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City Politicians Fight to Reverse Health Department CBD Ban

City council members are demanding more details — and trying to legalize cannabis-laced edibles

Adriaen Block Adriaen Block/Facebook

City officials are biting back against the Department of Health for new cannabis-laced food regulations. Speaker Corey Johnson, chair of the committee on health Mark Levine, and council member Robert F. Holden wrote a letter to the DOH this week saying they’re “deeply alarmed” by how the whole thing went down — demanding more info on the decision-making process.

In February, the health department confirmed that it’s banning cannabidiol (or CBD) edibles from restaurants, bars, and other businesses under its purview. The legal, non-psychoactive chemical compound derived from the hemp plant has become increasingly popular to add to lattes, brownies, and other prepared foods. The DOH, though, said it’s “unlawful to add” based on federal rules. Fees for selling CBD edibles start in October.

But many restaurants say they were caught off guard by the update. In the letter, the council members ask commissioner Oxiris Barbot for a formal report detailing the decision behind the ban, as well as an explanation on why the new rule was not properly communicated before enforcement. “It is crucial that DOHMH (Department of Health and Mental Hygiene) provide clarity and insight into its processes,” the letter says. Levine plans to introduce a bill that legalizes and regulates CBD edibles. See the full letter below.

“CBD is legal in most states, doesn’t get you high, and has even been approved for some medical uses by the FDA,” Levine says in a release. “At a time when we are finally moving away from prohibition of marijuana, this is a step backwards, and DOHMH has yet to offer a substantive explanation about why such a drastic step needed to be taken now.”

Word that the DOH would start embargoing CBD products came out in early February after Fat Cat Kitchen owner C.J. Holm told Eater about her own experience during an inspection. Shortly after, the health department said that it started enforcing the rule in January and had already stopped sales at five restaurants.

Many people in the restaurant community were shocked by the new enforcement, pointing to a December federal law that relaxed sales of CBD products. The NYC Hospitality Alliance, a restaurant advocacy group, said that it had asked for DOH guidance repeatedly and heard nothing. Following the pushback, the DOH announced that it would slow down enforcement, delaying embargoes until July 1 and not enforcing fees until October.

It’s a hot topic issue for a growing revenue stream. Holm said that CBD products had grown to make up about 30 percent of sales at her Gramercy Park bakery and restaurant. In Astoria, a restaurant and bar opened with a focus on CBD-enhanced dishes and cocktails.

By comparison, local restaurateurs and lawmakers remained largely quiet on the health department ban on activated charcoal foods. Ice creams, coffees, and drinks with activated charcoal, though popular on Instagram for their striking black color, are no longer allowed under rules that are similar to the ban on CBD.

The Department of Health maintains that it’s simply following federal rules, according to a statement to the Post, reiterating that it’s “unlawful” to add CBD to food and drink.