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In the states where it's legal, marijuana could play a role in foodservice.

Is Marijuana Making Inroads Into Foodservice?

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In some states, the answer definitely appears to be yes.
By Danny Klein April 2017 Menu Innovations

There’s no denying the shifting perception and policy surrounding marijuana in the U.S. It is legal to some degree in 30 states (mostly for medicinal purposes) and recreationally allowed in California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Alaska, Oregon, and Nevada. Some people expect that heavy West Coast movement to head to the East and then work its way back to the center. Is that actually going to happen? It’s pretty much impossible to say.

New attorney general Jeff Sessions was quoted as saying consuming pot was “slightly less awful” than heroin. That doesn’t mean a crackdown is on the horizon but it’s probably safe to say the subject remains a divided one, both in the government and on the ground level.

Read How to Maintain a Safe Workplace in States Where Marijuana is Legal

With all of that said, in those states where it is recreationally available, is it making inroads into the restaurant industry? A few signs point to yes. TripAdvisor even has a Top 10 Weed Restaurants List for 2017.

OutCo, a Southern California-based, fully vertical cannabis company, released a report on marijuana’s possible effect on the alcohol industry. Along with Monocle Research, the study showed that California millennials are swapping the two in many instances, with a strong contingent turning to pot instead of alcohol. And this is only rising.

Fifty-one percent of the millennials said they would be open to substituting cannabis for alcohol altogether. One in five Genration Xers agreed, and just 8 percent of Baby Boomers.

"We found that for millennials, the choice between the two main recreational substances, alcohol and tobacco, has always been an easy one. Growing up with anti-tobacco messaging, the smoking rate for 18—29 year olds in the U.S. has dropped by 22 percent over the past decade, leaving alcohol as the substance of choice," says OutCo CEO, Lincoln Fish, in a statement, "But we are already seeing a decrease in alcohol sales, which means that cannabis is poised to be the new recreational substance of choice for many millennials and beyond."

This was most prevalent with beer, with 34 percent of millennials saying they would opt for cannabis over a brew. Just 18 percent made the same claim for wine and 14 percent would pick cannabis over spirits.

As for why, the study found responses clustered around safety, cost, and health. “In regards to safety, many expressed the fear of making poor decisions when consuming alcohol, which included driving over the legal limit. Cost also came into play, with many stating that their overall spend on alcohol outstrips that of high quality cannabis. Finally, health was stated as a factor when substituting marijuana for alcohol. Participants shared that the effects of a hangover from alcohol lasted the entire next day, while high volumes of cannabis usage had no noticeable lasting effects; thereby making them feel healthier and more active,” the study explains.

An Award-Winning Chef Launches a Marijuana Edibles Line

Producers are taking notice. Humboldt Distillery, a producer of award-winning organic vodkas and rums, released a cannabis-infused vodka in honor of 4/20. The spirit is available at select retailers in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Texas, and Wisconsin.

“Humboldt's Finest is infused with a legal food-grade hemp, without any detectable THC, so it could be sold in all 50 states," says Abe Stevens, founder of Humboldt Distillery, in a statement. "It does, however, retain an herbal and aromatic quality reminiscent of fresh cannabis that gives it an almost gin-like character."

Humboldt’s Finest uses locally grown domestic hemp, whose cultivation was authorized with the passage of the 2014 United States Farm Bill. Hemp is the strain of cannabin grown for food, fiber, and other industrial purposed. Law says it must contain less than 0.3 percent of THC content.

And speaking of food, StarChefs, a resource and platform for restaurant professionals, hosted a Green Toque Supper Club for 4/20. The inaugural event brought together high-profile chefs in Colorado to explore ways cannabis could be incorporated into fine dining.

“It’s impossible to ignore cannabis’ potential for the restaurant industry,” says Antoinette Bruno, StarChefs CEO/EIC, in a statement. “StarChefs is thrilled to bring together chefs, cannabis experts, and restaurant suppliers—like Meiko Warewashers, who actually inspired this dinner—so we can all learn from each other and help bring cannabis into the mainstream.”

The inaugural chefs were: Hosea Rosenberg (Blackbelly Market), Alex Seidel (Fruition & Mercantile), Kelly Whitaker (Basta), and Deuki Hong (Sunday Bird), as well as artisan chocolate makers Aldo Ramirez Carrasco, Spencer Bowie, and Sienna Trapp-Bowie (Fortuna Chocolate).

“It’s important to bring together like-minded chefs to explore the culinary applications of cannabis. After all, it was originally designed to be ingested, not smoked,” says Whitaker in a statement.

There’s even a pot sommelier, Philip Wolf, to pair a variety of strains to smoke with weed-less dishes. Cannabis will be incorporated into dishes via infused honey and olive oil, among other ingredients.

"Having an organization like StarChefs stepping into the culinary cannabis world shows the progression and destigmatization of cannabis,” says Wolf, Founder and CEO of Cultivating Spirits, in a statement. “This dinner will be another step forward into the exploratory world of culinary cannabis experiences."