A Gramercy Park neighborhood restaurant and bakery says that the Department of Health forced it to stop selling food with CBD, embargoing cookies and other pastries containing the legal compound derived from cannabis.
Fat Cat Kitchen’s co-owner C.J. Holm says that officials with the health department bagged up about $1,000 worth of cannabidiol (or CBD) edibles on Friday morning during a routine inspection, putting them in a zip-lock bag and marking them as “embargoed.” Holm is still in possession of the items.
DOH visited at least two other times in the recent past and did not mention the CBD products, even though Fat Cat Kitchen advertises the treats with a sign outside the restaurant, she alleges.
“I mean, this is crazy,” Holm says, alleging that at least two city staffers did not know what CBD was when she called for more information. “They couldn’t even intelligently explain to me exactly what the problem was when I spoke to them on the phone.”
CBD is a legal, non-psychoactive chemical compound that’s a relative of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the illegal compound in weed. In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to put into food products due to its purported (albeit sometimes questionable) therapeutic effects.
A Department of Health spokesperson did not immediately have a statement or further information. Eater will update when more details become available.
New York isn’t the only place facing this issue. Over the weekend, Maine’s health officials announced a ban on CBD edibles, saying that it’s not a federally approved food additive. But CBD itself — such as in a vape, as an oil, or in a lotion — is still okay to sell.
Holm says she was also told by New York DOH staffers that CBD can’t be used as a “food additive,” though it can be sold on its own. It’s similar to language that the department used about food with activated charcoal, which it started confiscating last summer, and similar to the language used in Maine regarding its CBD food ban.
The explanation did not make sense to Holm, though. “It’s like telling me I can buy rum and I can sell rum, but I can’t sell a rum baba,” she says. “It makes no sense.”
Eater has reached out to several other restaurants known to serve food with CBD to see if they too have had issues. At least the Wild Son in Meatpacking District, which started offering the option to add CBD oil to drinks this year, has not heard from the health department. But Holm says DOH told her that enforcement would be rolling out citywide.
If DOH is indeed planning to enforce this widely, many restaurants, bars, and cafes would need to halt production on a revenue stream that’s having a boom in popularity. More and more New York businesses are either putting items like CBD cocktails and CBD lattes onto their menus. Astoria restaurant Adriaen Block even opened saying that it would specialize in food and drink with CBD.
It’s a nationwide trend that’s expected to only get bigger after a December federal law made CBD sales easier. Companies selling hemp were anticipated to make a killing. But with that, CBD has become a seeming legal gray area. “We just had the carpet pulled out from under us,” one store owner in Maine told the Portland Press Herald on Friday.
The demand is there for the products. CBD treats have become Fat Cat’s best-seller since it started offering them about three months ago, which Holm credits to her staff’s exacting knowledge about dosages.
The cafe, which opened in 2017, started with honey shots with CBD powder and has since added cookies, brownies, and marshmallow treats. It’s some 30 percent of overall business, and due to customer requests, she had started formulating long-term plans to grow the line even more, Holm says.
Now, the restaurateur is unsure of what she will do about CBD sales. She is telling people what happened in hopes of warning other restaurateurs of what might be coming next, particularly since she thinks the guidance and enforcement from the health department is arbitrary and unclear, she says.
“The whole thing is not fair,” she says. “What’s the law? You just closed down half my business.”