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On March 11, in a private dining room at Belltown’s Escala, industry folk, politicians and local press, gathered to share one of Washington’s very first cannabis themed dinner parties.  With approximately 50 guests in attendance, the event, billed as “A Culinary Journey: Exploring the marriage of food, wine, and cannabis” was organized by Eric Gaston, owner and cofounder of The Evergreen Market (a retail cannabis store).  “I thought it was really important to do something that helps change the narrative of cannabis.  The reality is that cannabis, like wine or spirits, can be enjoyed in small amounts as a way to enhance an experience, and that is what this dinner is all about,” said Gaston of the event.

The evening began with a passed appetizer of infused mushroom tarts and a cocktail, called the Evergreen Aviator. The drink, also infused, was comprised of gin, elderflower liquor, fresh lemon juice, and a blueberry lemon elixir containing cannabis.  The dinner featured four infused courses, each paired with small pours of wine provided by Kerloo Cellars (the appetizer course was paired with Kerloo Cellars’ earthy Grenache).

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Ryan Crane, the winemaker and owner of Kerloo Cellars, was also present, and spoke passionately about his wines and some of the parallels between the wine industry and the cannabis industry.  Each food course was prepared with small amounts of cannabis butter, with the donated cannabis coming from Green Barn Farms, a certified “Clean Green” outdoor farm owned and operated by Stephen Jensen.  Jensen also spoke, talking about the effects of different cannabinoids and THC on the human body, and how they work together to enhance the way we experience our environment—including the food and wine that was being consumed.

The food was prepared by Chef Ricky Flickenger, a local chef and owner of Mortar and Pestle.  Chef Ricky explained how the butter used to prepare the food was made with “kief” (a pollenlike substance collected from cured cannabis flowers).  He was also careful to point out that each dish contained very small amounts of cannabis, with the intention that by the end of the meal each guest would have consumed a total of no more 10 mg of THC, which is considered one serving in Washington state. Uninfused dishes were also offered for those who chose not to consume cannabis.

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Prior to the meal, Gaston talked briefly about the state of the industry since its inception in 2012, underscoring that virtually none of the concerns raised by cannabis detractors have materialized.  Gaston shared that since Washington has legalized cannabis, sales have exceeded $1.6 billion, tax revenue is in excess of $600 million, violent crime is down, and underage use has actually declined (with Gaston quipping that the decline in teen use may be the result of adults and parents making cannabis “uncool” by enjoying things like cannabis dinners).

Gaston, a former prosecutor and defense lawyer, talked about his unconventional journey into the cannabis industry, sharing that his love of food wine has led to a passion for the cannabis industry for similar reasons.  Gaston said that both industries are comprised of people who are passionate about growing products that are designed to enhance the enjoyment of those who consume them.  He added that working and interacting with people who love what they do, and who are committed to their craft has been a joy and a blessing.

Gaston suggested that by sharing this evening, each of us was doing our part to change the conversation of cannabis, adding that the stereotype of a stoner sitting on his couch eating Cheetos and watching TV, was at odds with the reality of the industry.  Gaston recognized King County Executive Dow Constantine, and State Representative Cindy Ryu, who were both in attendance, thanking them for their support of both the event, and the industry at large.

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The evening itself was a highly social affair, and a lot of fun, with many guests locked in spirited conversation, and lots of relaxed smiling faces around the communal table.  The food was also delicious, with the cannabis definitely taking a background role.  The salad course featured a “winter caprese” of fresh mozzarella, grapefruit, and baby arugula, studded with pomegranate and a simple dressing of cannabis infused olive oil, paired perfectly with Kerloo Cellars’ Grenache Blanc.  The main course was fresh king salmon with a cannabis infused blackberry beurre blanc, roasted broccoli, and a potato puree.  This paired well with a zippy and elegant Rosé of Grenache.  For dessert, Chef Ricky served a cannabis infused orange chocolate mousse, which was a perfect match to Crane’s flagship Malbec—an inky black delight, imbued with undertones of smoke and dark chocolate.

Both Gaston, and Jensen had suggested earlier that the consumption of cannabis in small amounts could make people more present and engaged in the moment, and better able to experience what they are focused on.  Whether it was the cannabis, the company, or all of the above, the consensus of everybody in attendance seemed to be that the evening was as engaging as it was enlightening.

What is certain, is that the landscape of the cannabis industry is changing every day, and with events like this, Washington state is setting a good example of how cannabis can be a normal and enjoyable part of an adult’s life.  If more dinners and events of this nature are in our future, do what you can to get on the guest list, you may be in for a most welcome surprise.