In late September, America got its very first hemp bar, when an establishment called Brooklyn’s Dark Hemp Bar opened in New York City. But not even a month passed before it was shut down by regulators from the city’s health department. One possible reason may be that hemp–which can now be legally grown in New York state–is still wrongly perceived as a mind-altering drug, and may have been targeted by the city. But the reason given was mindlessly technical: the bar didn’t have enough sinks.
As first reported Monday morning by evgrieve.com, an East Village real estate blog, the store has closed after announcing its conflicts with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The bar was opened by Lev Kelman, an immigrant from Uzbekistan who sells a line of health-oriented chocolates that contain small levels of hemp. His products are sold at several dozen mom-and-pop stores across the city, and online at BrooklynDark.com. The bar was designed to be a headquarters for better marketing his product. Located on St. Mark’s Place between Second and Third Avenue, it was a 70-square-foot pop-up shop featuring a counter and a coffee-and-tea station.
As Kelman explained to me by phone, his first health department run-in occurred several weeks ago. He had initially paid $100 for an inspector to grant him pre-approval–and she did. But another inspector later came to say that there were not enough sinks. Per the city code, Kelman explained, restaurants must have separate sinks for employees to wash their hands and wash dishes. Kelman’s store possessed both, but according to this second inspector, the station for washing dishes must include three successive sinks, side-by-side, each with separate drainage systems.
Kelman refused to comply with this demand, knowing that it would skyrocket his business costs while adding no decipherable public safety benefits. It would also be impractical–even impossible–in such a small store that produced very few dirty dishes.
“Why would you require that 10% of the place be a sink?” he asked.
But the department still fined him $800, and threatened to shut him down if he wasn’t compliant in a week. So down he has gone, and there are no immediate plans to relocate. Instead, he just posted the following message on the store’s front door:
Kelman doesn’t believe this was a targeted attack against hemp, which he uses in his products to provide health benefits, not get people high. He instead thinks that he has been the victim of an oppressive bureaucratic system that “judges everybody with one kind of measuring stick,” rather than distinguishing, say, between pop-up shops and large eateries.
But because hemp–which comes from the same species as marijuana, yet has far lower THC levels–is perceived as a drug, it may well have put him in the cross-hairs of a city government that, under Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, have grown increasingly neurotic about other people’s health. Earlier this year, the health department targeted 13 hookah bars whose pipes emitted samples of tobacco smoke indoors, violating a city law. This summer, it began making restaurants post warnings about their high-sodium food. And of course, the city has organized well-publicized jeremiads against large sodas, small amounts of pot, nude painted ladies, and other existential threats. Chances are, the health department views hemp this way too, and is discouraging it through a legal technicality.
This article was written by Scott Beyer from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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