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Is edible CBD legal in New York? The answer is no, but it’s still a bit hazy

New York state has declared CBD in food and drinks to be illegal. But some products, like chocolate bars and gummis (left), can still be found, while others, like the Beak & Skiff CBD Cold Brew Coffee at right, have been pulled from the shelves.

It should be a simple question: Is it legal in New York to make, sell or buy food or beverages containing CBD, the cannabis derivative that’s become a trend-setting commodity for the health-conscious in recent years?

If you look around the thousands of stores and shops across New York that sell CBD products, you’d probably answer “Yes, of course.” You can find CBD in everything from chocolate bars and gummi candy to lemonade and lattes. They’re sold at coffee shops, health food stores, dedicated CBD retail outlets — even gas stations.

But since mid-summer, New York state regulators have had a different take: The state Department of Agriculture & Markets issued an advisory letter July 19 that says CBD is illegal in New York when added to food or drinks. The advisory does not apply to topical oils, patches, oral tinctures or other uses. It also does not apply to foods or beverages containing hemp seed oil (without CBD).

Ag & Markets has already hit some high-profile targets in its effort to squash edible and drinkable CBD.

This summer, it forced Beak & Skiff Orchards in LaFayette to pull back a CBD Cold Brew Coffee before it even made it to the shelves.

And, at the 2019 New York State Fair, Ag & Markets inspectors stopped vendors from selling edible or drinkable CBD (though a few had them early on Opening Day). Ag & Markets oversees the State Fair.

Yet many CBD outlets continue to sell food and drink containing CBD — mostly because they haven’t yet been contacted or shut down by state regulators.

Meanwhile, looming over the situation is a bill passed by the state Legislature in June but not yet signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. If signed, it would provide a regulatory framework for growing hemp and processing the oils, like CBD, extracted from it. Among other things, the bill would allow for some CBD-infused drinks (but not food).

All this leaves consumers — along with growers, manufacturers and retailers — in a bit of a haze.

“What I’m hearing from everyone is, ‘What the heck is going on?’ ” said Allan Gandelman, co-owner Head + Heal, a Cortland County hemp grower and processor and the president of the New York Cannabis Growers and Processors Association. “It’s a bit of a Wild West free-for-all, — a gray area in which everyone is looking for some clarity.”

ENFORCING THE LAW

CBD — or cannabidiol — is a naturally-occurring compound, extracted from the flowers and buds of the two forms of cannabis plant — marijuana and hemp. It does not contain significant amounts of THC, the psychoactive substance that creates marijuana’s “high.”

CBD is touted for its therapeutic properties, such as relieving inflammation, pain and anxiety. Some of its health claims — such as preventing seizures — have more scientific evidence behind them than others (like inhibiting cancer.)

CBD’s availability exploded in the past year or so, accelerated by the 2018 federal farm bill, which legalized the farming of hemp (but not marijuana). New York state is now licensing dozens of hemp growers across the state through a pilot program

The surging popularity of all things hemp and CBD is part of the problem. Even though state regulators, citing the Federal Drug Administration, say it’s not legal to sell edible and drinkable CBD products, they haven’t really come close to shutting it down.

“There are literally thousands of shops across the state with edible CBD, selling muffins and cookies and drinks and whatever, and many of them appear to be in violation of the law,” Gandelman said. “But Ag & Markets does not have the manpower to enforce it.”

For now, Ag & Markets spokeswoman Jola Szubielski said, the department’s focus is on education and its pilot hemp program. In response to questions about the legality of edible CBD, she offered links to the July 19 letter and an FAQ on the issue.

The letter, sent by Ag & Markets deputy commissioner Jennifer Trodden to the state’s food and dairy license holders,, was intended “to clarify the New York State’s Department of Agriculture and Markets’ . position on the inclusion of cannabidiol (CBD) in food products.”

“No food or beverage product may be made or sold in New York State if it contains CBD as a food, a food additive or an ingredient,” Trodden’s letter continues.

Is edible CBD legal in New York? The answer is no, but it’s still a bit hazy New York state has declared CBD in food and drinks to be illegal. But some products, like chocolate bars and gummis