Welcoming Cannabis into the Bar & Restaurant Industry

Over the past several years, the push to legalize recreational cannabis has motivated voters all over the country and has excited the hospitality industry with new and exciting possibilities. As of January 1, 2024, cannabis can be legally purchased for recreational use in 24 states, and hemp-derived cannabinoids like CBD and Delta-8 THC are legal on a federal level. Retail shops quickly got in on the cannabis-selling action, and now that these products are more accessible than ever, cannabis finds itself appearing on menus at bars, restaurants, and cafes.

But from a business perspective, what does the inclusion of cannabis on these menus mean to the hospitality industry? How can cannabis be showcased in the most appealing way, and what might the future of cannabis hospitality look like? Read on to find out.


Full marijuana legalization gives hospitality businesses the opportunity to treat cannabis and alcohol equally.

As an early adopter of laws to allow recreational sales of cannabis, California gives restaurateurs and bar owners the chance to serve full-strength THC, albeit with some restrictions. The first-ever restaurant in the United States to be licensed for cannabis service can be found in West Hollywood: Cannabis Cafe, which opened in 2019. Cannabis Cafe’s business model, in which guests can purchase cannabis for on-site consumption along with food, non-alcoholic beverages, and beer & wine, takes inspiration from Amsterdam’s famous cannabis-cafe culture.

Partner Sean Black tells us that the Cannabis Cafe team originally sought licensing as a dispensary, but they chose to pivot to a consumption license (the first of its kind in West Hollywood and in the U.S.) because dispensary sales excluded many Angelenos on a socioeconomic basis. When they applied for their license with the City of West Hollywood, Black says that they presented on-site consumption as “an equity issue. Rich people can smoke in their homes. But renters, people in public housing, and people in shared housing? They don’t have anywhere to go.”

Tourism also factored into Black’s argument, “They can’t smoke in their hotels, but they’re coming here for the legal cannabis experience.”

Cannabis Cafe seeks to be a safe haven for West Hollywood cannabis enthusiasts (both residents and visitors) to enjoy these products freely and openly, in much the same way as people can enjoy alcohol in public. “People should be able to go to a restaurant, enjoy a meal, and also enjoy their intoxicant of choice. Instead of having a glass of wine with dinner, why can’t they have a joint?” Black asks.


Adding cannabis to menus offers new and engaging options for alcohol-free guests.

The rise of cannabis on beverage menus is in full force all over the country. Some establishments, like Tiki bar Bellhop in Des Moines, Iowa, choose to offer cannabis-infused beverages alongside alcoholic cocktails. Others, like The Munch Box in Brevard, North Carolina, allow cannabis drinks to be the focal point of their lists.

According to Owner/CEO Shauna Bradley, The Munch Box first opted to use cannabis in their drinks to get around the tricky legalization issues related to cannabis-infused food. “Infusions in food outside of private events is still illegal in North Carolina,” Bradley pointed out.

Because FDA regulations around cannabis’ relationship with food remain murky, many cannabis cafes and restaurants (even those in states where cannabis is fully legal) restrict their infusions to beverages. Bradley says that The Munch Box brings cannabis into its beverages by offering guests “a 12.5 mg dose” of hemp-derived distillate that they can add into the drink themselves, giving them the ability to manage the quantity for their own consumption.

While states like North Carolina haven’t fully legalized THC (the active compound in marijuana), hemp-based cannabis like CBD and Delta-8 are both legal for retail sale and for service at hospitality venues such as The Munch Box. Bradley says that, should North Carolina ever join states like California in allowing recreational sales of THC, The Munch Box would “100% make the switch.”

However, she acknowledges that there have been some benefits to serving only hemp-derived cannabis. Because hemp distillate isn’t literal marijuana, “the negative stigmas about weed” haven’t caused alienation among clients, and because hemp has “been studied far more than full-blown cannabis,” Bradley feels that she and her staff are better able to explain the products and to inform guests of the potential effects. Changing over to full THC at The Munch Box would come hand-in-hand with efforts to educate their client base. As Bradley says, “being informed makes a world of difference.”

Operations like The Munch Box both expose their clientele to cannabis in a comfortable and welcoming manner while also providing options for guests who choose to abstain from alcohol. NA customers can still partake in “buzzy” beverages without consuming alcohol, and service models like The Munch Box’s give clients the chance to customize their dosage. This contributes to the spirit of inclusion that Sean Black mentioned—cannabis hospitality can level the playing field on a broad scale.


Building cannabis into menus can raise social acceptance of cannabis in general.

The expansion of legal cannabis throughout the United States has led to a measurable reduction in arrest numbers, and as people come to view marijuana and other cannabis products as a lawful leisure item much like alcohol, overall acceptance of cannabis culture has the opportunity to thrive. This opens up the potential for different types of cannabis hospitality.

In addition to cannabis cafes and bars, cannabis hotels (like The Lexi in Las Vegas) are on the rise, and Sean Black tells us that he hopes to eventually see “cannabis live music venues” in places like West Hollywood. “The more exposure people have to cannabis, the more accepting they are of it,” Black says, and based on recent trends, the hospitality industry seems to agree.


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