The first cannabis restaurant will open its doors in West Hollywood on September 24 despite legal problems
The first cannabis restaurant, the Lowell Farms Cannabis Cafe, will offer options for eating and smoking thanks to a new type of commercial license that allows cannabis in the consumption facilities, along with food and drink service. The idea is to provide customers with a cozy, flavorful and elegant experience. The facilities will be very well ventilated and comfortable, so that cannabis enthusiasts enjoy a good time. It is also intended for tourists who visit California from the states in which cannabis is prohibited and want to try legal marijuana.
The first cannabis restaurant offers a service that some compare with a marijuana sommelier. An expert “host” will guide the client to choose those cannabis varieties that best suit their needs.
The food and beverage menu is provided by chef Andrea Drummer, an African-American who previously worked in drug prevention services. Offers will change frequently, but there is a standard menu that includes dishes such as a grilled peach and burrata salad and a fried chicken sandwich, and a selection of non-alcoholic cocktails.
The legal problems and bureaucracy of California prevent anything that comes from Chef Drummer’s kitchen from being infused with cannabis. However, a small selection of groceries made off-site will be available for sale at this first cannabis restaurant retail counter, along with Lowell Farms cannabis products that customers can pick up to consume at home.
To solve this legal problem, the guests would buy a sauce that would be presented along with the food in a sealed container with cannabis extract. The clients would open it themselves and dose it properly. The sauce has to be purchased at a separate store, but that is under the same roof as the cannabis restaurant.
Like any good chef, Andrea Drummer wants her pairings to be perfect. But your lamb chops with exotic fruit sauce will not be combined with wine or beer. A host that some call “ganjiers,” such as ganja sommeliers, will help customers pair each meal with the marijuana that matches best. It is a special service of this cannabis restaurant.
More than 300 companies applied for licenses for consumer stores in West Hollywood, but the city has granted only eight so far. Not all the licensees are for cannabis restaurants or cafes. Among the other licensees yet to open there are a spa, a virtual reality game room and an adult retailer.
Proposition 64 legalized cannabis in California, but it is still prohibited to consume it in public. This was another of the big legal problems of opening a cannabis restaurant or cafe. When the City of West Hollywood held a study session on the subject in 2017, it determined that access to places to smoke was a problem of social equity. There are many people who do not have their own house and have to rent an apartment where the owner does not allow them to smoke. These people are forced to smoke in public places or smoke in their cars, and are at greater risk of being arrested for that. But that was not the only reason why the council passed an ordinance that allows public consumption rooms.
People enjoy the nightlife of West Hollywood. Tourists know that they can now go to a cannabis-consuming cafe. There are public spaces for cannabis use in other parts of California and Colorado, but many are rooms attached to dispensaries or steam clubs that have little charm. They are quite different from what West Hollywood had in mind when it decided to study applications for 16 on-site consumer licenses (with 24 additional licenses for dispensaries and deliveries) in May 2018. The process attracted more than 300 applicants, who were qualified in factors such as innovation and social equity. The first eight applicants of each of the five established categories were allowed to operate.
The Andrea Drummer public consumption license application had the highest score. Drummer described his project as a bright and airy oasis with “flower” service on the table: hand-rolled cannabis flowers with joints. She also asked for a license to offer her customers a menu of cannabis-infused food that she has been making for years as a private chef and whose clients include the famous comedian Chelsea Handler.
When the first cannabis restaurant opens on September 24, it will have room for 220 people and the place will be decorated with marijuana plants. It will be the first one of its kind in the United States: a place for locals and tourists to have a high quality meal and smoke a joint in public. Other restaurants are about to open. But if they want to offer marijuana on the menu, the restaurateurs of West Hollywood, the city that in 2017 passed an ordinance that allows commercial licenses for this purpose, will have to face different legal problems.
As soon as the licenses were approved, the commitments began. The first legal problem to open a cannabis restaurant was the discrepancy between state and municipal licenses. Although the city permits licenses for consumer rooms that are not connected to the dispensaries, there is no license for a coffee and / or cannabis restaurant.
Another legal problem to open a cannabis restaurant was food. Although West Hollywood allows it, California prohibits cannabis companies from selling anything other than cannabis, with the exception of accessories such as bongs and pipes, and paraphernalia products. The purpose of this law was to ensure that dispensaries did not become stores where anything could be purchased.
But people in the cannabis industry found legal loopholes that West Hollywood has managed to exploit. The strategy of this new cannabis restaurant is to put two separate businesses under the same roof: a cannabis smoking room and a restaurant. Guests requesting food and cannabis will receive separate bills. The plan was approved by the West Hollywood Commercial Licensing Commission in July.
Drummer had originally planned to serve freshly infused food, with butters and cannabis oils incorporated in several doses. But that will have to wait because according to state law, all products with cannabis extracts must be hermetically packed and tested, which makes it impossible to use them in a restaurant kitchen that wants to serve fresh food. Now he is focusing on making food not infused but mixed with marijuana instead of cannabis extracts.
Another legal problem to open a cannabis restaurant is that cannabis companies cannot serve alcohol. Another legal problem is that the state does not allow cannabis businesses to operate after 10 pm, so Andrea Drummer’s restaurant must make the last cannabis offer at this time, although the restaurant can remain open until 2 am, although it is possible that West Hollywood gets an exemption from this law.
Perhaps the biggest legal problem involved in opening a cannabis restaurant or cafe is that the federal government still considers cannabis as a drug in List 1. Most banks are not willing to work with cannabis companies, which they should rely on alternative banks and credit unions or cash transactions. The California Senate passed legislation in May that creates a way for more banks to work with cannabis companies. When West Hollywood raised more than $ 1 million in money from the license application, it was in cash.
The restaurant will have to have several people in the room counting the cash. It will have to have armored vehicles to collect the money and there will be less rotation of tables because customers who are under the influence of cannabis are more likely to stay longer. Andrea Drummer’s plans to open a rooftop terrace vanished because cannabis use cannot be seen from the street. And customers who don’t finish their cannabis can’t take it home because they don’t have a dispensary license but a cannabis restaurant.
The restaurant also has to be careful with the amount of cannabis that customers ingest since ingested cannabis affects everyone differently, depending on body mass and tolerance level, so a dose that barely produces effect in a person could be excessive for another. Cannabis cafeterias have it more complicated to make money due to extra expenses such as additional staff and 24-hour security, expensive vents to absorb smoke, and others. The new Lowell Farms restaurant run by Andrea Drummer needs to spend approximately 3 million dollars to open. The possibility that the restaurant can make money is based on the fact that it is the first of its kind.
The cannabis restaurant aims to hire someone who had been previously imprisoned for non-violent cannabis offenses. Drummer sees it as a way to strengthen African Americans, who have been the most penalized for cannabis use, but who represent only a small part of the industry.
Drummer wants to involve gastronomic critics to talk about the restaurant. Cannabis can make food taste better. “If we get the critics involved, we will win many Michelin stars,” Drummer says with a big smile.