UK restaurateur Sammy Ben Rabah swore he wasn’t doing anything illegal when he opened the country’s first cannabis restaurant. And yet, less than a year after Rabah launched the vegetarian eatery in Brighton known for its CBD dill cream cheese served on hemp and buckwheat blinis, he found himself the subject of a May 2019 police raid that wound up shuttering his business.
Despite the loss of his business, Rabah (who also goes by “Sam Evolution”) will not face punishment for his CBD-infused plates. More than two years after law enforcement took down the restaurant and charged Rabah with selling cannabis with THC (which is illegal in the UK), a jury took only 30 minutes to declare him not guilty.
Cannabis advocates say the issue is confusion over the legality of trace amounts of THC in sellable products. The UK’s Home Office agency states that cannabis plants can be approved for commercial licensing if they contain less than .2 percent THC. Rabah argued in court that he could not be found guilty under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act because of a clause that excused those who were unaware that the substances they were selling were illegal.
In fact, the restaurateur says that in July 2018 his team, “contacted the Met Police via email in an attempt to verify the official UK legal position on the sale of CBD hemp flower. Their response was ‘as long as you have made reasonable inquiries and it has been said that they are legal, then there is no criminal offense.’”
Canna Kitchen was also visited in March 2019 by a Sussex police officer, who was allegedly given food samples for testing in a voluntary manner. But two months later, Canna Kitchen became the first food business in the UK to be shut down for using CBD oil in its recipes. A dozen officers raided the premises, kicking out customers and detaining staff for hours in what authorities later called an investigation of “money laundering and the supply of class B drugs.”
“This is a situation that requires urgent clarification and guidance to reduce police involvement to a minimum,” a representative of drug policy organization Transform told the Guardian at the time of the raid.
Rabah told the press that his plans for the future include raising education about the power of plants to heal both people and the environment. But the cops reiterated that they think Rabah should face punishment for supplying clientele with dishes like tempura greens with CBD kombu aioli and roast cauliflower with CBD tahini cream.
“Business owners selling cannabis products have a responsibility to ensure the goods they supply are safe, legal and that unsuspecting customers are not inadvertently buying banned substances, leaving them at risk of harm and potential prosecution,” said Detective Superintendent Mike Ashcroft.
What’s more, he threatened other entrepreneurs so they won’t utilize CBD as an ingredient on their menu.
“We will continue to vigorously inspect cannabis vendors in the city to ensure they are aware of, and compliant with, the law,” Ashcroft continued.