened Caffeine Underground,  marketed as the state’s first CBD cafe, in 2017, said he was unaware of the Health Department’s ban until he was asked about it by amNewYork. He estimated that if Caffeine Underground were to stop selling CBD-infused products, the Bushwick cafe would lose a third of its sales.  

Ford said he was even more surprised about the news because a health official had inspected the cafe last week and did not raise any concerns about the CBD items on its menu or embargo any of its products.

"As long as you know where you get it and it’s legally sourced, I don’t understand why they would have an issue," Ford said.