ROCHESTER — The city has cracked down on edible cannabidiol (CBD) products, recently informing a local cafe and other stores it can no longer sell or serve coffee, gummies and other food items infused with the non-psychoactive, hemp-derived compound.
City officials say the enforcement comes after they were informed Rochester was in violation of state and federal regulations involving food service, even though New Hampshire laws allow packaged CBD oils to be sold in stores. Neighboring communities haven’t prohibited the infused food products in their stores, however, which Rochester businesses believe puts them at a competitive disadvantage as more people look to CBD as a remedy for different ailments.
“I’ve probably lost 10 to 15 percent of my business because of that,” said Heather Sondrini, owner of Puglife Smoke and Vape on North Main Street in downtown Rochester. “I feel like you’re kind of hurting the community with the ban on it, rather than helping the community.”
Affected businesses include Puglife, Fresh Vibes Cafe and multiple vape and convenience stores, according to the businesses.
Fresh Vibes, also located in downtown, had been selling CBD-infused coffee since last summer with no problems, but now is losing business to stores in nearby communities like Dover and Hampton that sell similar coffees. Those stores, which declined comment, confirmed they haven’t been instructed to stop selling their CBD-infused products.
“We can actually sell CBD (oil) and sell coffee and give you both and you as a customer can add it yourself (in the restaurant), but we can’t add it ourselves,” said Fresh Vibes owner Kris Enis, who added the restriction has had a “little” impact on her restaurant’s bottom line. “It’s pretty bizarre. There are so many companies that have been selling it and all of a sudden they’re putting the brakes on it.”
Jim Grant, director of the city’s Rochester’s Department of Building, Zoning and Licensing Services, said the issue lies with the state’s food code.
The code follows federal Food and Drug Administration regulations, which don’t list CBD among its approved food additives, according to Grant and a state Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson. Grant said that’s due, in part, to the fact there is no regulatory arm to oversee manufacturing standards for CBD products like there is for medicinal marijuana products that contain THC.
The state’s medical dispensary and cultivation laws exempt CBD-infused products because the laws are written as such that the items aren’t considered food, according to Grant. He said it’s unfortunate that “genius” exemption doesn’t also exist within the federal food license guidelines because he believes CBD has its place as a medical remedy.
“This whole thing is a mess, it really is,” said Grant, a regular at Fresh Vibes and a supporter of studies that show CBD can be used to help people with things like epilepsy, chronic pain and side effects of cancer treatments.
Grant’s office informed Rochester businesses in person they had to stop selling and serving the CBD-infused food items a couple of months ago. He said Rochester looked into the legality of the products and made the enforcement decision after a member of his staff was involved in a discussion about the products during a regular New Hampshire Health Officers Association session.
“Before I tell anybody not to do something,” Grant said, “I want to have my I’s dotted, my T’s crossed. After a few months, there was no way around it. These items were in violation of the food code, the FDA.”
The aforementioned NHHOA session came shortly after Maine state regulators ordered all Maine businesses to stop selling food products that contained CBD, according to Grant. Maine Gov. Janet Mills later signed emergency legislation in March to allow the production and sale of CBD-infused food products in her state.
Enis and former state Rep. Brandon Phinney, L-Rochester, say they’re in the early stages of exploring what it would take to get similar legislation passed in the Granite State.
Grant said he’d support such legislation.
“I wish so badly someone would,” he said. “No matter which way the wind blows in New Hampshire, our neighboring states and even the whole entire country of Canada has some form of recreational use.”
Even though he feels that way, Grant said he and his counterparts in other communities are bound by their duty to enforce rules as they’re written, especially when they involve unregulated food items.
“I’m in charge of ensuring the safety of our customers in Rochester with any type of food products,” he said. “Until (legislative change) comes, this can be posed as a dangerous thing, as you’re not knowing where the CBD is coming from.”
Grant and NHHOA President Arthur Capello suggested the reason why more communities aren’t yet restricting CBD food products is because of the state’s limited inspection resources.
Grant said less than two dozen New Hampshire municipalities perform their own food inspections, while the remainder are inspected by a handful of state-level inspectors. Rochester and Dover are among the self-inspecting municipalities, while smaller Seacoast towns are inspected by the state.
“If (Rochester) wasn’t self-inspecting and it was just through the state, I would’ve been fine,” Grant said.
Capello, speaking on behalf of NHHOA and not in his capacity as Farmington’s town administrator, said he wasn’t aware of any NHHOA conversations involving CBD and said the association wouldn’t take a stance on the issues surrounding CBD’s legality.
He also said Farmington, a state-inspected town, hasn’t ordered anything relative to CBD products and that a vape shop on Route 11 is still legally able to sell its CBD oils.
“As long as it’s legal, we’re not going to stop anybody from selling something,” Capello said.