Less than a month ago, the restaurant Bocado unveiled a new cocktail menu that mixed CBD oil into pisco sour and an aperitif with amaro and vermouth.
CBD, a non-intoxicating compound found in hemp and marijuana, was also making its way into lattes and sparkling water, kombucha and ice cream, strawberry-lavender jam and a local chef’s homemade vinaigrette.
But the rush to capitalize on the CBD craze might have been premature.
Restaurants, coffeehouses and bars are pulling back their CBD-infused items since Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black issued a warning this month that CBD remains barred from food and drinks. A new Georgia law allows CBD oil sales and hemp farming, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said CBD can’t be added to foods or dietary supplements.
Brian Lewis, the owner of Bocado, said late last week that CBD was being removed from the Westside restaurant’s beverage menu, effective immediately.
“We are going to follow the law,” Lewis said. He’s unconvinced of the popularity of CBD, saying it remains to be seen whether it will be here for the long term. He isn’t taking any chances.
“If we need to put a pause on it, we will,” he said.
Georgia became the 42nd state with a hemp program this month when Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 213 into law. The legislation allows hemp crops, which can be used to make CBD oil, a product touted as a treatment for seizures, insomnia and anxiety. CBD is also permitted in cosmetics and topical creams.
But when it comes to food and drinks, state officials said this earlier this month that federal rules are clear: CBD hasn’t yet been cleared by the FDA as safe or effective, except as a prescription drug to treat two seizure disorders.
State officials could begin enforcing violations when they’re notified of them, but the government hadn’t received any complaints as of Friday, and no regulatory actions have been taken so far, according to the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
The state could issue cease and desist orders, levy fines and revoke manufactured food licenses from establishments that sell CBD food products.
“We’re not pointing fingers at anyone,” said Terrell Davis, a spokesman for the state Agriculture Department. “We’re all walking through this process one step at a time.”
In December, Congress primed the market for rapid growth when it legalized hemp farming and sales as part of the farm bill. The bill removed hemp’s designation as a controlled substance and reclassified it as an agricultural product. Before that, CBD was legal under some state laws but not federal law.
Meanwhile, the FDA is playing catch-up. The agency will hold its first public hearing in Maryland on May 31 to figure out how to regulate the use of CBD in products, including foods and beverages. That process could take about a year, said Jonathan Miller of U.S. Hemp Roundtable, an advocacy organization for the hemp industry.
Miller disagreed with Georgia’s warning that it’s “unlawful” to use CBD as a food additive until regulations are approved. Current federal regulations don’t prohibit CBD food products, putting them in a legal gray area, he said.
“I’m pretty disappointed. We spent a lot of time and energy getting the law changed in Georgia and then to have this happen? I don’t think it’s legally accurate,” said Miller, an attorney. “In the meantime, we’re very hopeful that no one is going to be arrested for selling something that’s legal.”
Many businesses saw that by removing CBD from the controlled substances list, they could freely use the compound.
“It’s understandable that people would be confused about the legal status because you’re not reading about a bunch of shutdowns or hearing about many enforcement actions,” said Whitt Steineker, a Birmingham, Ala.-based attorney who advises clients on the legal status of cannabis. “The prudent course of action is to follow the FDA’s direction until it changes.”
Scotley Innis, a cannabis advocate and the owner of Chef Scotley Innis Culinary Services, said the warning from state officials gives him pause. He held a five-course CBD pop-up dinner in Atlanta in March. For that dinner, he incorporated CBD oils and CBD isolates into the food. Innis had planned another multicourse CBD dinner for June, but he’s not so sure about it.
“It kind of makes me second-guess: Is it worth me doing my dinners to risk fines and other penalties to showcase the benefits of CBD?” Innis said. “I will have to do it more discreetly, but I won’t say that’s going to stop me from doing what I have to do.”
Innis said he is frustrated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s warning.
“I feel like that contradicts what they are doing passing laws for prescription medical marijuana,” he said. “The fact that it is such a booming business. And now that puts on hold a lot of businesses that took time to do studies and examine it. They have to put their business on hold because the government doesn’t know how to regulate it.”
At least one business said it will likely stop using the CBD oil once its supply runs out.
Meanwhile, the CBD latte remained on the menu at Rev Coffee in Smyrna on Friday, and the owner said he wasn’t “100% sure” what he was going to do.
The uncertainty playing out in Georgia follows similar confusion across the country. Health inspectors have threatened or raided businesses that sell CBD foods, forcing some of those businesses to relocate.
“I definitely think it has a chilling effect,” said Daniel Shortt, a Seattle-based attorney who focuses on the cannabis industry. “Regulators aren’t really sure how to treat CBD and other hemp products. It puts the industry in a difficult position.”
One company, Cannabinoid Creations, which manufactures flavored hemp sodas sold in convenience stores, moved to Indiana last year after Michigan state officials said that possession of CBD products were prohibited without a medical marijuana card.
“Everyone at this point, we’re all waiting on the FDA,” said Scott Leshman, the founder of Cannabinoid Creations. “Each state has their own thing. We’ve had to change manufacturing, location and a number of different things.”
Apart from CBD, Georgia also will allow sales and cultivation of medical marijuana oil, which is more potent than CBD. Kemp signed a bill into law last month allowing medical marijuana oil to be grown in-state and distributed to the state’s 9,500 registered patients once regulations are established.