Cannabis restaurants are coming to West Hollywood, with 'budtenders' and 'flower' service
WEST HOLLYWOOD - Like any good chef about to open a restaurant, Andrea Drummer wants to get her pairings just right. But her lamb chops with plantain-mango salsa won't be matched with wine or beer.
Instead, a "budtender" - some in the industry call them ganjiers, as in ganja sommeliers - will help guests at the soon-to-open Lowell Farms cannabis cafe pair their farm-to-table meal with the perfect strain of farm-to-table marijuana.
"A kush is a little more pungent, so it pairs better with a stew, or something like a beef or a meat product. A lighter lemon profile goes nicely with a fish," said Drummer. One of her favorite strains, Blue Dream, "pairs well with both savory and sweet. I've done it with ice cream, and with bread puddings, but I've also done it with octopus."
When the rustic, plant-filled 220-seat space opens, it will be the first of its kind in America: a place for locals and tourists to have a high-quality meal and smoke a joint in public. Other restaurants are soon to follow. But if they want weed on the menu, restaurateurs in the famously progressive city - which in 2017 approved an ordinance allowing business licenses for this purpose - will still have to navigate a complicated patchwork of regulations.
"With cannabis, we are building the boat as we're on the water," said Jackie Subeck, who plans to open a cannabis spa, clinic and cafe and serves as the chairwoman of the cannabis legislative subcommittee for the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
States that have legalized recreational cannabis will be watching how the city pulls it off. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, signed a bill in May allowing cannabis lounges. If legalization continues apace, cannabis restaurants might eventually become as normal as wine bars.
"Whatever West Hollywood does now," said Sean Black, co-founder of Lowell Herb Co., the cannabis company opening the cafe, "the rest of the blue states, at least, [do] three years later."
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Proposition 64 legalized cannabis in California, but consuming it in public is still prohibited. When the West Hollywood City Council held a study session on the topic in 2017, it determined that access to places to smoke was a social-equity issue.
"A lot of people in this city are renters, and they may not be able to smoke in their apartments," said John Leonard, the city's community and legislative affairs manager. "They're forced to smoke in public places or smoke in their cars, and they face a greater risk of being arrested for that."
However, that wasn't the only reason the council approved an ordinance allowing public consumption lounges.
People "enjoy the nightlife of West Hollywood. So we thought this was kind of a natural evolution that, you know, you can stay in West Hollywood in a hotel, you can go out to our bars and our restaurants, and now you can go to a cannabis consumption cafe as well," said Leonard.
There are public cannabis consumption areas elsewhere in California and in Colorado, but many are lounges attached to dispensaries or vape clubs reminiscent of a dingy basement. They are pretty different from what West Hollywood had in mind when it opened up applications for 16 on-site consumption licenses (with 24 additional licenses for dispensaries and delivery) in May 2018.
The process drew more than 300 applicants, who were scored on factors such as innovation and social equity. The top eight in each of five categories were allowed to proceed.