Washoe County health officials directed Dorinda Vance to destroy 1.5 tons of chocolate.
At wholesale value, it’s worth $60,000, and at the cash register it would be worth $275,000, Vance said.
Vance, owner of Dorinda’s Chocolates, is the latest victim of a recent county health department crackdown on foods containing cannabidiol, a byproduct of marijuana or hemp.
Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is a non-psychoactive oil that has been promoted by some as having healing properties.
While the county does not have regulations covering CBD-infused food, health officials say that they are citing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s list of approved food additives as the go-to policy of the county.
Earlier this week, the Vance family appealed health officials' request to destroy all of the CBD-infused chocolate, sold under the brand LiveKaya, because it was — by new county standards — „adulterated,” or spoiled.
Until county health officials allow Vance to put the CBD-infused chocolate on the market, Vance will likely end up storing it in a cold, dark warehouse in Reno, as recommended by the Washoe County Food Protection Hearing and Advisory Board.
CBD oil not on FDA list of safe additives
County officials say that CBD is not currently listed as a safe food additive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so they are waiting for guidance from federal or state officials on how to proceed before regulating CBD-infused food in the community. Until then, there’s a hold on CBD as an ingredient.
„A cease and desist order will be issued to any food establishment in Washoe County found to be adding CBD products as ingredients in food,” health officials recently wrote in a website Frequently Asked Questions page.
„It was not our intent to go out and seek this,” said Amber English, senior environmental health specialist at the Washoe County Health District.
English defended the county’s direction to Vance before the Washoe County Food Protection Hearing and Advisory Board last week.
„Rules are not meant to be broken,” said board member Chris Thompson. „As a small business owner, I would go under if I had to eat $60,000. If you can hold on … times are a-changing and we just kind of have to sit on our hands.”
Although some businesses have been serving food with CBD in it for several years, it was only in the past few months that county health officials began issuing cease and desist notices for CBD-infused food products.
„I mean, they had CBD wings at Wing Fest! Don’t they have to get approved by the (Washoe County Health District)?” said Vance, who co-owns a separate brand, LiveKaya, through which she created the CBD chocolates.
Vance’s LiveKaya chocolates were in the hands of 500 distributors in 35 states until distribution was shut down in mid-June, she said.
Arguing that the county was targeting local businesses and looking the other way for others, Vance pointed out that CBD drinks and oils are widely available online and in a number of grocery stores, gas stations, smoke shops and other businesses around town.
County officials, in response, have said that they cannot be everywhere all the time, and they are only confronting businesses after they receive a complaint.
The FDA food additives standards do not apply to bottles of CBD oil or CBD-infused creams not intended for human consumption, according to the website.
The DIY workaround
At least one business has found a loophole already, selling food and oils separately, and allowing the customers to put the oil in themselves at the shop.
„The (health officials) told me that, 'Your customer has to put the CBD in the coffee,'” said Pianissimo coffee shop owner Cheryl Appel.
Appel used to sell CBD chocolates, but that’s now erased from the list of available items on the chalkboard.
Pianissimo allows customers to get a small cup of CBD oil for their coffees, mochas and chai lattes.
„You talk about rolling your eyes when the customers are told that they have to pour it in themselves,” Appel said.
Appel is thankful that she’s not reliant solely on the production of her chocolates, which she’s keeping in her freezer for now; otherwise she’d be out of business, she said.
„I have a lot of customers that have cancer, and they don’t want tinctures, they want the chocolates. They taste good!” she said, adding that CBD helps them with nausea and pain.
The county thus far has pulled pre-made, CBD-infused milkshakes from the shelves of Great Basin Food Co-op, it halted Great Full Gardens restaurant’s plan to offer CBD-infused drinks, and it briefly approached 1864 Tavern about its drink list which didn’t have CBD, but another specialized ingredient confused with CBD.
„There was no money lost, we were pretty fortunate,” said Lindsay Martin, manager of Great Full Gardens, a restaurant known for organic, vegetarian and vegan options.
„Thank God we held off, but it’s definitely something we support in our community,” Martin said. „We promote that kind of environment, a relaxed and healthy environment.”
Although Nevadans voted in 2016 to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana, the state regulations only apply to the sale of marijuana products in licensed marijuana dispensaries.
During the recent legislative session, the state passed a bill to allow state officials to being regulating CBD in 2020. It may or may not clarify for the county whether businesses can sell CBD-infused food.
Jenny Kane covers arts and culture in Northern Nevada, as well as the dynamic relationship between the state and the growing Burning Man community. She also covers the state’s burgeoning cannabis industry (Check out her podcast, the Potcast, on iTunes.) Support her work in Reno by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.