Will marijuana soon be on your menu? Steve Fox, director of VS Strategies, counsel at Vicente Sederberg LLC, and panelist at the 2015 National Restaurant Association Show's "Marijuana on the Menu" session thinks so. Since 2002, Fox has been a leading figure lobbying for legal, regulated marijuana. His efforts have included educating the public on the benefits of marijuana and de-stigmatizing its use.
When Fox and his team wrote Amendment 64 for Colorado to legalize recreational marijuana, the group had a goal: insert a measure for the restaurant industry that would allow patrons to use cannabis inside privately owned establishments.
Alhough there are no restaurants at this time that openly allow the use of cannabis in the same way they sell alcohol to customers, "it's not unreasonable to think that over time social cannabis use will be as acceptable as alcohol use," Fox said.
"The world is open right now," he said, "for innovation in terms of infused products, and different technology that might be used to infuse products."
In writing Amendment 64, Fox and his partners added a measure that would not enable smoking in public. The city of Denver interpreted "public" to mean any place that anyone can access, which lead by definition, to a ban on its use in restaurants.
However, places like Pueblo, Colorado, allow private social clubs expressly for the purpose of consuming cannabis. This is a loophole that could be the path restaurants legally follow to serve marijuana to patrons as long as they are 21 and older. His firm is working with other localities in Colorado to pass similar changes.
Fox acknowledges that there may be clean air act regulations that come into play for restaurants permitting smoking marijuana indoors, which he said could be resolved by setting up separate smoking quarters or allowing the use of vaporizers inside.
In 2009, when Colorado legalized medical marijuana, Robyn Griggs Lawrence, session panelist, author of the forthcoming Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook and former editor-in-chief of Natural Home & Garden Magazine, made her first trip to a dispensary at the suggestion of her doctor.
"It's a whole new world," she said of her first trip. "I'd never realized that cannabis came in so many different types and flavors and aromas. This one smelled like pineapple, this one smelled musky, and I thought, 'this is food.' It was a paradigm shift for me."
Lawrence realized there were no cooking standards and conflicting opinions on its use for cuisine, which set her on a journey working with chefs across the country who had experimented with cooking marijuana.
The chefs, including those with raw food, super food and paleo diet backgrounds, developed cannabis recipes that range from breakfast and brunch to cocktails, standardizing "how to dose people," and creating the foundation for her cookbook.
"It can really head your dinner south if this food is too strong and people eat too much of it," Lawrence said. "Cannabis is a natural, healing plant. It's a culinary plant, and officially a vegetable. The stigma needs to be taken away from it because it's helping a lot of people," in terms of relaxation, just like drinking a martini, or actual medical need, she said. "One of the reasons you hear us use the word cannabis instead of marijuana is for that reason. It's about taking back the language around marijuana."
Four states in the U.S. have legalized cannabis, and by 2019, Fox believes California, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine and others will be next in line to change their marijuana laws via ballot initiative.
According to Fox, research indicates that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol "in terms of addictiveness, toxicity, and in terms of association with violence." He's certain it will be legal across the U.S soon and in time across the globe.