Is it Legal to Sell CBD Drinks at Your Restaurant?

Charlette Beasley

Charlette is a writer and content strategist in Florida. She writes payroll content for Fit Small Business and helps her own clients create industry-specific copy for their business. In addition, she loves “beaching” with her two kids.

As the legalization of marijuana and cannabis-based products continues to pick up speed, CBD drinks are becoming more popular. You may even be considering offering CBD-infused sodas, water, and nonalcoholic cocktails at your restaurant to ensure your business remains competitive. Before you do, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the current, sometimes confusing, laws surrounding the sale of CBD in food and beverages. On a federal level, it’s illegal, but state and local laws vary significantly, in many cases, contradicting one another.

Cocktail with cucumber, lemon, and CBD oil.

Federal CBD Drink Laws

Although numerous states have passed laws legalizing the use of CBD for medical and/or recreational reasons, federal law has not changed. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently prohibits any entity, including restaurants, from marketing CBD as a food or dietary ingredient; it hasn’t yet gathered enough evidence to draw conclusions on the effects, risks, etc. to which consumers may subject themselves. 

If you have plans to sell CBD drinks at your restaurant, you will be breaking federal laws; however, the likelihood of the feds taking an aggressive approach to find and prosecute you are low. 

State CBD Drink Laws

Aside from federal laws, you need to know the state and local CBD laws (if applicable) that pertain to your restaurant. Every state is different and regulations for this issue change often, so it’s a good idea to check for new laws on your state’s website at least every two to three months (until the smoke clears). 

To illustrate some of the differences for which you should look, we’ve listed a few states and their corresponding CBD laws as of September 2019.

  • Colorado and Maine food and drug laws allow for the sale of CBD in food and beverages.
  • Michigan and Ohio don’t allow for the sale of CBD in food or beverages.
  • Washington State laws don’t present any clear guidance on the subject of CBD.
  • New York has conflicting information. The New York Agriculture Department released guidance stating it was legal to sell CBD edibles if they are marketed as dietary supplements. However, the New York City Department of Health prohibits adding CBD to food and beverages and is even embargoing existing food/drink products containing the substance. 

What’s confusing for most restaurateurs looking to capitalize on the increased demand for CBD beverages is some states that are now restricting the sale of CBD in food and beverages still allow CBD oil to be sold separately. The key to remember is that adding CBD to a consumable product, like a cocktail, is what moves the issue to the FDA’s wheelhouse.

CBD is still considered a drug on some level, so the FDA’s stance is that adding it to drinks so you can sell to diners is the equivalent of lacing regular restaurant products with unregulated drugs. The FDA prohibits you from adding even approved drugs to human food or beverages in interstate commerce.

Is the reward worth the risks?

In this instance, staying on top of the latest marketing trend comes with risks. Restaurateurs who still opt to sell CBD-infused drinks may face a variety of consequences. In New York City, the Department of Health has been embargoing illegal CBD products, meaning they’re returned to the supplier or thrown away when found. Violations can also result in fines and a drop in your restaurant’s health rating.

If you’re still wondering whether or not to start selling CBD drinks at your restaurant, you should ensure you know the laws (federal, state, and local) to which you must adhere. You’ll be breaking one, at least on some level, and that’s the federal regulation. Also, take note of the potential penalties you may face; if the risks are too great, you may want to wait until CBD is approved across the board.

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