What could marijuana edibles mean for Ontario restaurants?

OPINION: Making edibles available in restaurants would pose more challenges than you might think, writes Corey Mintz
By Corey Mintz - Published on Oct 11, 2017
Nearly 40 per cent of Canadians would try edibles if they were available in restaurants, according to a Dalhousie University survey. (AHPhotoswpg/iStock)

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People want to eat marijuana. Which is odd, because it doesn’t taste good, and the intoxication is like an all-you-can-worry anxiety buffet. Plus, in its current, black-market form, there’s no way to know how much THC is in each bite, or whether the product has been lab-tested to confirm its contents.

Nevertheless, people love it: Dalhousie University recently conducted a survey on public perception of marijuana edibles. Of 1,087 Canadians polled, 39 per cent said they’d try it if it were available in restaurants.

Bakers and chefs are lining up to meet that demand. “I spend the vast majority of my time cooking with weed, developing various methods and recipes,” says Matt Salvesen, former cook at WVRST and Sweet Jesus, in Toronto. “I want to have the knowledge by the time it becomes legal badly enough to work on these methods in the privacy of my own home until then.”

The good news for Salvesen and others like him is that the federal government has already amended Bill C-45 (a.k.a. the Cannabis Act) to include the sale of edibles one year after marijuana is made legal, next Canada Day.

In Ontario, however, where the minimum age to buy marijuana will be a year higher than the federal minimum of 18, where marijuana is going from prohibition to monopoly (with stores to be run by the LCBO), and where the provincial government’s recently revealed plans for marijuana sales didn’t mention edibles for restaurants or retail, entrepreneurs shouldn’t hold their breath.

“We are committed to getting this transition [to legalization] right,” says Emilie Smith, spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, “by making the decisions that are needed now and consulting more on those decisions yet to come — this includes potential licensed establishments for consuming cannabis.”

In other words, edibles in restaurants are a possibility, but don’t expect any movement until after we’ve implemented legal marijuana retail, which is kind of a big deal.

“We plan to continue consulting with municipal partners, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, the enforcement community and other stakeholders about the possibility of introducing designated establishments and venues where recreational cannabis could be consumed after legalization has been implemented,” adds Smith.

Yes, the people of Ontario received the same anonymous billing in that statement as the Professor and Mary Ann did in the first-season credits of Gilligan’s Island, when the theme song listed them as “and the rest.” And that’s being generous, in that it assumes Ontarians are, in fact, those “other stakeholders.”


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When the government does eventually legalize edibles for retail, there will likely be dosage constraints (which will be ineffective, as people will simply consume more), and our next round of complaints will probably be directed at whatever baking conglomerate is granted exclusive production rights.

Still, as much as we like to complain about our state-run agencies, exercising caution with edibles is reasonable — especially when you consider what they might mean for restaurants.

Some edibles currently available (illegally) do list THC content, and from them I’ve learned that five milligrams is way too much for me. But unlike drinking or smoking, where you and everyone around you knows right away when you’ve had too much, the delayed reaction with edibles gives them a steeper learning curve. When and if edibles start showing up on restaurant menus, that could present a challenge for servers.

People who serve alcohol in Ontario require the Smart Serve certification, which educates them in managing customers’ intoxication. It would be impossible to provide that level of service (and liability) with edibles. How could a server or bartender be expected to know when to cut someone off, if the effects of the intoxicants can take up to two hours to set in?

“I would imagine any private rollout into a restaurant space would be extraordinarily cost-prohibitive,” says Jason Hanoski, chef at the Grand Trunk Saloon, in Kitchener, “and likely not able to have alcohol in the same space.”

Ontario’s desire to have marijuana and alcohol sold separately at the retail level (the LCBO’s pot stores will be separate from its liquor outlets) suggests the government will demand the same of restaurants. If restaurants are allowed to sell marijuana-infused foods, they’ll probably have to give up serving alcohol. And even if they could sell edibles, that would cut into drinks sales, making it a non-starter.

So, sure, from a libertarian perspective, why not let people have their weed cake and eat it, too? But from a practical standpoint: hooboy.

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