When you're as baked as your dessert: THC-infused cupcakes, macarons and full-on meals are the new high points of dining out - Yahoo

Cannabis-infused foods are taking over the restaurant world, from THC cocktails to pizza-and-a-joint specials. (Photos: Getty Images/Illustration: Rui Pu/Animation: Joseph Riccobono)
Cannabis-infused foods are taking over the restaurant world, from THC cocktails to pizza-and-a-joint specials. (Photos: Getty Images/Illustration: Rui Pu/Animation: Joseph Riccobono)

It wasn't all that long ago that law-abiding citizens couldn't imagine openly consuming marijuana without fear of arrest. But, thanks to a wave of states legalizing cannabis, it's now possible to use the drug publicly in many parts of the country. These new developments leave many weed enthusiasts asking if new cannabis laws will change whether or not THC is used at restaurants and bars.

Gone are the days when cannabis aficionados spent their time smoking in musty basements: In some states, cannabis can be consumed as freely as alcohol in restaurants. In others, it's legal to host private parties where cannabis is served. Often, this public consumption involves the use of infused food and drinks.

The legal landscape regarding where cannabis can be consumed in public is complex. Currently, only 10 states permit public social consumption. Those who wish to host parties with marijuana present outside of their homes sometimes get around this prohibition by hosting private parties in restaurants or hotels, but where do these ever-changing laws leave bar and restaurant owners?

Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and board member of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, explains because legal social consumption is a "paradigm shift" for both law enforcement and those who use cannabis, state and local governments are still figuring out a good balance. "Some [states and municipalities] welcome the culture, jobs and tax revenue," he says. "Others are still not comfortable with this yet."

Grinspoon thinks there are compelling reasons to allow public social consumption. "[Cannabis] presents a less toxic and more helpful … alternative to alcohol," he says. "All things being equal, using cannabis is significantly safer than using alcohol."

Grinspoon adds that for those who use cannabis for medical purposes, "there truly isn't a reason to make them go without their … meds" whenever they leave home. Cannabis "has a lot of positives in terms of helping with relaxation, connecting with people and enjoying food," Grinspoon adds. "Historically in this country, the only choice in terms of intoxicants has been alcohol, but now that many people are living in states where cannabis is legal, they have more of a choice."

Chefs and restaurants are exploring what widespread legalization of cannabis means for their businesses. Some serve infused foods in their dining areas, others offer promotions like "pizza-and-a-joint" to-go specials and others host private events where invited guests can consume infused foods.

Food served on the patio of the Artist Tree's consumption lounge. (Photo: The Artist Tree)
Food served on the patio of the Artist Tree's consumption lounge. (Photo: The Artist Tree)

The Artist Tree dispensary in West Hollywood, Calif. has a consumption lounge where patrons can consume infused food and drinks purchased on-site. Co-founder Lauren Fontein has worked in the cannabis industry for years and saw "a need for public consumption spaces." Once consumption lounges were legalized in California, she and her co-founder "jumped at the chance" to open one.

"The reception has been amazing," says Fontein. "Visitors are grateful to finally have a comfortable, yet upscale place to consume in public."

The Artist Tree boasts "an extensive menu of infused cannabis foods and beverages … including tea and coffee, macarons and infused chocolate spreads and honey that can be added to non-infused food items," says Fontein. All of the infused items served at the lounge have much lower dosages than typical retail products.

"We provide individualized guidance to each guest based on their level of cannabis experience and encourage newbies to start with one of our great low-dose beverage options," explains Fontein.

Because California law prevents cannabis businesses from selling non-cannabis products, the Artist Tree partners with local restaurants to provide non-infused food and drinks to their customers as well. The restaurants deliver plated dishes to the lounge. Fontein describes the lounge's clientele as "eclectic and diverse" and says "everyone in the community has been extremely supportive" of their business.

Brianna Banks and her husband, Dr. Mohamed Lotfy, founded Wake-N-Bakery in Chicago, Ill. after Banks discovered drinking infused coffee was a better alternative to manage severe pain from a running injury than the strong narcotics her doctor originally prescribed. She says they wanted to reach "more people who were excited to have a natural, hemp-driven alternative."

Wake-N-Bakery offers a range of infused dosages and products "for those who can only handle little, to those who want to see Elvis," Banks says. She elaborates that the bakery's infused food gets patrons "zooted," which is a term for a "happy high." The menu includes items like infused dark cherry cupcakes, mocha lattes and the "world's best pistachio latte," according to Banks. She adds that Wake-N-Bakery's menu items have "minimal-to-zero taste of cannabinoids."

"People enjoy the taste of the items along with the effects," she says.

In San Francisco, Calif. social consumption laws prevent Tony's Pizza Napoletana from obtaining a social consumption license and serving cannabis on-site. Instead, chef Tony Gemignani teamed up with two other local businesses to create the "Up in Smoke Pipeline Pizza." When a customer orders the special pie, they get their pizza in a distinctive box designed by a local artist, then head to nearby dispensary North Beach Pipeline to pick up a joint.

Gemignani created a new pizza exclusively for the special, then got together with Jesse Henry, the chief executive officer of the dispensary. The duo tried "about eight samples of different strains and just did a trial and error," says Henry, adding that the pairing they came up with "fits best with the flavors of the pizza."

"The smokiness of the mozzarella in the pizza goes great with the earthy terpenes (naturally-occurring compounds in female cannabis plants) of the Mother's Milk strain in the joint," Henry shares.

Another benefit of the specific strain used for the pizza and cannabis combo is that "it's a nice sativa-leaning hybrid, which is perfect either before or after eating the pizza," says Henry, adding that the strain isn't "too strong," making it appropriate for everyone, including newer cannabis users.

Alexis Isaacs, another board member of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, attended a private cannabis dinner party in New York, N.Y. where Netflix chef Jordan Andino served a mix of infused and non-infused dishes. Issacs was initially nervous she'd get "too high" from the experience, but was reassured when Andino told guests the infused dishes contained "very low" amounts of THC. For those who wanted to increase their high they "could use the sauces ... [that] were also infused with THC," Isaacs explains.

A THC-infused oxtail and rice dish created by chef Jordan Andino. (Photo: Alexis Isaacs)
A THC-infused oxtail and rice dish created by chef Jordan Andino. (Photo: Alexis Isaacs)

Isaacs says she could not taste cannabis in the infused foods. "The food was extremely flavorful," she recalls. "It was a mix between Filipino and Jamaican cuisine. You could not taste the THC at all."

Her favorite infused dish was oxtail and rice. And, Isaacs says she quickly figured out how to moderate her high. "I just made sure I ate a good balance of both [infused and non-infused foods]," she says. "And when I started to feel high, I stopped eating and started to drink more water."

Isaacs didn't know many people at the dinner and says "because everyone was high, it made connecting much easier."

"It's amazing how friendly people can be when they have a bit of THC in their system," she says.

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