Contemplating Expanding Into Cannabis-infused Menu Items?

To remain progressive, in the hyper-competitive, ever-evolving restaurant industry all options should be weighed and objectively considered when it comes to increasing profit and meeting potential market demand.  It seems that acceptance of using cannabis for health benefits and medicinal purposes continues to grow state by state. With only 4 states including, Kansas, South Dakota, Nebraska and Idaho 100% prohibiting the use of Cannabis for any reason in any quantity in any form, the majority seem to think there is benefit, perhaps it’s something to be aware of. 

Federal Law, which overrides State Law, does not allow Cannabis Use under Schedule I of the Controlled Substance ACT.  Due to this restriction, restaurants are not offering cannabis-infused menu items, however creative early adopters and passionate supporters of the health and medicinal benefits of cannabis, are finding a way to operate within State Law guidelines.

A straight-talking panel including Chad Finkelstein, Dale & Lessman LLP, Political Strategist, Scot Rutledge, Partner at Parallax Strategies and The Herbal Chef Chris Sayegh moderated by Director, Advocacy Research and Insights of the National Restaurant Association, Adam Hasley, discussed the issues and opportunities at the recent National Restaurant Show in Chicago.

If and when the door opens or you find a creative way to pursue this market there are some things to consider:

The Risks

The risks today are paramount, however, I’ll outline a few. It is not legal to offer cannabis-infused menu items by State or Federal Government. Banks cannot break Federal Law and do not offer services to cannabis-based businesses. Cash businesses create a host of risks ranging from theft, loss, anti-money laundering and difficulty in basic accounting procedures. There is no breathalyzer type test or any accepted level of tolerance for users as there is for alcohol use.

Aside from the Risk(s), there are several burgeoning opportunities for the forward-thinking entrepreneur preparing for possible acceptance.

The Cost and Opportunity of Education/Training

The need for education, training and communication will include employees and patrons. Employees will need training on food preparation, menu options, types of cannabis, safe amounts to use, and identifying risk factors. Patrons will need to understand how cannabis related items may interact with other medicines or substances consumed. How does cannabis consumption interact with alcohol consumption? Let’s not forget the health benefits, when would one want to consume it, in what quantities and why?

The Operational Cost of Policy Development and Adherence

If your employees are using cannabis themselves, how will it affect hiring, managing, releasing employees and substance abuse testing? What emergency plans will be in place in the event of over-use by patrons or employees?  What level of testing and/or training will be required?

The Opportunity of New Product Development and Potentially Limitless Menu Offerings

The food items that can infused with micro amounts of cannabis is far-reaching potentially enabling restaurants to offer new menu items. Today co-packaging and license to distribute is limited and varies by state. If and when the bans are lifted, the opportunities will grow exponentially.

The constraints on cannabis use were often referred to as ‘prohibition’ during the NRA Show panel discussion comparing the challenges to the prohibition of alcohol that once existed. Chef Sayegh in particular wanted the audience to know that the use of cannabis in food is about much more than getting high. The adoption could be far reaching and include  ‘societal, medicinal and agricultural benefits.’

The savvy entrepreneurial restaurateur is wise to be aware of the potential gain and risk, making the best-informed decision for their establishment.


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