A Look Into the Hudson Valley's Budding CBD Industry
Amid a national boom, local businesses hop aboard the CBD trend via seltzer, tea, and even chocolate.
Photo by Will Austen
Mike Dardano singing with the CBDBs
Fifteen years ago, Michael Dardano named his new Westchester-based marketing agency Buzz Potential. He also sings in a band called the CBDBs, a sly play on the famous rock club.
“I was gearing up for the inevitable legalization of marijuana when I decided on Buzz Potential,” he says. “And people who get the band’s name love it.”
Dardano’s prescience is coming true. Though Albany refused to legalize recreational marijuana during its last session, the state licenses growers of hemp, a strain of cannabis that contains CBD but lacks THC, which provides the high. Touted as a nostrum for a long list of ailments, CBD can be found in a growing array of products, some of them originating in the Hudson Valley, including drinks, food, powder, oil, cream, and even pet treats.
But the market is steps ahead of the regulatory system as the CBD boom takes off: the 2018 federal Farm Bill allowed for the production of hemp, but the Food and Drug Administration bans the use of CBD in food or beverages, which prompted New York City to follow suit. If Governor Andrew Cuomo fails to sign a bill passed by the Assembly in June that eases restrictions on CBD, products can be pulled from store shelves statewide beginning in October. The irony is that anyone can add drops of CBD oil to their latte.
Cocorau elixirs / Photo by Clemens Kois
“The FDA is coming down hard and there’s a lot of crazy things going on,” says Paul Harney, co-founder of Valley-based Harney & Sons Fine Teas. “The general impression is that it helps you, like tea, but the science is not there regarding what it does beyond that.”
“The law is so complicated right now,” says Konstanze Zeller, founder of Kingston-based Cocorau, which makes chocolate infused with CBD. “It’s a growth area that everyone’s interested in, but we have no idea where the regulations are going.” Zeller gets her supply from Hudson Hemp, based in Livingston, one of the largest growers in the Hudson Valley.
Another issue centers on the claims surrounding CBD-infused products, which the federal government regulates like supplements. In regard to its curative properties, CBD has been touted as a cure for pain, insomnia, PTSD, general anxiety, seizures and Alzheimer’s disease. In the Hudson Valley, Harney started a small offshoot, The Hemp Division, which plants four acres at its Millerton headquarters and processes it into tonics at a plant in Hudson. The brand makes no claims about potential benefits.
“That’s why Coca-Cola and the big guns aren’t jumping in,” says Harney. “There’s a great ramp up for people like us who have the opportunity to figure stuff out.”
After the company perfects its processing techniques, legalities permitting, Harney will blend CBD with tea, a full-circle twist because jazz-age marijuana users referred to the drug by the slang term “tea.”
Recess seltzer contains CBD. Photo provided by Recess
Another concern of regulators is how to ensure purity and to determine an accurate measure of the amount of CBD in each batch.
“There’s a lot of dosing at the café level, with people ordering a squirt of CBD,” says Harney. “People got nervous about how to control it, but we ensure that what we say is in the bottle is in the bottle.”
Another driver of the CBD trend, of course, is money. The state takes in application and licensing fees, retailers and manufacturers benefit (an eight-pack of Recess seltzer, which contains CBD, is $39.99) and even farmers, a beleaguered segment of the economy, eye a bright future.
“It’s like the candy has been locked up all these years,” said Elisa Gwilliam, owner of Hudson Valley Healing Center in Poughkeepsie, who touts CBD’s efficacy. “Finally, they took the lock off so now we can have it.”