So You Want to Expand into Cannabis Cuisine?

When The Coffee Joint opened in Denver’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, restaurateurs took notice. As the nation’s first legal consumption site, it represents an emerging niche in the industry that has the potential for high return on investment.

What sets The Coffee Joint Apart? It treats its intoxicated customers the same way a standard restaurant serving alcohol does, which could allow chefs to offer full-dosage meals in the near future.

But, before the future arrives too soon, there are a few points all eager cannabis entrepreneurs should keep in mind.

Social attitude is leaning heavily in your favor

We recently wrote about how the changing social attitudes of cannabis could change the face of restauraneering because of the substance’s immense social value. According to Pew Research, 67 percent of Americans support the full legalization of cannabis. After the 2018 elections, 31 states had some form of cannabis legislation in their law books.

The US government recognized this support when it passed The US Farm Bill on December 12 and legalized hemp and CBD—the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis that reduces stress and relieves pain.

Restauranteering stands to gain a significant amount of social capital if it successfully incorporates cannabis into its practice. Social capital is invaluable to creating return customers for your business. Customers like giving money to businesses who represent their values.

Public consumption laws

No matter how much social capital you have, your business may still live in legal purgatory if your local public consumption laws don’t permit cannabis consumption. In fact, of the 10 states that have legalized cannabis for recreational and medicinal purposes, only Colorado allows users to consume THC in public.

This legal grey area determines how your restaurant can use cannabis. For example, the high-end restaurants in Los Angeles that feature cannabis such as The Herbal Chef generally use it as an ingredient rather than an intoxicant.

If it were used to such an extent that it became an intoxicant, The Herbal Chef would be subject to the city’s public consumption laws, which says consuming cannabis is illegal.

Instead, restaurateurs turn to the plant’s non-psychoactive ingredient to infuse their food and skirt the public consumption laws.

The United Kingdom’s first cannabis restaurant, The Canna Kitchen, specializes in vegetarian and vegan food, all of which is infused with cannabis oil that contains CBD. Hemp has been used industrially in the UK for thousands of years, though THC is illegal.

Here in the states, CBDs newfound legal status all but guarantees that infused food will soon be widespread. Be sure to read up on your local public consumption laws to know how much cannabis your restaurant can use.

Find a reputable cannabis chef

If you are the first cannabis restaurant in your market, make sure to go the extra mile in finding a reputable cannabis chef to partner with. Your business should be a well-intentioned representation of your customers’ desires, not just some shack shucking infused food (unless that’s your brand, of course).

Even though there are mainstream culinary schools that offer infused classes, graduates are experimenting with cannabis as an ingredient with increased frequency, according to a report by NPR.

There are courses chefs can take at Oaksterdam University in Oakland, California, and The University of Vermont to learn the science of cannabis cooking. 

Be sure to keep your ear to the ground about any cannabis programs your local colleges and universities begin offering in the future. That’s where you may find the chef that puts your business into overdrive.


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