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Health Department That Claims Getting Lobsters High Is Illegal Needs To Relax

A Maine restaurant made recent headlines with their new approach to humanely slaughtering lobsters. They found out that giving them a hit of marijuana sedated the crustaceans, making them tamer and potentially less sensitive to pain. The restaurant had received positive feedback and even made their own tank so that customers could request for the seemingly more humane option.

Maine's health department, however, had other ideas, reports the New York Times. They sent a letter to the restaurant owner claiming that the practice was illegal, and said that they considered the lobsters to be "adulterated" in a statement to the Times.

Photo: Jan Beckendorf // Flickr CC 4.0

Whoever in Maine's health department sent that letter generated a cloud of controversy and confusion the instant they got on their soapbox. They appear to have misinterpreted what it means to be an "adulterated" food, and in doing so opened up a can of worms in regards to the restaurant's practices.

When it comes to the word "adulterated," the official definition from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is almost a full page. The key part of it, though, reads as follows:

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"A food shall be deemed to be adulterated... If it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health; but in case the substance is not an added substance such food shall not be considered adulterated under this clause if the quantity of such substance in such food does not ordinarily render it injurious to health."

Could THC or other marijuana compounds be considered deleterious? Sure. But is it health-threatening? No, especially when you consider that steaming the lobsters gets rid of the trace amounts they may have ingested while the restaurant hot-boxed them. Ergo, since we aren't getting any marijuana elements from the lobsters, they shouldn't be considered adulterated under federal regulations.

In fact, under Maine's own definition, the lobsters aren't adulterated. The state government's understanding of that word is a little less refined, as they claim it to mean "made impure or inferior by adding extraneous ingredients." However, the hit of marijuana the lobsters are getting isn't changing them in any way, just calming them down. Not sure how that could make it "impure" or "inferior."

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It's hard to say exactly what Maine's health department considers to be "adulterating" the lobster as well. They don't make that clear in their statement, which says that they "would treat food served to consumers at licensed eating places and affected by marijuana, as has been described with this establishment, as adulterated and therefore illegal."

But what is it about the marijuana that makes it such a bad thing? If it's the THC and CBD, there's always the possibility that the letter had political motivations, especially given that the state's executive branch attempted to veto legalization in the state. But if the smoke is a concern, then grilling and smoking would also technically be "adulterating" the lobster, which doesn't make sense.

Regardless of the department's view, state regulators are mulling over the restaurant's practice to see if they can continue to sedate the lobsters with marijuana. The restaurant, on their part, has submitted tons of test data to prove the lobsters don't absorb THC as proof that their treatments don't adulterate by any standard.

Hopefully, Maine's government can figure out this clear misinterpretation and allow a novel method of humanely killing lobsters to proceed forward.