While the Food and Drug Administration considers regulating the burgeoning cannabis-derivative market, food and drink sellers are racing to put cannabidiol in their products.
New York-based salad and sandwich chain Fresh&Co., a popular spot for Manhattan’s grab-and-go lunch hordes, recently rolled out a limited time, CBD-infused “4/20” menu, a reference to the unofficial marijuana holiday. The chain lists such items as a “half-baked salad” and “blazed beet sandwich” among its selections. The salad, for instance, includes hemp cakes, mixed hemp greens, and CBD-infused ginger-cashew aioli — with 15 milligrams of cannabidiol.
Confusion reigns over the legality of marijuana-related products. Federal regulators are focused on commercial claims that CBD has beneficial health effects, for which there’s no conclusive evidence. Meanwhile, retailers claim the additive can help with chronic pain or anxiety, but again, there’s no evidence. Then there’s the unanswered question, as the FDA noted earlier this year, of whether there are negative long-term effects from CBD use.
None of this has gotten in the way of clever marketing aimed at consumers who don’t know — or care — about the latest scientific study.
Big food companies are getting playful, too. For all delivery orders on April 19 and April 20 from cannabis company Caliva, Ben & Jerry’s has agreed to supply a free pint of Half Baked ice cream. Also on April 20, fast food chain Carl’s Jr. will sell a burger with pickled jalapeños, pepper jack cheese, and CBD-infused sauce. But don’t get too excited — it will only be available at one location in Denver, Colorado, the first state to create a legal marijuana market.
When it comes to Fresh&Co.’s CBD campaign, though, New York officials aren’t amused. The city decided to ban CBD from food products, giving retailers until July 1 to comply. In the interim, the health department said it’s working on “educating business operators about this prohibition and directing them to stop offering these products.”
Even with the grace period, some city inspectors have already been cracking down on restaurants and retailers selling CBD-infused products. In a statement Wednesday, the health department reiterated that the FDA “has advised that it is unlawful to add cannabidiol (CBD) to food or drink.”
Fresh&Co. Chief Executive Officer George Tenedios said in an interview Tuesday that his company isn’t doing anything wrong. “We’re in complete compliance at this point,” he said. Fresh&Co.’s menu will be available only through April 30.
The salad chain’s CBD menu was pioneered by Miguel Trinidad, the executive chef and co-founder of 99th Floor, a cannabis-focused catering company, and Fresh&Co.’s executive chef, Craig Rispoli. When it came to finding the right CBD for the menu, Tenedios said he spent six months researching different brands, eventually landing on a West Coast-based company called Herbology.
Tenedios recognizes that introducing this menu was a big leap for the company. “Obviously, this is a controversial item and topic in general,” he said. When asked whether Fresh&Co. would make CBD a regular part of its menu, Tenedios said, “It would really have to depend on where we land with regulations in New York City.”