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With 4/20 Burger Carl's Jr. Ventures Where Most Corporations Only Dream of Going

For all the talk of the CBD boom, very few corporations as big as Carl's Jr. have marketed anything containing the hazily regulated cannabinoid.


America's favorite food, the cheeseburger, will soon (albeit fleetingly) be infused with America's favorite cannabinoid, the seemingly ubiquitous CBD.

Carl's Jr. | Facebook

Well, at least one part of that combination isn't unhealthy.

Carl's Jr. announced Wednesday that it will unveil the "Rocky Mountain High: CheeseBurger Delight" at a single location in Denver, Colorado on this Saturday, April 20, the unofficial yet universal marijuana holiday known as 4/20. The burger appears to have most of the usual artery-clogging attributes of fast food -- two beef patties topped with pickled jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, fries -- but is slathered with Santa Fe Sauce infused with five milligrams of CBD.

Despite many restrictions not usual at a burger joint -- customers must be at least 18 and can only purchase a maximum of two Rocky Mountain Highs -- the burger meal, not coincidentally priced at $4.20, qualifies Carl's Jr. as the first fast-food chain to offer a menu item containing cannabis.

Related: Move Aside, CBD: New Data Finds THC Is the Real Medicine in Medical Marijuana

Cynics can split hairs debating whether the promotion is a stunt or the burger is a gimmick (the really cynical could plausibly contend both) but Patty Trevino, senior vice president of brand marketing for Carl's Jr., insists it is neither. The burger chain is eager to find out if there is a significant market for a CBD burger.

"It is something that feels right for the brand," Trevino told CNN Business. "We are all about innovation."

That last claim is credible. In January Carl's Jr. ventured where other burger chains are reluctant to go by offering the vegan Beyond Burger. The CBD burger is, however, a much bolder play. Whatever reluctance Americans might have about a burger not made of ground cow, the Beyond Meat burger is unquestionably legal in all circumstances everywhere. Not quite so with CBD.

Although the cannabinoid can be legally derived from legally grown hemp, its regulatory status is murky at the very best. While big corporate players await regulatory clarity from the FDA (pro tip: don't hold your corporate breath), entrepreneurs small enough to fly under the FDA's radar are adding CBD to foods, nutrition products, salves and a mind-boggling array of other consumer products. Carl's Jr. made a big media splash announcing the cannabis burger and the FDA is sure to notice. Tellingly, Trevino told Business Insider that she spent at least as much time in the corporate legal department as she did in the test kitchen in the run-up to the burger unveiling.

Related: Why Synthetic CBD Is (Probably) the Future of Cannabis Pharma

There is a big question that remains unanswered, perhaps because nobody has bothered to ask: what is the purpose of adding CBD to a cheeseburger? While we're asking, why five milligrams of CBD instead of two or 20? To their credit Carl's Jr. is not claiming CBD makes the Rocky Mountain High a healthy alternative to the other items on the menu. This might be on the advice of their lawyers, who surely know that the FDA is watching closely for unsubstantiated health claims, or it might simply be that claiming the Rocky Mountain High (a misnomer anyway as CBD has no intoxicating effects) is healthy would be an implied concession that non-CBD burgers are not. A close reading of the press release Carl's Jr. issued announcing the Rocky Mountain High finds they added CBD to a cheeseburger because they want in on the CBD craze because it is likely to sell some burgers.

Related: Marijuana Edibles Make the List of Top 10 Food Trends This Year

“Part of our strategy centers around being the first quick-service restaurant bringing bold and unexpected flavors to the masses,” the company wrote in a news release. “CBD is one of the hottest culinary trends right now, and what better place to test this new burger than in Denver, a city that has been a trailblazer in the CBD movement. In partnership with Bluebird Botanicals, we have done our due diligence and are bringing this to our consumers in a safe and delicious way, and we’re thrilled to be testing on April 20, 2019.”

Nothing in the statement gives any particular reason for adding CBD to a fast food (sorry, quick-service) menu other than it a hot culinary trend. So, is the addition of a tiny amount of a trendy ingredient with a reputation for being healthy to cheeseburger that will be sold for one day after a big press rollout a gimmick or a stunt?

I vote for both.