Food and Drink

That trendy CBD product in your smoothie? Adding it is illegal, N.C. officials say

Photo by Jane Wester
Photo by Jane Wester

You can buy edible products containing a cousin of marijuana all over Charlotte — but selling them is actually illegal, according to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The department says it began sending letters to businesses last week, notifying them that the sale of CBD in food, drinks and animal food violates state and federal law.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of many compounds derived from the hemp plant, which is related to the marijuana plant. Unlike the compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), it’s not supposed to give you a “high.” Claims about CBD’s effects range from easing anxiety to treating cancer.

Marijuana is illegal in North Carolina, and so is hemp if it contains too much THC.

CBD had seemed to exist in a gray area, and everything from CBD sangria to gummies and dog treats began to be sold in Charlotte in recent months.

[Related: Max & Lola Bodega adding CBD to its classic cocktails. Check out its twist on prosecco, sangria and more.]

As that was happening, the FDA defined CBD as the active ingredient in a drug for seizure treatments it approved in mid-2018.

That’s important, because the FDA prohibits adding any drug’s active ingredients to foods, said Joe Reardon, assistant commissioner for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Reardon said the department is focusing on education rather than consequences.

He said it’s not yet clear what will happen to businesses that ignore the letters.

“Once you place products into the marketplace, you have a responsibility to comply with all federal and state laws,” the letters say, according to a copy provided by the agriculture department. “Failure to comply could result in legal action being taken against you, including without limitation, embargo, seizure and injunction.”

The state’s Alcohol Law Enforcement agency is working with the agriculture department but does not have a policy on CBD at this time, a spokeswoman said. A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police spokesman declined to comment on CBD this week.

Which CBD products are still allowed?

At Berrybrook Farms, the longstanding natural-foods store on East Boulevard, a big banner out front advertises CBD oil.

But manager Dironah Andrews said Tuesday she hadn’t received a letter from the state, and she doesn’t expect to get one. The store sells CBD oil, Andrews said, but hasn’t done much with edible products, mostly because she’s skeptical of their ingredients. “Gummies don’t belong in a health food store,” she said.

CBD oils, tinctures and topical products are allowed, Reardon said — as long as they’re sold without health claims. The idea is that you can let oils and tinctures dissolve under your tongue instead of swallowing them — so they aren’t officially considered food, he said.

Which CBD products are OK at restaurants?

Edible and drinkable CBD products have popped up on shelves and menus all over Charlotte in the past year.

[Related: Here’s where you can eat and drink your CBD. (No, it won’t get you high.)]

Moo & Brew, a burgers-and-beer restaurant on Central Avenue, has a special menu focused on CBD, including burgers with CBD aioli and fries drizzled with CBD oil. At the Plaza Midwood smoothie shop Smooth Monkey, CBD oil is marketed alongside protein powder as an add-on for smoothies and acai bowls. Other local businesses have sold CBD in cocktails, fudge, biscuits and empanadas.

Alex Cason Photography<br/>Make any smoothie a CBD smoothie at Smooth Monkey. Alex Cason

Smooth Monkey manager Emmelie Williams said CBD oil is popular at the store, and she’s waiting to hear more about any new restrictions. An owner of Moo & Brew passed questions about the CBD menu along to his managers, who did not respond to requests for comment from The Charlotte Observer.

Lincoln’s Haberdashery, a cafe and small grocery in South End, has sold specialty lattes featuring CBD oil in the past, general manager Courtney Estes said.

“Most people enjoy it because it takes away the jitter portion of having espresso in your drink,” Estes said. ”It felt like a health product.”

Until this week, Lincoln’s offered CBD oil as an add-on to its espresso menu — but Estes said they removed the option when an Observer reporter started asking about it.

The store has not received a state letter, she said, but she compared the situation to the 2017 ‘brunch bill’, which legalized alcohol sales on Sunday mornings.

In that case, Estes said, she started hearing that alcohol sales were legal, but she waited until she was absolutely sure the government approved before opening up sales in her business. It wasn’t worth the risk before that, she said.

Reardon said the agriculture department is primarily concerned with CBD edibles sold in grocery and convenience stores. For restaurant sales, the health department would be involved, he said.

County health inspectors are waiting for guidance from the state, county spokesperson Rebecca Carter said Wednesday. A state Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson agreed with the agriculture department’s description of what’s legal and not but did not answer questions about enforcement.

Industry insider: CBD regulation is needed in N.C.

While an array of Charlotte businesses are selling CBD along with other products, Charlotte CBD, a store on Central Avenue, focuses entirely on CBD and hemp products, including edibles.

Michael Sims, one of the store’s owners, said Tuesday that he had not received a letter from the state, but he’s been in close contact with the store’s lawyer.

“We have seen a copy of the letter,” he said.

Sims said the store is willing to be flexible about what it sells, and that he believes regulation of the CBD and hemp industry is important. Because there’s not much official oversight yet, he said Charlotte CBD has Wingate University test each product line before he sells it.

But over-regulation could also mean that people might not be able to get products that could help them, Sims said.

This article originally appeared in The Charlotte Observer.