His research also included seeking legal advice. “I spoke with the lawyer in the very beginning because I was scared,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t want to get shut down. I don’t want [to do] something that would be dangerous to people. I want to make sure I’m giving people something that’s healthy, something that’s properly dosed and something that’s safe for them to consume. And the lawyer had no real answers for me. … They asked where I was [making my pizzas]. I explained where I was doing it, and I was told as long as I continued [to work out of a non-commercial, private residence] that would be OK for what I’m doing, although there are no guidelines for it — quite just yet.”
That path, as Hopkinson describes it, is to frame what he’s doing as no different from hiring a cannabis-savvy chef to come into your home and create a catered, THC-infused meal. “There’s no regulation for this particular type of edible,” he said. “They don’t exist. … My ingredient that I add by request is cannabis-infused oil.”
Despite consistently referring to the Stoney Slice team as “we,” it turns out Hopkinson’s business is staffed by an army of one, and he does every last bit of it himself, from texting menus to handing off deliveries (either curbside in downtown L.A. or to doorsteps within 15 miles).
Search the web for “cannabis chef” and you’ll quickly realize the in-home cannabis culinary experience is neither novel nor particularly secretive, with chefs including Holden Jagger (Altered Plates) and Chris Sayegh (the Herbal Chef) building public, high-profile careers in the space and doing a similar semantic dance.
Rachel Burkons, who cofounded cannabis hospitality consulting group Altered Plates with brother Jagger in 2016, estimated they were doing one or two dinner-party-type events a month before pivoting in 2019 to focus on consulting by helping big brands and cannabis clients make their own on-site consumption a reality.
“Whether it was an infusion or pairing, we were providing the cannabis under the state of California’s gifting regulations, which made it kind of marginally compliant,” Burkons said. “But obviously it becomes transactional, so we always positioned it that we were selling a dinner. We’re selling food and not cannabis. That was a really important piece for us.”
Sayegh, who launched the Herbal Chef in 2014 and has since built it into a network of regional chefs across the country, echoed that approach, explaining that private clients hosting an event are connected directly with state-licensed cannabis manufacturers, cultivators, extractors and distributors. “Let me be very clear. I have never charged for cannabis in my entire life,” Sayegh said. “All we’re doing is the culinary experience. We’re an event and catering company.”
If you scour state regulations, consult lawyers or talk to the major players in the space, you’ll see where gray areas exist in the culinary cannabis space. The least gray part is the requirement that those engaged in commercial, adult-use cannabis activities are required to have a state and local license. Hopkinson has neither.
“The bottom line is you cannot offer [cannabis-containing] food unless it is in a packaged form and it’s licensed,” said Bruce Margolin, a Beverly Hills-based attorney who has been practicing cannabis law for more than half a century. (He’s also the founder and director emeritus of the L.A. chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.) “There’s no [legal] way to infuse and sell it.”
On the upside, Margolin said that a consumer buying from a business like Stoney Slice or an unlicensed dispensary isn’t going to be charged with a crime. “Consumers are not considered to be violating any law because they bought from an illegal place,” Margolin said, “unless you’ve got some kind of conspiracy going on.”
The Catch-22 is that the state doesn’t offer licenses for that category of food. A spokesman for the Bureau of Cannabis Control confirmed this to The Times in an email stating, “The activity is not currently legal.” He declined further comment.
Altered Plates’ Burkons is less parsimonious in her assessment. “The cannabis-chef concept is a regulatory orphan,” she said. “It is not addressed in the regulations; there’s no path to compliance, really, with the exception of what’s happening in West Hollywood with the on-site consumption lounges.” (That L.A. County city provides for consuming cannabis and food products on premises, although not cannabis-containing foodstuffs prepared on-site. The first such WeHo business, Lowell Cafe, which rebranded as the Original Cannabis Cafe, opened in fall 2019.)
The lack of a statewide path to compliance is one of the reasons Burkons serves as executive director of Crop to Kitchen, a California-based culinary cannabis advocacy group whose policy initiatives include developing a path to compliance for cannabis chefs in the state and expanding the edibles marketplace to include what Burkons calls “live infusions,” the adding of a licensed and compliant cannabis product to freshly prepared food.
The demand for professionally prepared, cannabis-infused meals is there. Sayegh said that a year into the pandemic his business is fielding 150 to 200 inquiries a month seeking his company’s meal-preparation and consulting services from around the globe. He thinks turning those gray areas black and white could make businesses like his boom. “If there were fair and just regulations,” Sayegh said, “I think what we’re looking at is hundreds of millions of dollars in business in … the cannabis hospitality space.”
Regulatory changes that would give a business like Hopkinson’s a path to becoming fully licensed and compliant aren’t likely to come soon, Burkons said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think it is a very high priority with the BCC,” she said. “The BCC is very much bogged down right now trying to stamp out the illicit market and close [illegal] dispensaries that are popping up all over the place. They’re too busy playing Whac-A-Mole.”
Asked for comment, the Bureau of Cannabis Control representative said that there is no timeframe for when or if regulations on cannabis-infused foods might change.