Last week, Department of Health (DOH) officials began visiting restaurants in New York City which carry cannabidiol (CBD) edibles, bagging up the products, and marking them as ‘embargoed’.
The first demonstration of the crackdown occurred when the department arrived unannounced to Fat Cat Kitchen, a cafe in the downtown Manhattan neighborhood of Gramercy. The agency removed a selection of CBD-infused baked goods amounting to around $1,000, Eater reported on Monday February 4, 2019.
Recently, the DOH released a statement focusing on the legal ambiguity of CBD as a Food & Drug Administration approved substance by banning its use in NYC food and beverage products until further notice.
Dorothy Stepnowska, owner of CBD centered Flower Power Coffee House in Glendale, Queens combats this justification. “If you think about it, when you go into a supermarket, half of the products there aren’t FDA approved. And we’re eating it, we’re drinking it.”
Stepnowska opened her business this past April, amid a flurry of commercial activity in NYC surrounding CBD edibles. Proprietors began adding the substance to coffee, pastries, breads, candy, and cocktails, among other items. The lineup includes bar Adriaen Block, which opened this past August in Astoria, and long standing eateries like By CHLOE, Van Leeuwan, and The James Hotel – Nomad.
The first business to kick off the CBD food trend in NYC is Bushwick cafe, Caffeine Underground, in March 2018. Owner, Ian Ford describes, “Flower Power Coffee Co [not the coffee shop] came into my store and we hit it off right away. We both see CBD as a way to facilitate wellness. We were the first coffee shop to say yes to their infused coffee, and it went from there.”
CBD’s wellness component
CBD is attractive to consumers for reasons far separate from its biological relationship to marijuana. The substance has an array of purported health benefits including treatment for anxiety, depression, epilepsy, and pain relief. It even contains antioxidant properties, as patented by the U.S. Government in 2003 under the terminology Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants.
“Why take liver-damaging and addictive painkillers when you can take something natural?” asks Ford.
The strongest evidence of these advantages are consumers themselves. Stepnowska speaks about her history of, “bad anxiety. And since I started using CBD, I don’t have panic attacks anymore.”
Ford describes the substance as a “godsend for many people.” He references the passing of two close friends who lost their battles with cancer for whom, “CBD gave a livable quality of life for two of their last three months.”
One of the main claims is that all of this happens without the added component of getting high. CBD, which can be extracted in isolation from either hemp or marijuana plants, is non psychoactive. Hemp plants themselves contain less than 3% THC.
Proprietors have performed their own scrutiny
When approached with the prospect to sell CBD laced goods, Stepnowska entered into into the business with enthusiasm. She explains, “A very good friend of mine, whose oils I get from Colorado, asked me, ‘Would you like to sell CBD?’ He explained everything to me. I did my research. I actually went out and took a drug test, just to make sure there’s no THC in it.”
Since introducing CBD edibles on her menu, Stepnowska attests to having been visited by the health department without any issues. But as the popularity of CBD in NYC has risen this past year, so has the risk to become a target for federal response.
The re-legalization of industrial hemp as part of the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act, passed on December 20, 2018, further catalyzed efforts to control the substance. In a statement released by the FDA regarding this amendment, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb acknowledges, “the growing public interest in cannabis and cannabis-derived products, including cannabidiol (CBD)… This increasing public interest in these products makes it even more important with the passage of this law for the FDA to clarify its regulatory authority over these products.”
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the DOH prohibition for owners like Stepnowska and Ford has been exactly that, a lack of communication or specified regulations. Stepnowska found out about the ban, “through TV.”
Ford surmises, “I feel the DOH is being unfair by not issuing to us, directly, a policy statement. We don’t know the guidelines, and would like to. Some news reports say that prepackaged CBD products from out of state are legal, some say even candy isn’t legal. We simply don’t know, and my experience with the DOH is that every inspector will have his own take on it.”
Stepnowska has submitted a petition to the DOH through city council members to lift the CBD edibles ban. Already, she has obtained 200 signatures, and continues to push now for 500. A total of 11 other NYC businesses experiencing the repercussions of this crackdown have pledged their support.
Ford advocates, “Dorothy is working hard with all of us to spearhead a movement, and I’ll be helping her in any way I can.”
As the landscape of cannabis legalization in America rapidly shifts, Stepnowska acknowledges that policy is still developing. To DOH representatives and lawmakers alike, she urges her enterprising spirit, “Why don’t you work on testing it, to approve it? The businesses in NYC have been selling CBD for over a year. So it takes the DOH this long to make a move like this?”
For now, New Yorkers will be taking their coffee black.
Gabrielle Lenhard is a freelance filmmaker and writer based out of Brooklyn. She has written for news blogs like Vast.com and Ditmas Park Corner as well as SAT passages on art and science for educational publishing. Creatively, she has completed narrative episodes for the podcast Desperate Nightmares from Christ The King, M.O, and staged readings of several of her full-length plays at Dixon Place Theatre. With a BFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, she is a storyteller at heart. Gabrielle continues to write, direct, produce, and edit experimental short films under the name Rude Ink.
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