Criminal: The Original Brownie Lady

Jul 15, 2016

Marijuana is slowly being legalized, with legitimate, profitable businesses popping up in several U.S. states. But in this week's Criminal Podcast, Phoebe Judge tells the story of Meridy Volz, who pioneered a booming pot brownie business in 1970s San Francisco.

At that time, Volz was a self-described hippie, who got a job writing and illustrating children's books in San Francisco. Judge says Volz was painting on Fisherman's Wharf while taking LSD, and that's when a woman who sold coffee and cannbis brownies to artists there declared she'd made enough money to retire. She offered Volz her business.

Volz consulted the I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination text, in all major decisions. It told her great fortune would come to her, so Volz took over the business. The only problem was, she didn't know how to bake.

Volz forgot to add flour to her first batch of pot brownies, which yielded a soupy batter. She tried it, and got very high.

"It's a real different high. Eating pot, you digest it in your stomach. It's just stronger. It's a different high," Volz said.

The baking mishap turned out to be a lucky accident for her budding business. Her potent pastries became very popular.

"The key to making a good brownie was undercooking the brownies," she said. "Because you don't overcook the pot."

Volz named her business Sticky Fingers. She moved into a warehouse with a single antique oven and baked once a week. She saved money by baking with cheap marijuana leaves, which were disposable to pot dealers, who only wanted the plant's buds. Volz decorated the bags with original art and uplifting messages, and the packaging became a collector's item.

At its peak, she says Sticky Fingers sold 10,000 brownies per month.

Volz and her family would hit the streets in loud, colorful outfits. The idea was that they'd hide in the open; no one would every suspect such flamboyant drug dealers.

She raised her daughter Alia Volz in the family business, and the younger Volz also helped bake and sell brownies. She remembers being pushed in her stroller on delivery runs, and having customers fawn over her.

"For me, if I ever smell pot cooking, especially if I smell pot cooking with chocolate, it takes me right back to babyhood," Alia Volz recalls.

Meridy Volz never got caught. But when the AIDS crisis hit San Francisco in the late 1970s, it took many of her customers. She says her brownies became therapeutic instead of recreational snacks. It took a lot of the joy out of her business.

She consulted the I Ching, which warned of misfortune. So Volz pretty much walked away. She printed her secret recipe on the bags of her final batch.

You can hear more about Meridy Volz's story, and her thoughts about marijuana legalization on the Criminal Podcast, which is recorded at WUNC.