By Rachel Gotbaum
For medical marijuana cuisine, it’s been a long, strange trip.
I remember walking down the stairs of a non-descript building in San Francisco’s Castro district where I was told a new underground (literally) club for medical marijuana was located. I was a young reporter in the mid-1990s and California was engaging in a battle to legalize marijuana for medical use. The state would eventually become the first in the country to do so.
At the time, local San Francisco law enforcement looked the other way to allow these underground pot bars to thrive, but often there would be raids by federal drug agents. What I found downstairs, I could not believe. It was as if I had been transported to some club in Amsterdam, where “space cakes” and joints were sold openly. The room was filled with pot smoke.
People were lounging around couches smoking joints and others were crowded by the “bar” where they were surveying bright green buds to purchase for medical use. These “patients” brought notes from their doctors — though none of this had been legally formalized yet. Some of the people selling behind the bar were nurses and other medical professionals.
The man who brought me to this underground pot club was Dennis Peron, one of the most vocal and colorful advocates for legalizing marijuana for medical use in California.
As we left the club, my clothes and hair now saturated with pot smoke, Peron handed me a book. “Brownie Mary’s Marijuana
Cookbook — Dennis Peron’s Recipe for Social Change.”
But the recipes went beyond typical pot brownie fare. The cookbook (part foodie, part pro-pot manifesto) included a fairly elaborate shrimp casserole recipe, where ground marijuana is mixed into the skillet along with white wine and seasoned croutons. There’s also spaghetti sauce (tomato based) and an ambitious chestnut stuffing calling for 2-4 grams of “seedless flower” sautéed with butter.
Inscribed in my book it says “Rachel, The Dream Lives On — Dennis Peron, San Francisco.”
What may have been a little California dreaming back then seems these days to be an expanding reality. So-called “Medibles” have gone gourmet, with food businesses starting to sprout up in states where medical marijuana has been legalized.
Indeed, since California legalized pot for medical use in 1996, seventeen other states have followed.
Massachusetts and Connecticut voters approved medical marijuana earlier this month. Colorado (where marijuana for recreational use was just approved by voters) has allowed dispensaries to sell pot and “edibles” for medical use since 2009.
The Ganja Gourmet in downtown Denver claims to be the biggest edibles marketplace in the state. According to manager Mike Brodeur the Ganja Gourmet used to be a restaurant serving marjiuana infused lasagna, hummos and pizza. But when the state decided to restrict the consumption of medical marijuana a little over a year ago, the business became a supermarket for marijuana cuisine. He says business is growing.
“More pot doctors are recommending edibles,” says Brodeur. “We focus on patients in their 50s, 60s and 70’s who haven’t smoked since high school and want to try edibles.”
Brodeur says the baby boomers may find eating pot is more effective for treating pain than
smoking it. “A friend of mine had hip replacement surgery and he says he is still getting relief for his pain days after he consumed the edibles,” he says.
Mary Mulry, Ph.d, is a food scientist who helped Dixie Elixirs create many of its cannabis food products. She said the company’s most popular items include tootsie rolls, gourmet crispy treats with chocolate chips, truffles and a caffeine-infused energy drink. But they also make serious food, for instance, Ganja pizza or LaGanja with medicated garlic bread.
Mulry says the best way to use marijuana in cooking is to make a cannabis butter or oil. “You can replace the fat in pretty much any recipe that calls for oil or butter.” she says. “But you cannot fry with it because pot cannot be heated above 140 degrees.” Patients often prefer eating pot to smoking it, she says: “Smoking can be harsh on the lungs. And it’s not socially acceptable to take a joint to work. You can’t just light up.”
Despite the increasing popularity of marijuana edibles as a result of more states legalizing pot for medical use, Mulry says she doesn’t envision marijuana cuisine ever going completely mainstream. “I don’t see people using marijuana as a common cooking ingredient unless they really need it.”
Rachel Gotbaum is a New England-based health care reporter.