The U.S. has reached a tipping point with respect to legalizing marijuana. Cannabusinesses and gangapreneurs, along with advocates across the country, have created a billion-dollar industry in the face of federal prohibition. Whether from a medical or recreational perspective, the question facing patients and adult users is where and how one can consume marijuana and cannabis-derivative products.
Marijuana tourism, or “cannatourism,” is the hospitality industry trend of people traveling to states to participate in the new and legal cannabis industry. While it may be legal to purchase marijuana, public consumption is illegal. Public use typically includes any place where the public or a substantial group of people has access. The biggest impediment to a successful cannatourism market is identifying places where it is permissible to consume the products that are purchased.
The prohibition on public consumption is a concern for all facets of the hospitality industry, including restaurateurs who wish to develop cannabis-infused menu items. Consumers will have to wait for regulatory changes before they can enjoy a cannabis-infused restaurant meal.
Cannabis use requires private spaces. Without access to a private space, there are limited options for consuming legally purchased cannabis products. It’s something that states will grapple with in the coming years to resolve the cannatourism conundrum.
The Alaska Alcohol & Marijuana Control Office has been considering rules to allow a designated area for onsite consumption within a licensed retail marijuana store. This would make the on-premise consumption of marijuana a legal reality by creating the first regulated, commercial cannabis consumption locations. It could be a first step toward allowing restaurants to serve cannabis-infused meals.
The Popularity of Edibles
Edibles containing cannabis are increasing in popularity. For example, part of the recent debate in the Florida Legislature over implementing the new constitutional amendment expanding Florida’s medical marijuana industry focused on smoking marijuana. Since smoking is the most common form of consuming marijuana, why is there controversy surrounding this practice?
The process of smoking involves the burning or igniting of marijuana and inhaling the smoke. With public health perceptions aimed at mitigating harmful tobacco smoke, it is natural to understand the reluctance to encourage smoking marijuana. Florida legislators decided that alternative methods of consumption were safer, including commercially-produced food products. The concept of edible cannabis appears to be more palatable for politicians. On the recreational, adult-use front, as marijuana use has become destigmatized, smoking cannabis is facing competition from other forms of consumption, such as edible cannabis products.
Creative entrepreneurs are producing a variety of edible products made with extracted marijuana oils containing cannabinoids: active chemicals such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD). Once the cannabinoids are extracted into liquid form, they can be incorporated into ordinary food. Because the stomach absorbs and processes the cannabinoids slower than the lungs, the oral method of consumption involves a prolonged release of cannabis into the system. The slow metabolism of marijuana-infused edible food products is a benefit for recreational users who want a long, continuous high. Similarly, these products can be a critical part of a medical patient’s cannabis-use regimen because the medicine is absorbed and metabolized slowly through the digestive system. A more extended release of the drug can have palliative outcomes for patients with certain ailments that may benefit from a more sustained therapeutic effect.
But the cannatourism conundrum means there are no opportunities for on-premises consumption of edible food. Restaurants cannot obtain licenses to produce marijuana-infused products or sell edibles to consumers. The future of the U.S. marijuana industry may eventually see marijuana bars or restaurants. One can imagine a multi-course meal at a gourmet restaurant involving low-dose infusions for each course. While this joie de vivre experience may fit well with the foodie cultural revolution, we are not there yet.
A work-around solution involves private catering. To avoid the public use prohibition, social consumption may involve such private use as catered medicated meals in states with medical use only laws, or cannabis-themed dinner parties in recreational law states. These are happening more frequently as connoisseur- or pharmaceutical-grade cannabis is being seen as a luxury experience, like drinking fine wines.