With recreational cannabis legalization still months away, some local chefs and restaurant owners are already looking to the future culinary uses of this popular plant.
Although weed-laden brownies, cookies, gummies and even pop line the shelves of the grey-area dispensaries that have popped up in Canada’s major cities, once the legal recreational cannabis regime comes into force, stores licensed by provincial governments as cannabis retailers will not be selling edibles — at least not until sometime in 2019. The federal government has opted to take more time to deal with the complexities of oral THC ingestion.
In an emailed statement, Sarah Gillis, spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia Department of Justice, said even when legal, recreational cannabis will only be available through the NSLC and therefore chefs will not be able to provide products with cannabis in them.
“We’re not aware of any province that has plans to allow this at this point. This activity is also prohibited under federal legislation,” she said.
But given that legality of edibles is on the horizon, experts say it’s only a matter of time until restaurant- goers can order a marijuana-infused meal or drink at their favourite local joint.
Sean Gallagher, owner of the trendy Agricola Street cafe and bar Lion & Bright, said cannabis is something he definitely hopes to put on his menu once edibles are legal to sell.
In fact, he said, underground cannabis-infused “progressive” dinners are already all the rage in the foodie community.
“In the restaurant business you’re always thinking about diversifying to try and pay your bills, so I think definitely a lot of
people will be thinking about it,” Gallagher told The Chronicle Herald.
Gallagher said he sees the effects of cannabis as something that could be easily incorporated into the dining experience, for example, at the beginning of the meal to stimulate the appetite and at the end as part of a dessert to help with digestion and relaxation.
He also said he sees the potential for entrepreneurs to get in on a sort of makers market of cannabis- infused products for menus, similar to craft beer or specialty ingredients.
“For the average restaurant I think it’s just a matter of whatever the regulations are, the opportunities are going to present themselves and everyone is going to jump on it,” he said.
“I feel like there will be (THC) donair sauce on pizza corner . . . I think it could be homogeneous and just, like, everywhere.”
One Halifax-based chef with experience in cooking with cannabis said he sees a role for specific marijuana specialists to be a major part of the food scene if and when edibles become mainstream.
“Of course, anybody that knows how to cook could be trained how to do it, but I think every place would have to have somebody with some experience and certainly there would have to be some guidelines,” said the chef, who wished not to be named.
“Dosage would be a major consideration so you don’t get someone relatively inexperienced off the street going in and ordering a dish and just getting zonked.”
Because cannabis is different from alcohol in that the effects and duration of a “high” vary widely from person to person, the chef said those serving
cannabisinfused food would have to be well-versed in how various strains and dosages might impact the customer, as well as how TCHinfused butter or oil metabolizes versus tinctures, and other methods of extraction and ingestion.
He also said the taste of cannabis, which is not always pleasant, will be something restaurants have to consider.
“A lot of youths that are purchasing edibles from dispensaries, there’s a distinct cannabis flavour and I think that’s already become part of the whole culture around it,” he said.
“For me personally, I enjoy (cannabis) in all of its various capacities but for me, when I’m cooking with it, I don’t want it to be a prominent flavour. It’s not bad, but I don’t think it’s necessarily desirable.” Sylvain Charlebois is the dean of the faculty of management as well as a professor at Dalhousie University. His areas of specialization in food policy, safety and distribution have led him to embark on projects and studies related to edible cannabis.
Charlebois told The Chronicle Herald there are already concerns from the grape and wine industries that the impending legalization of cannabis could potentially impact their profit margins if pot becomes a mainstay in the hospitality industry.
A Dalhousie study led by Charlebois and released in September found that 46 per cent of Canadians would try cannabis-infused food products if they became available on the market and 39 per cent would be willing to try it in a restaurant. Only a quarter believed it would replace an alcoholic drink in that setting.
“As that stigma erodes we are expecting people to feel more comfortable exploring (cannabis). Right now it’s seen as adventurous but in 10 years or 20 years from now, probably not,” he said.
There are several issues to consider when it comes to marijuana in the food industry, Charlebois said, such as the taste, and the fact that when ingested orally cannabis takes a long time to metabolize in the system, meaning the effects can take an hour or more to hit.
But, he said, there are already companies trying to find solutions to these issues. Charlebois is completing a case study for a B.C. company that is trying to find ways to make edible cannabis faster acting and better tasting, as well as looking for ways to infuse some of the health benefits of cannabis into food without the high that normally comes with it.
“I think within one generation cannabis could become mainstream just like what we’ve seen with gluten-free products,” Charlebois said. “For a variety of reasons gluten-free became a growth haven for the food industry and the food industry is desperate for growth. That’s why a lot of people within the industry are looking at cannabis as a huge opportunity.”