The politics of medical marijuana cafes
By Isabel Braverman
In a typical morning at Ganja Gourmet, owner Steve Horowitz whips up some lasagna… with pot sprinkled in. Ganja Gourmet, located in Denver, Colo., is the first ever restaurant in the U.S. to serve food with medical marijuana as a main ingredient.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2000, and so far Ganja Gourmet is the only restaurant in the U.S. of its kind. But this trend is on the rise. For example, Portland, Ore., is home to a medical marijuana cafe—The Cannabis Cafe. Although it is still not legal to sell medical marijuana there the cafe allows patients to trade and use cannabis. One must be an Oregon resident and a NORML member with a medicinal marijuana card to enter. NORML is one of the leading organizations in the U.S. advocating for the legalization of medical marijuana.
There are 26,274 people in Oregon registered to use marijuana for medical purposes, and it is one of 14 states to legalize the use of medical marijuana. Cafes and restaurants such as these are coming into existence because of the Obama administration’s move to stop prosecuting patients who use medical marijuana or dispensaries in states that have already legalized it.
Strangely enough, the venue that Cannabis Cafe is located in used to be a restaurant named Rumpspankers. However, the cafe has been welcomed by the public in a way the restaurant wasn’t. Ganja Gourmet has also seen positive feedback from their neighborhood. According to Horowitz, when the restaurant opened, the public thought it was the coolest thing on earth. The restaurant creates a friendly atmosphere where medical marijuana users can socialize and trade cannabis.
Although it may seem like public opinion is against legalizing medical marijuana, Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, claims otherwise.
“There have been very few negative reviews about either the quality of the food, the environment or that it sets up some sort of cultural political backlash for marijuana,” he said.
Restaurants and cafes such as Ganja Gourmet and Cannabis Cafe are helping to further the medical marijuana movement with the positive press they are generating. With such a cool idea, it may call attention to medical marijuana and make it a more mainstream medication. St. Pierre said that when the press covers Ganja Gourmet, it helps spread the word.
“When a print medium will write something about one of those [restaurants] and… maybe a TV station will finally land, and that will push it into most people’s homes whether they’re 70 years old watching the news or they’re 18. It just further disseminates the discussion around it.”
Ganja Gourmet is a pioneer in the medical marijuana business, and Horowitz said that they have had a lot of attention. “All the press we got with this restaurant and all the interest we created internationally, it’s just going to help pave the way to legalization.”
There have been many cases where the legalization of home cultivated-medical marijuana was denied, even though the majority voted in favor of it. St. Pierre said that many states are taking a cue from New Jersey, which recently banned home cultivation. In Washington, D.C. the city council banned home cultivation even though 69 percent of the voters voted for it.
With an organization such as NORML and Ganja Gourmet initiating conversation about medical marijuana and taking action to legalize it, the future is looking bright. Marijuana has never been a direct cause of death, whereas alcohol and cigarettes kill thousands of people each year. Horowitz said that the thousands of people who come to his restaurant have always been responsible and peaceful.
“Our business is the future of America,” the owner said. “Just like you can go to any restaurant and you can order a drink, you should be able to go to a restaurant and order some marijuana. This will be the future of marijuana.”
Isabel Braverman is a sophomore journalism major who recommends Ganja Gourmet’s pot pot pie. E-mail her email@example.com.