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If I were a betting man, I would bet my restaurants that New York will legalize cannabis in 2019. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and a majority of New Yorkers are on board. “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get a historic issue right for future New Yorkers,” de Blasio said in a recent report. “Legal cannabis is coming to New York state.”
A state Health Department study released last July determined that the benefits of legal marijuana outweigh the risks. The department determined that legalizing the drug for New Yorkers older than 21 would not significantly raise smoking rates and could help reduce racial disparities in police enforcement.
The benefits are clear: Cannabis sales would feed our tax coffers, there would be a reduction in unnecessary arrests, and the black market would eventually be eradicated.
So then why is de Blasio allowing his Department of Health to crack down on coffee shops and restaurants for selling cannabidiol? CBD is a non-psychoactive chemical compound that contains less than 0.3% of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). A quick Google search fully explains the clear difference between hemp-derived CBD—an ingredient that has been safely consumed by millions—and cannabis. Among its countless and versatile applications, CBD reduces stress, alleviates pain, prevents seizures, helps with migraines and is a known antidote for opioid users. And it does not make you high.
The Department of Health’s crackdown happened, by the way, less than two months after passage of the new Farm Bill, which affirmatively removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. In other words, it made hemp-derived CBD legal. We understand wholeheartedly that the Health Department officials want to protect New Yorkers and “are not permitting restaurants to add anything to food or drink that isn’t approved as safe to eat,” but how do they know it is not safe?
The agency is saying eateries to sell it as an additive but not put it in food. Now the conversation is getting murky. Restaurants have received no guidance from the city on the legal requirements of using CBD as an ingredient, despite requests by numerous small business owners and the New York City Hospitality Alliance.
In light of the shift toward legalization in New York and across the country, this aggressive approach of issuing fines and confiscating food containing CBD is irresponsible and unnecessary—and creating massive confusion among consumers who use CBD to combat a myriad of mental and physical health issues.
If New York wants to compete in the most exciting growth industry in our lifetime, we must adopt a robust and affirmative stance on hemp-based extracts and CBD in foods and supplements.
The informed public wants this product. And will get it. The smart localities will welcome it and reap the rewards in their tax base (or lose out, period). The market is moving and it is up to the local regulators to decide if they want to thrive with the industry or not. Because the industry will thrive; it will just relocate to where it is welcome.
New York City must take a deeper look at the Farm Bill as well as the myriad benefits of hemp-based products. Let consumers have what they have been promised and what was federally legislated. And for goodness sake, don’t turn back the clock on CBD when adult-use cannabis legalization is already on the docket—and, for New Yorkers, a sure bet.