Have a Heart Compassion Care Cafe opened its doors on April 20, (no, that date wasn't just a coincidence), as the state's first medicinal marijuana access point to attempt a move into restaurant territory—serving burgers, pasta, and even milkshakes containing marijuana.
At least, that was the intent.
Before Have a Heart had even figured out the dosages for the menu items, the company discovered under federal law restaurants are not allowed to add marijuana to edible fare. It’s considered a toxin. You can, say, make beer from hemp because there is no actual THC present in the final product.
State law also prohibits the existence of a restaurant in conjunction with a marijuana dispensary— so Have a Heart was unable to obtain a health permit, even for nonmedicated food. In turn, the restaurant section was shut down about a month after it opened, without serving a single marijuana meal.
“It’s really the nonexistence of laws that’s inhibiting doing what we want to do,” said Gail Tsai, Have a Heart’s former restaurant manager. Since marijuana is only recently legal in Washington, it’s still not entirely clear how the I-502 laws and regulations will work, even as enterprising business owners ponder new ways to build a business off its newfound legality.
Although the I-502 laws didn't impact medical marijuana dispensaries’ distribution, this new legal status comes with a lot of uncharted territory, such as this restaurant-dispensary concept. “You would think [the Washington State Liquor Control Board] would want an establishment that has recreational marijuana with food, which is what they do with liquor,” Tsai said. Apparently not—not yet, that is.
If Have a Heart CC and the medical community want to make joint restaurant and dispensary services (no pun intended) a reality once again, they'll have to push for legislation explicitly allowing them.
Meanwhile, the rest of Have a Heart’s space at 4500 Ninth Ave NE has stayed in service. Its medical marijuana dispensary continues to sell bud, candies, and other products. The vapor and dab lounge, a place to smoke vaporized marijuana from highly concentrated hash, has expanded into the restaurant’s former seating area. Couches have replaced the dining tables and chairs so patients can kick back in the cafe and meet other patients while medicating.