“The cafe almost broke us,” says cannabis business pioneer Debby Goldsberry. “You see less merchandise on our shelves because all of our money has been going into the cafe.”
We’re sitting in a spacious, newly renovated space adjacent to Goldsberry’s Magnolia Wellness dispensary in Oakland. With a gleaming copper bar and long wooden chef’s table, the cafe, currently open to medical cannabis patients only, is almost ready to become the centerpiece of a weed-friendly event center where monthly farmers markets are already underway.
Goldsberry is close to realizing a dream that represents the final frontier for many enthusiasts — a place where pot lovers can congregate in peace and enjoy the experience of imbibing their favorite plant, while also eating, drinking and relaxing in a hospitable atmosphere. Reaching this goal wasn’t easy or cheap, and a few challenges remain untackled in order for the first recreational cannabis coffee to be consumed.
“I ran Berkeley Patients Group and an on-site consumption lounge for 10 years,” Goldsberry explains. “The city wants cannabis consumption indoors and off the streets, so getting the permit actually wasn’t that hard.” But she says what was difficult was raising funds for an expensive, time-consuming project as a non-profit entity, which made loans the only option for fundraising. Under California’s old medical marijuana laws, medical marijuana providers in the state were required to operate as non-profit entities. However, as California adopts a new system for medical marijuana alongside developing regulations for an adult-use marketplace, these laws will change.
“People aren’t that interested in loaning money to non-profits,” Goldsberry says, “but when the law changes on Jan. 1, we’ll have a better deal to offer potential lenders.”
When I sat with Goldsberry in Magnolia, she was in the process of applying for the licensing that will allow her dispensary to also serve the recreational market.
First on the wish list is an HVAC system capable of constantly clearing the air, a requirement stipulated by the planning department as a necessary prerequisite to opening the dab bar. “That’s one area where I think they’re being unreasonable,” Goldsberry says.
“What small businessperson can afford $100,000 dollars for an HVAC system when they’re a non-profit to begin with?” says Goldsberry.
As far as serving infused food, the café (which plans to open to both medical and recreational patients in the future) will adopt an innovative, interactive approach out of necessity. New regulations on both the medical and adult-use sides of California cannabis require makers of cannabis-infused foods to possess a manufacturing license, and before these manufactured products can be sold, they must be routed through a distributor and a testing laboratory.
“We want to have a cannabis coffeeshop, but we can’t make a latte that’s infused with cannabis because that would be manufacturing,” Goldsberry explains. “So we’d need to make the latte, send it to a distributor for testing, and then they could sell it back to us and by the time it got to the customer it would be cold.”
While directly infusing the cafe offerings is currently impossible, the Magnolia team devised a creative workaround. “What we can do is have a permit for a regular coffee bar,” Goldsberry says. “So we’ll make non-infused food and the dispensary counter will sell the infusion product and we’ll let the customer infuse it themselves.”
Options for this self-administered infusion method include honey sticks, chocolate-covered spoons, and an array of butters and jams. Currently, the existing medical permit allows for topicals, edibles and vaporizers to be used onsite, and so at Magnolia, Volcano vaporizers, VapeExhale products and vape pens are all allowed indoors, with the dab bar coming soon. Goldsberry expects the cafe to be operational by early 2018.
Public consumption has been a sticky subject for legal states, with Denver passing an initiative that would have allowed it, before running into roadblocks while attempting to implement social use. Any Colorado establishment with a liquor license is prohibited from also allowing cannabis use, but businesses like bookstores and cafes can opt-in to become vape-friendly, as long as there’s a separate area restricted to adults age 21 and older. Clean air laws make smoking joints indoors anywhere illegal, and permitting rooftops and patios for public puffing has so far proved to be a regulatory minefield, but permits in Colorado have been established to allow for special events.
In Nevada, the situation for public consumption looks even bleaker. In August, Nevada’s Clark County Business Licensing Director Jacqueline Holloway issued a warning to promoters: “It is unlawful to advertise and invite the public to consume marijuana at parties, dining events, recreational events such as yoga and swimming, and other types of events, even if events are held at a private residence.” At risk of losing their licenses if found in violation, the warning has chilled the cannabis events business in Las Vegas, and entrepreneurs are currently lobbying for additional permits and license types to allow public consumption.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, cannabis-loving chef and restauranteur Payton Curry discovered a loophole in the medical law, which only makes it illegal to combust marijuana indoors, leaving the potential for infused dining wide open.
“The biggest challenge was liquor licenses,” Curry says. “You can’t smoke or dab on the premises if there’s a liquor license.” To circumvent this rule in Scottsdale, Curry hired coach buses to sit outside the property line and serve as a dab bar to the delight of patrons.
“The city was happy with how we did it. Their biggest concern was the total amount of material, and once they realized we were using less than 20 grams of concentrates for the whole event, they were fine with it.” There have been a few official visitors, however, with the local fire marshall and chief of police keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings from outside of the venue.
“They couldn’t come in because they’re not medical card-holders,” Curry says, with a laugh. “They were just there to make sure there was no vending of cannabis.”
Dedicated to promoting the healthy, raw applications of cannabis, Chef Curry brought an infused dining event to San Francisco last August. Dubbed “Cannavore,” the pop-up project aimed to educate diners about the wellness benefits of cannabis, featuring dishes like herb-basted maitake steaks and sweet corn tamales topped with medicated mole negro. Currently, Curry is using the cannabinoid CBD to entice curious consumers into experiencing cannabis without the high psychotropic effects. Curry is also pursuing the concept of opening a juice bar that would serve CBD-infused cocktails, which would be located in downtown Santa Cruz.
Also racing to build out a full-service restaurant is chef Chris Sayegh, who’s been building up the hype around his HERB restaurant concept over the past year. Debuted as a pop-up at the Emerald Exchange event last August, Sayegh envisions the brick-and-mortar HERB as a high-end, full-service restaurant and lounge. Dreaming of a space where patrons will be advised by knowledgeable cannabis guides, with after-dinner activities in the same facility designed to let patrons fully immerse themselves in the high, Sayegh told Cannabis Now that securing permits and building out a space will take place in late 2018.
Sayegh has been hosting infused dining events since 2013, during a period when the cannabis events space was a very grey area. “Previously, we took a two company approach. The Herbal Chef LLC worked in direct correlation with our non-profit collective, Emerald Organix, and our patients sign up beforehand. Come January 2018, the legal landscape becomes a bit clearer.”
As California enacts its permitting process for cultivators, sellers, distributors and testers, chefs and event promoters have been forced to wait as the Bureau of Cannabis Control devised a way to address consumption events, with lobbying efforts underway by Sayegh and others to establish a workable system. In the emergency rules released in late November, an Event Organizer License has been created, but the fees involved are often too steep for chefs and promoters running intimate dinners and educational events, while still providing a way forward for larger tradeshows and country fairs.
“We are creating a new type of immersive dining experience,” Sayegh says, “paving the way for what one day will become commonplace in the culinary and cannabis scene.”
Originally published in Issue 30 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
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