EDITOR’S NOTE: On Oct. 2, NJ Cannabis Insider hosts its fall live event at the New Jersey Convention & Expo Center, featuring leaders in the medical marijuana and legal cannabis industries. Tickets are limited.
Would you like a side of CBD with your beer, brownie or acai bowl? At several bars cafes and restaurants across New Jersey, that’s on the menu.
And it’s legal — well, depending who you ask.
When Gov. Phil Murphy last month signed legislation allowing hemp to be grown freely, he set the grounds for a new cash crop in the Garden State. But it also put New Jersey at odds with the Federal Drug Administration, as a minor portion of the law legalized the addition of hemp-derived cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, into food and drinks.
Some who use CBD have hailed the salves, gummies and tinctures as miracle cures for anxiety, insomnia and pain caused by inflammation. Skeptics caution the pricey products could be the latest snake oil. And then there are the folks who want to give it a try to see for themselves, perhaps disguised in their favorite treats or morning latte.
A cloud of stigma still surrounds marijuana and its sister products. But CBD isn’t the choice of stoners — many shops say the customers in search of it out are those who are older and dealing with pain, seeking alternative treatments. For the small mom and pop shops peddling CBD, educating new customers is key.
“It’s funny because a lot of people do come into this and say, ‘There’s drugs in this?’ It’s not drugs. It’s a supplement,” said Joe Puzzo, a co-owner of Cranford Bakery and Desserts (yes, that acronym is intentional, but the bakery sells non-CBD goods, too).
“We’re getting a lot of good feedback that it’s helping people. I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong.”
So is CBD legal?
CBD is one of the many chemicals found in marijuana and hemp. When derived from hemp, which has less than 0.3 percent of THC (the compound that gets you high), it’s legal and widely available, following the federal Farm Bill that passed late last year.
But all that’s legal isn’t necessarily approved by the FDA, which already classified CBD as a drug for use in one prescription medication to treat epilepsy.
After calling the cannabinoid a drug, the FDA can’t just turn around and give it the OK as a standard food ingredient, said Jennifer Cabrera, an attorney with the New York office of Vicente Sederberg specializing in regulations around cannabis and hemp.
In July, the agency released its latest guidance on CBD. Aside from reaffirming it’s illegal to add CBD to food, the agency said little about moving forward aside from the possibility of reconsidering its regulations. For now, there’s too many unknowns about long-term effects of regular consumption, the agency said.
“The information we have underscores the need for further study and high quality, scientific information about the safety and potential uses of CBD,” the agency said.
And that federal law trumps what the Garden State is trying.
“New Jersey is one of the last states to have actually created a plan — they haven’t even created a plan,” Cabrera said. “But they passed this law. They’re one of the last states to regulate in this area.”
Some states, like Washington and California, have recently gone in the opposite direction, passing laws banning or limiting the sale of CBD-infused foods. New York City bans the practice, too.
A business that decides to infuse its cupcakes or beers with CBD isn’t protected by New Jersey’s hemp law, Cabrera said. Theoretically, the FDA could start enforcing, but the feds have largely left CBD marketers alone, aside from those making unsubstantiated health claims about their products.
If the FDA does decide to crack down, a business would likely get a cease and desist letter from the agency and that would be the end of that, said Marc Ross, an attorney with Sichenzia Ross Ference who also teaches a cannabis law course at Hofstra University.
It’s a bit like states legalizing marijuana while it remains a schedule 1 drug according to the federal government: They’re choosing which way they want things to ultimately go when this all shakes out.
“It’s something where it’s really a local issue. I think it’s New Jersey trying to get involved in the space,” Ross said. “They’re trying to get ahead of the curve and address what they think is right with its citizens.”
That’s what Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, said about the detail. As CBD and the state’s hemp industries continue to grow, the lawmakers took a stance for down the road.
“We were intending to be forward looking of what could occur, and thought it should be at least addressed in a basic way in statute,” he said. “We didn’t want to remain silent on it. We took the approach that we did thinking there would be plenty of regulatory structure.”
Getting in on the trend
The booming CBD food scene isn’t just about brownies and gummies. It’s for foodies, too. Think smoked duck breast with fennel, apple and mango peals or a lobster tail in polenta and butter, finished off with strawberry shortcake or, of course, a brownie.
Rob Mejia, author of “The Essential Cannabis Book: A Field Guide for the Curious,” helped to design and host an eight course meal with those offerings at Caffe Anello in Westwood in June, which used CBD-infused butters and oils and ran at $125 a pop.
Mejia said the dinner was both decadent and educational, with talks about the current state of cannabis and a breakdown of the CBD content in the menu items. He’s looking forward, not back, and does not think a lack of FDA action will keep food like this off the table.
“As with so many things with cannabis, this is yet another one of those gray spaces,” he said. “Depending on how fast they move, I believe these CBD-infused dinners will probably be more regulated.”
The restauranteurs NJ Advance Media spoke to for this report all stressed the importance of knowing the origin of the CBD they used. While none of them have menus that solely rely on CBD food items, each said the selections have been a hit.
It’s that demand that keeps Marc Russell, who owns the bar Northern Soul in Hoboken, thinking up CBD cocktails.
“There’s like movement right now with CBD and hemp,” he said. “There’s a demand for it, so why would I not?”
He uses a local supplier of CBD, and said the drinks are popular among parents. As for the FDA, he said he’d like to see more common sense discussion around the product, but isn’t too worried about having to dump the drink from his menu.
“There’s surely there’s bigger fish to fry than CBD,” he said.