Chem Tales: ‘Home Baked’ Traces the Early Days of Edibles in San Francisco

Cannabis treats have come a long way since Sticky Fingers delivered magic brownies to SF denizens.

In Meridy Volz’s time, cannabis deliveries had little in common with the app-based, corporate mechanisms many legal markets rely on today.

As the mastermind behind Sticky Fingers — a legendary (and illicit) magic brownie operation that supplied San Francisco’s citizens with cannabis confections from the early ’70s through the late ’90s — Volz and her husband became an indelible part of an activist movement that truly kicked into gear with the tragedy of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

Made with love and packaged in hand-drawn lunch bags, the brownies at the heart of Sticky Fingers didn’t merely represent a discreet way to get high. They represented a community, as well.

In her new memoir, Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco, Meridy’s daughter, Alia Volz recalls how her mother would often spend hours with various customers on her delivery routes.

“In those days,” Volz says, “the community aspect was extremely strong. A transaction could stretch for hours because there was this very community-oriented, social aspect to it all. You were friends with your dealer. You hung out. There was a scene and a subculture around it.”

Alia writes of being taken in her stroller for brownie deliveries, chronicles her parents’ steadfast devotion to the I Ching in deciding business and personal matters, and recalls playing with toys while trash bags of cannabis sat a room away. Though the younger Volz largely writes of her upbringing with love and fondness, the rather surreal circumstances of her childhood also reveal the ways in which the culture and industry of cannabis have changed over the decades.

For example, back in Sticky Fingers’ heyday, the operation was producing 10,000 magic brownies a month from a warehouse in the Mission.

According to Volz, one of the defining moments for the unofficial brand was the discovery of “sensimilla” (Spanish for “without seeds”). While seedless cannabis may be the norm today, it was quite the revelation when Sticky Fingers first started sourcing sensimilla shake (the loose plant detritus that has fallen off of cannabis buds) from a number of small farmers in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle.

The shake would be infused into butter, which was in turn baked into the brownies that Sticky Fingers sold in bulk to trusted customers. Knowing the potency of a given batch wasn’t possible, so quality became a metric defined by conversation, with customers telling Volz’s mother about the potency of last week’ product as she arrived to replenish their stocks.

By contrast, edibles in legal markets today are required by law to be tested for potency, consistency, and safety. While some may argue these restrictions represent a draconian departure from the former way of doing things, the acceptance of cannabis into the mainstream has also paved the way for some innovations in the world of infused edibles.

The cannabis manufacturers at Santa Rosa’s CannaCraft, for instance, have recently unveiled a new form of fast-acting edible under their Satori brand. By binding milk chocolate-covered strawberries with a nanoemulsifier, they’ve been able to create a variation on their popular line of “bites” that can get THC into the bloodstream twice as fast.

Matt Kulczycki, CannaCraft’s Edible Production Manager, marvels at how far the art and science of edible-making has come.

“Edible culture has evolved from mixing low-quality shake into your brownie batter to using high-potency lab-tested oils with specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles for an enhanced experience,” Kulczycki says. “The Bay Area’s best pastry chefs and chocolatiers pair cannabis extracts with high-quality, responsibly sourced ingredients. We even have the ability to take the very taste of cannabis out of the edible!”

While Volz expresses enthusiasm for the expanded access and safety assurances that the legalized cannabis market has provided, she also stresses the importance of remembering the reasons that first led to efforts to change laws.

“On a cultural level, we’ve forgotten that the access that we have today grew directly out of AIDS-related activism,” Volz says, “and that happened because people were desperate. It was a literal life-or-death battle that people were fighting.”

Now that cannabis is fodder for billboards, tote bags, and million-dollar start-ups, Volz is hoping works like her own Home Baked will ensure we never forget early activists like Dennis Peron and her mother, Meridy.

“Having been at my mom’s elbow while she made deliveries to people who were suffering immensely — and found some relief in her edibles — I feel that there’s a debt of remembrance that has fallen out of the discourse. It’s not a fun subject to dwell on but I do think it’s important that we remember the soul of the medical cannabis movement as well.”

Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco by Alia Volz (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 432 pages, $27).

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