CBD products at L Stop Gourmet

On the heels of the New York City health department’s ban on CBD-infused food and drink, the State Assembly wants to crack down on where bodegas and other mom-and-pop CBD stores are getting CBD from in the first place. A bill approved by the New York State Assembly and awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature is attempting to better regulate the industry by introducing licensing, lab testing and production requirements. The bill was spearheaded by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell, 123), who says that the CBD industry is seeing “increasing consumer demand and interest” and needs to be put under control. Still, for some bodegas, the measure is just another hit to a product that’s already been hard to get off shelves.

“It doesn’t usually sell,” said Walle, who works at L Stop Gourmet Deli on Bushwick Avenue and Montrose Street. The deli sells a variety of CBD vape cartridges from Brooklyn-based hemp company Lock and Key Industries. For $29.99 per cartridge, customers can buy “focus,” “happiness,” and “chill”-ness. “This neighborhood likes the real stuff. If it’s the real one, I bet you we’d sell a lot.” 

24 Hour Deli on Union Avenue carries Hempzilla CBD vape cartridges in cafe-like flavors– tango mango, berry wild gelato and strawberry creme gelato– but has seen a similar lack of interest. “We’ve carried this one almost one month,” said a deli employee who preferred to go by Ali, referring to the Hempzilla cartridges. The deli has only sold one box. 

Nearby at 619 Grand Street, CBD sales were so slow at Grand Gourmet Deli, they decided to stop stocking it. “I don’t want to sell it,” said Abdul, a Grand Gourmet employee who declined to give his last name. “I tried selling the gummies two months ago, was not good.”

The proposed bill would require anyone selling CBD to obtain a license from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, to be reviewed and possibly renewed every two years. It would also require the department to check the establishment regularly for violations relating to the sale of CBD, and check the seller for any criminal history. 

Where CBD sales are concerned, the bill is a complete turnaround from the lax enforcement bodegas have enjoyed in the past few years. Under the current bill, small storeowners are allowed to sell CBD products (now excluding food and drink) under the “dietary supplement” category of their retail food license. However, assembly members like Lupardo have argued that this free-flowing CBD market could be taking advantage of consumers and producers. Consumers risk buying CBD at prices that don’t match the cost of production, from sellers who may not even know the ingredients or quality of the CBD they are selling.   

The new bill is “more or less to put a tamper on how wild the CBD market has been for the better part of the last five or six years,” says Jacob Plowden, co-founder of the Cannabis Cultural Association, which helps people of color enter the cannabis industry. “I’ve actually had a family member tell me, ‘Oh, I spent 80 bucks on some CBD at this health spot.’ I was like, ‘Why would you do that?’ And he told me they did nothing for him and I was just like, ‘Did they have any instructions on it? What was the brand?” He was like, ‘I don’t even remember. It just said CBD on it. I just ate them and they did nothing.’”

CBD products at 24 Hour Deli on Union Avenue.

Nonetheless, the proposed bill could come with increased costs for both sellers and buyers. It would require hemp growers in New York state to obtain a license to grow, which would cost $500 for the license and another unspecified license fee per acre. These expenses could cause the price of New York-grown CBD to increase. Plus, even if CBD is cheaper in other states where there is no license fee, or where it is less costly, this new bill would require all CBD purchased from out-of-state sellers to have been produced according to New York State guidelines. Guidelines include that the ingredients, quality and production/sanitation standards at the hemp farm meet New York State standards, and that the CBD manufacturers obtained a cannabinoid manufacturing license or cannabis extracting license. 

Some bodegas say the complex regulations for the already low-selling product are a turn-off. “[The city] wants to take more money from us,” said Walle. “Not even just money. It’s more headache. They come, they come and check you out, they give you a ticket if you don’t have the license.” 

In the wake of the New York City health department’s recent ban on CBD-infused food and drink, some bodegas are too busy getting over the hassle of ditching gummies to consider restocking with CBD cartridges, pills or oils. Jose, an employee at Big Apple No. 2 Grocery and Deli on Grand Street, said that “not a lot of people” come to buy CBD products. The deli had carried CBD-infused sparkling soda from California-based beverage company Sprig and hemp-infused cold brew from Brooklyn company Superlost. It is discontinuing these sales because of the food and drink ban. After the deli gets rid of all CBD-infused drinks, Jose, who declined to give his last name, does not foresee selling any other CBD products.While it remains to be seen how the new bill will further affect CBD sales, advocates argue it’s necessary for CBD to become a safe industry that consumers and sellers are taking seriously– even if a chunk of this industry is based in the same stores as Takis

“I know [bodegas] wouldn’t take a meat or dairy product that hasn’t been tested by a third party lab,” says Plowden. “I think it’s about being able to centralize holistic and actually lab-tested products that you know are coming from actual people who actually care about what they’re putting in their products and what they’re giving to consumers.”