Cannabis, edibles and restaurants: what can you legally find on the menu?
Know more about different rules of cannabis consumption at restaurants & cafes.
Of all the hundreds, if not thousands of new restaurants that were opened in the United States last year, arguably one of the most well known, at least in terms of column inches and newspaper articles written about it, was one in a quiet neighborhood of West Hollywood, Los Angeles - Lowell Farms. Now, this quickly became infamous, not for the celebrity name of the chef behind it, or even necessarily the quality of the food, but what it sold, and allowed you to do. Lowell Farms can claim to be Los Angeles first official cannabis restaurant.
A restaurant, mind you, where you can’t actually eat any food with cannabis in it, but you are quite welcome to smoke cannabis at your table instead. That’s not to say the restaurant or the chef is not interested in cannabis. It’s just that local licensing laws do not allow them to create any dishes with edible cannabis in it.
But you are allowed to smoke cannabis alongside the food being made. Which has opened the door to Lowell Farms to claim it has created a cannabis-friendly menu where are all the dishes have been designed so that they go well with the carefully selected cannabis strains that are available to buy in the restaurant. A bit like a tasting menu between the food and wine pairings.
Rather than a sommelier, a “flower host” will help you select the right cannabis for the food you are eating and bring a joint to your table to enjoy. Not that you will find any wine at Lowell Farms either as local state rules forbid the sale of alcohol in the same premise that allows you to smoke cannabis.
The situation with cannabis, edibles, and restaurants is confusing and changing all the time. But as a rule of thumb, in the US, it is illegal to serve cannabis-infused food in a restaurant, even in the 10 states that have legalized the use and sale of cannabis. You can only offer it to be smoked and even then you will need a special license to do so.
CBD use in the restaurant space is "fraught with a little bit of risk," is what Shawn Stevens, founder of the Food Industry Counsel told a recent Food Safety Symposium in Las Vegas.
"We continue to watch very closely the development of the laws and regulations surrounding CBD, what the FDA is doing and how quickly it is going to be doing it and what the final result will ultimately look like," said Stevens said. "I predict, moving forward, that the FDA will legalize CBD for use in food products."
In other countries, the laws and regulations are very different, and equally confusing. The UK, for example, is far away from legalizing cannabis but opened the door last year to the legal sale of CBD cannabis for medical purposes. This has resulted in a number of businesses looking to see how far they can push the legal CBD market with conflicting advice from regulatory bodies.
The end of last year, for example, saw the opening of the first cannabis restaurant in Brighton that had some dishes infused with the right levels of CBD compounds and oils from hemp flower-like "za'atar roast cauliflower with hemp heart tabbouleh, smoked aubergine, sesame cavolo nero and CBD tahini cream” or “buckwheat and beetroot pancake with roast roots, rocket and CBD cashew cheese”.
Six months later it was closed down by police and UK Trading Standards despite claims by its owners that they had both approved its initial opening. Its testing times for both sides of the law.
Chefs and cannabis
It’s clear the on-premise market is going to want to push and probe rules and regulations in whichever country to see what is possible under what are still early rules and regulations where everyone is still trying to find the right way forward.
In the US a National Restaurant Association survey earlier this year found that three in four chefs saw CBD-and cannabis-infused food like a hot trend in 2019. But that’s a long way away seeing a mass rollout of cannabis restaurants. They are testing the waters with private supper clubs and looking to see what dishes, ingredients, and strands of CBD work best in combination with each other for when laws are relaxed further.
It remains a delicate and sensitive area and publicly listed US Restaurant companies are unlikely to be offering CBD-infused menus in the very near future. But the coffee sector is a little more bullish, with a number of chains trialing CBD lattes and the like.
The demand, however, and rise in plant-based restaurants, shows how quickly the market can grow and why chefs and restaurateurs are quietly testing and trialing.
In Canada is became legal to purchase certain cannabis edible products in October, mainly fresh, dried, oils and seeds, and it will be interesting to see how it develops there. Local Canadian chef, Travis Peterson, reflects the mood amongst his peers when he told CNBC recently: “We’re the first country of chefs that can fully legally cook with it and experiment with it, and I’m really excited to start working with more flavors, tastes and smells.”
Lisa Campbell, chief executive, of Lifford Cannabis Solutions in Canada, that helps companies bring cannabis products to market, believes the door is ready to be thrown open for cannabis edibles in the restaurant sector. She says: “I think it is going to be a crazy food trend. So many chefs are already experimenting with edibles and having infused dinners, and are talking about the potential of infused restaurants, and infused bars. I think we are going to see a lot of consumers shifting away from alcohol and shifting towards cannabis.”
The rules and regulations in Canada are still being ironed out, particularly around the levels of CBD and THC (the psychoactive compound) that can be legally infused in products - currently set at 10milligrams per serving. Then there is the issue of how and where the edible products can be made, be it in a restaurant kitchen or pre-supplied by an official supplier.
Interestingly a 2018 study by Deloitte says it expects six out of 10 likely cannabis customers will choose to consume edible products in Canada. “For current consumers, edibles could comprise 18% of their overall intake after legalization, up from 14% today,” it says.
When the rules fall into place there is a ready-made market just waiting for restaurants to open their doors for business.