The CBD Ban in New York City: What You Need to Know

New York City recently issued a ban on CBD products, and retailers across the city might be forced to reverse course. The decision involves players on the federal, state and local levels, leaving residents confused about what is and isn’t legal. Let’s break down the current situation.

What is banned exactly?
The NYC ban on CBD is centered around food and drinks containing CBD additives. This will primarily focus on restaurants and cafes, or any place where food is prepared on-site. There seems to be some uncertainty regarding enforcement when it comes to grocery stores, bodegas and other businesses that sell prepackaged goods, as these establishments could fall under the purview of NY State – not NYC. But in practice, the decision might stretch to all infused food and drink products.

What’s the deal with CBD?
Short for cannabidiol, CBD is a non-intoxicating ingredient in cannabis. No, it will not get you high. But it is believed to be a remedy for anxiety, pain, acne, inflammation and insomnia, among other ailments.

Who made this decision?
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), which oversees public health along with conducting restaurant inspection and enforcement for the city, cites a statement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from this May as its motivation for the recent enforcement. The FDA’s statement reaffirmed its stance that “it is unlawful to add CBD to food or drink.”

Click here for the FDA’s official breakdown on the regulation of cannabis and cannabis-derived products.

When is this happening?
Now. On July 1, 2019, the DOHMH began embargoing the targeted products, raiding businesses with an order to return them to the supplier or discard them. Multiple retailers claim that they have received visits from other city and state department officials as well, and are often presented with contradicting instructions. Starting October 1, 2019, violations from $200 to $650 will be issued to vendors that are not in compliance, and violation points may count toward the establishment’s letter grade. Yet, on the verge of October, you can still find CBD food and drink products for sale in plain sight.

Photo by Sophia Pavlatos

How did we get here?
The 2014 Farm Bill defined hemp as any cannabis plant that has 0.3 percent or less THC and opened the door for limited industrial hemp growth and research. This was expanded upon by the December 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp agriculture and products nation-wide by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act. A boom in diversity and accessibility of hemp-derived CBD oil led to products and supplements filling shelves while infused food and drink items, such as lattes and pastries, popped up on menus.

Can this be reversed?
Some members of the NYC council have floated the idea of creating legislation to eliminate the DOHMH fines. If significant, long-term change is possible, it would probably have to start in Albany at the state level. The DOHMH is currently following FDA guidelines, but if the state were to create new hemp and CBD guidelines of their own, NYC could choose to abide by the state’s rules instead. In the meantime, a number of retailers are prepared to call the city’s bluff and continue selling the banned products until they’re forced to stop.

What do opponents of the ban argue?
Many cannabis advocates believe that a lack of federal and state-level regulation of CBD creates a dangerous environment where products can be mislabeled and contain unknown substances. They suggest an alternative path forward, where the state government works with relevant professionals to set laws requiring the proper testing, record-keeping, and advertising restrictions.

What are other states doing?
Numerous states have also banned CBD as a food and drink additive, including California, Washington, North Carolina, and Ohio, all citing FDA guidelines. Massachusetts has proposed legislation to reverse recent guidance from state departments prohibiting its use in products, while Maine put a state law into effect this August requiring that cultivation, manufacture, sale, and consumption of hemp-based CBD all occur in state.