India’s First Hemp Cafe Wants to Open Conversations About Cannabis

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India’s relationship with cannabis is complicated. The marijuana plant has a deep-rooted history in the country and is widely considered medicinal, with mentions in ancient scriptures and Ayurvedic texts. Bhang, a product made from the leaves of the cannabis plant, is sold legally in some parts of the country, with shops selling everything from milkshakes to bhang to cookies dotting the streets in areas where they are legal.

However, while certain components of cannabis such as hemp (a kind of cannabis used for industrial purposes) and cannabidiol (CBD) have been authorized for legal use, the recreational use of cannabis remains prohibited and taboo, with crackdowns growing and widespread shaming of users by the media, creating an atmosphere of hostility.

Today, nestled on the banks of the Parvati River in Kasol, a hamlet in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, a cafe is on a mission to normalize cannabis cultivation.

Off Limits, India’s first hemp cafe, is the brainchild of entrepreneurs Omair Alam and Mayank Gupta, who are trying to create a hemp ecosystem that grows the use of the cannabis plant that grows abundantly in India, highlighting its potential to boost the economy and harness the environment.

“By introducing hemp infusions into our coffee and food, we’re trying to educate people about its many benefits and normalize the culture so it’s more accepted by society,” Alam, who runs also a cannabis legalization advocacy platform called The Dankville. .

The duo’s fledgling business operates on a simple age-old philosophy: the best way to reach someone’s heart is through their stomach. Their menu features familiar dishes but with the option of adding hemp oil to the dishes. The cafe also uses hemp-roasted coffee beans specially created in a unit in Delhi. Its menu features hemp-infused dishes including pastas, burgers, pizzas, pancakes, and waffles, while select menu items like omelettes and sandwiches can also be served with hemp seed oil. .

Facing the stunning vistas of the Kasol hills, Alam and Gupta’s business is a place to relax, enjoy hearty meals and realize the health benefits of hemp as a so-called superfood. “Hemp adds a nutty flavor to food but is quite bland otherwise,” Alam said. “We also have a person who educates our customers on how hemp can reduce inflammation, improve heart health, is a source of protein, vitamins and minerals, as well as details on how many grams you should consume per day.”

The idea is that putting a component of cannabis on people’s plates and letting them know how it can benefit their health could help foster a positive association around the persecuted plant.

Hemp is obtained legally from licensed growers in the Indian states of Uttarakhand and Delhi, from cannabis research and development facilities that the government has sanctioned for industrial use.

“Thanks to a new notification from the Food Safety and Security Authority of India (FSSAI) in November 2021 that classified hemp as a superfood, we were able to obtain a license to legally sell hemp-infused products,” Gupta explained. To ensure that their cafe could operate within the legal framework, the entrepreneurs also had to obtain a license from AYUSH, a government department responsible for research on alternative medicine, which legally authorized the use of cannabis extracts. for medical purposes.

“Since we’re based in Kasol (where cannabis grows wild and is generally socially accepted), we have a lot of students who come to the cafe hoping to get high,” Gupta said. “They’re going to ask us things like ‘Maal Milega?’ (Can we score weed?) Or suppose we’re making hash brownies. We have also had customers who eat our hemp teas and feel mentally high due to the placebo effect.

The café sees around 100 customers a day, many of whom are families who come with children. “We promote hemp, coffee and healthy foods. We have families and also smoking couples who come for the good vibes. We even have older customers who have been smoking for decades, even before cannabis was made illegal in India, and are now learning it in this form.

However, Gupta and Alam point out, their mission is more focused on creating a wellness experience using cannabis, with the goal of transforming into India’s first hemp ecosystem that offers everything from coffee and from clothes to spa products. Their cafe also offers overnight accommodations and holds regular hemp-related events.

“We did an event called Wake, Bake and Meditate, where we invited about 20 people, did meditation, yoga, and had conversations about cannabis and mental health,” Alam said. “We want to use our space to hold more events like this and promote cannabis cultivation in this way, rather than just looking at it as smoking to get high.”

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