Although it becomes legal this week to possess one pound of "marijuana-infused product" or 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquid, officials say Initiative-502 doesn't open the door for restaurants to plate up pot.
Sara Remington/Chronicle Books
Weed's been a component of kitchen culture for so long that the New York Times took note of the phenomenon way back in 2010, when a story attributed 21st century dining trends such as Korean tacos and high-end poutine to chefs struck by the munchies. But cooking with cannabis has always been left to underground supper clubs, the unregulated medible industry and legalization advocates: High Times last year released a cookbook with recipes for enhanced tamales, shrimp rolls and pineapple upside-down cake. And, according to authorities, that dynamic won't change come Thursday.
"'Delivery', which includes both sales and gifts, will remain a felony, with the sole exception being licensed entities who may sell marijuana in strict compliance with I-502," explains Alison Holcomb, drug policy director for the ACLU of Washington. "So, no sales or gifts of marijuana-infused food items by restaurants."
Although final rules pertaining to pot's distribution and sale are still unsettled, I-502 also explicitly states it's unlawful to "consume a marijuana-infused product in view of the general public." Restaurants are classified as public spaces, Washington Department of Health spokesperson Donn Moyer says - and while it's not a definitive indicator of how the courts will interpret I-502, attempts to evade the statewide smoking ban by seeking private club status were rejected by the Washington Supreme Court in 2008. So even if chefs found a way to sneak pot brownies onto their menus, customers couldn't legally eat them.
But the clearest prohibition may be located in the state's food code, which bars commercial food producers from using any ingredients which aren't approved for human consumption, such as marijuana. "It doesn't appear that's going to change," Moyer says. Although the rules committee could recommend adjusting the code, it might be difficult to square those changes with food safety concerns: Since marijuana remains illegal under federal law, there are no plans for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to inspect or approve marijuana-infused products.
"Marijuana in food products is not legal," Moyer emphasizes. "That includes what's already being sold in 'dispensaries,' which of course, aren't legal."
Yet Holcomb says the provisions of I-502 permit the sale of marijuana-infused products at standalone, marijuana-only retail stores.
"Right now, marijuana is not approved, so if that's true, then we'll see," says Moyer, who, like all state employees, is waiting for the legal implications of the initiative to be sorted out. "That's an odd one."
What's definitely illegal (and bound to stay that way) is smoking a joint in a restaurant, even if the bud's organic, locally grown and presented with a sommelier's blessing. The state's smoking ban doesn't differentiate among flammable materials.
"It's not OK to smoke pencil shavings," Moyer says.