culture

The Revolution Will Be Brownies

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Kathryn Blume 27 May 2020

“There’s nothing superficial about fighting a plague.”

– Alia Volz

When author Alia Volz started writing Home Baked, the story of her mother Meridy Domnitz’s journey from Milwaukee good girl to San Francisco pot brownie maven, there’s no way she could have known that the book would drop straight into the middle of a global pandemic.

Nor could she have known the relevance of her story at a time when the 99-pound hammer of Coronavirus has simultaneously revealed the profound necessity of cannabis to a huge, cross-cultural swath of Americans, while also impeding ongoing legalization efforts from Vermont to Montana.

What Volz did know, and what she expresses with clarity, humor, and immense compassion in her book, is how her mother’s business, Sticky Fingers Brownies, simultaneously influenced the culture and politics of the Bay Area, eased the suffering of the thousands of people struggling with and dying from HIV-AIDS in the pre-cocktail years of the epidemic, and provided a foundation for the efforts to legalize medical cannabis in California, and ultimately, around the country.

Of course, that’s not what Domnitz was thinking of when she started Sticky Fingers Brownies. Charismatic and flamboyant as she was, Domnitz was mostly looking for a fun, low-stress way to pay the rent while she pursued her work as a visual artist.

Gifted a small magic brownie business in 1976 from a baker named Shari Mueller – known on the streets as the Rainbow Lady – Domnitz and a couple of friends and roommates sold brownies made with Mexican cannabis during the weekend on Fisherman’s Warf.

The business paid the rent and kept them in essentials, but the ultimate key to their success came when they connected with growers North of the Bay Area who were paving the green way with a new kind of seedless, California-grown cannabis known as sinsemilla.

Christened “superweed” by an editor at High Times, this cannabis had giant, juicy buds, far more potency than what folks were getting from Mexico, and required the labor-intensive cultivation process growers today know by heart.

Part of the work included trimming the buds after harvest, which left cultivators with enormous amount of leftover plant matter, which they mostly composted or threw away.

While not what consumers on the street were looking to buy, the trim was still rich with THC. Domnitz and her crew realized they could make brownies with the much cheaper leftovers, and bless their customers – and friends of their customers – with a chocolate confection that packed a serious wallop.

Eventually, the Sticky Fingers team brought on Domnitz’s boyfriend (and later husband) Doug Volz, who created hand-drawn artwork each week for the brownie bags – another creative element which added to the Sticky Fingers legend.

People were dying in droves from what was then a mysterious and virulent disease – a disease on which President Ronald Reagan and his administration turned their backs for years.

While Sticky Fingers had clients across a wide variety of communities, San Francisco’s increasingly visible gay population was at the heart of the fan base – a relationship which proved increasingly vital in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. People were dying in droves from what was then a mysterious and virulent disease – a disease on which President Ronald Reagan and his administration turned their backs for years.

Ironically, one thing the Reagan administration did pay close attention to was ramping up the war on drugs, actively attacking the cannabis community – both in California and nationwide.

People got long, harsh, mandatory sentences for minor possession, prison populations skyrocketed, communities of color were decimated, and police forces around the country got increasingly militarized as the government channeled weapons of war for the management of civilian populations.

The recipe for Sticky Fingers brownies.

Fortunately, Domnitz and her team never got busted by the police, and the brownies turned out to be one of the few things which mitigated the many symptoms of AIDS, allowed people to eat, eased their passing, and in some cases, contributed to their survival.

In the long run, controversial as they were in a prohibitionist society, the brownies led directly to the legalization of medical cannabis – and cannabis legalization in general.

As legendary activist Cleve Jones told Volz, “It’s kind of fascinating when you think about it, but your mom and Brownie Mary [a woman who baked brownies for AIDS patients and was arrested many times] and [cannabis activist] Dennis Peron really are the reason why marijuana is legal now, because no one had thought of compassionate use.”

Due to her work mostly behind the scenes, Domnitz is a lesser-known figure in the modern American history of cannabis. Fortunately, thanks to her daughter, Home Baked gives us an insider’s look at the creative entrepreneurs, artists, and activists to whom the larger cannabis community owes an enormous debt of thanks.

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