Her first encounter with medical marijuana happened two years ago when a friend who had had several back and neck surgeries asked if Sara would try baking cannabis into treats for her because she didn’t want to be dependent on pharmaceuticals. Before Sara agreed, she read up on medical marijuana and concluded it was “logical” that the drug could help people.
“My friend would wake up, do physical therapy, and then, depending on how she felt that day, might eat a brownie,” Sara says. “She wanted to be in control of her pain management. She said, ‘I don’t want to take an OxyContin every day and end up on the couch watching Jerry Springer.’ ”
On mornings when she’s baking, Sara starts with the brownies because they spend the most time in the oven. Then she’ll make the cookies, which she bakes at a relatively low temperature to preserve the THC—the main active ingredient in marijuana—and keep the cookies crisp. For these, she’ll use a mix of half cannabis butter and half regular butter. While the cookies cool, she moves on to turtles, lollipops, caramel pops, chocolate-caramel pretzels, or truffles, the last of which require 48 hours’ notice because the ganache center takes a day to set.
By evening, after nine or more hours of baking, Sara’s back and legs ache, despite the squishy chef mats that blanket her kitchen floor. But she’s a one-woman operation, so she’ll often spend the next four hours driving across town to deliver her products fresh.
How Dangerous Is Pot?
It's virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana, but the drug does have certain risks
Americans are always told that drugs are bad for them, but at what point do they become lethal? Robert Gable, an emeritus professor in the School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences at Claremont Graduate University in California, set out to answer that question for a variety of psychoactive substances, including marijuana.
First, Gable determined the "effective" dose of each drug—for example, two shots of vodka will get the average teenager buzzed. The second statistic is the "lethal" dose: Twenty shots of vodka can turn that buzz into a killer. By dividing the lethal dose by the effective dose, Gable came up with each drug's "safety margin."For alcohol, the margin is 10, because ten times the effective dose will likely kill you. Marijuana's safety margin: 1,000.
Here are the safety margins for a variety of substances. Some drugs—marijuana, LSD—have a very low number of recorded human fatalities. In those cases, the lethal dose was extrapolated mainly from animal studies. It should be noted that much lower doses of any of these drugs can lead to serious complications in individual users.
There are no documented cases of overdose deaths from smoking or ingesting marijuana. But according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 375,000 ER visits in the US were due to marijuana in 2009. That figure includes anything attributable mainly to marijuana, such as car accidents caused by a stoned driver.
The drug also has long-term health hazards. Studies have shown links between chronic marijuana use and mental-health problems including increased rates of anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. Marijuana smoke can also contain up to 70 percent more carcinogens than tobacco smoke. And withdrawal symptoms can echo those of a drug such as nicotine—from irritability and anxiety to sleeping difficulties and craving.
Ecstasy (MDMa): 16
By Michael Gaynor and Ali Eaves
Some of her clients aren’t officially “sick”—they may eat her goods to ease anxiety or they may have attention deficit disorder and would rather eat a pot cookie than take Adderall. Sara acknowledges that some of her customers buy “just for the fun,” but she adds, “It’s not my place to judge.”
She has delivered to customers at home, in restaurants, even at a suburban soccer practice. A few customers have special-ordered desserts for birthdays, including an apple pie and a flourless chocolate cake, and customers in Potomac and McLean have hired her to cater private tasting parties.
“These are high-society people—I’m wearing dress heels,” she says. “They’re like cocktail parties, but instead of bruschetta there are cookies, brownies, truffles, and chocolate-covered caramel pretzels. It’s not a late-night party, because once everyone has a treat they want to go home and go to bed. It’s more like a Tupperware party.”
Some Tupperware. Sara uses only organic ingredients because she doesn’t want to feed her customers pesticides. Her marijuana, too, is organic—she buys it from certified growers in states where medical marijuana is legal—and she doesn’t use nuts in case of allergies: “I want to make someone well, not make them sick.”
Sara packages orders in goody bags that reflect her marketing background. She seals each order with a sticker stamped with her logo. A friend designed the logo, and she prints the stickers herself—she buys blank stickers from several different stores and pays cash so they’re not traceable.
“I can’t farm out my stickers to a company for fear there’ll be some crazy right-wing conservative who’ll want to turn me in,” she says. “I use a reusable sticker so people can peel it off and stick it on something else. That’s the guerrilla-marketing part of the branding.”
How do you market something that needs to be only semi-visible? How do we brand ourselves?”
These are two of the business questions that people who have applied to run medical-marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers in DC have been asking consultants such as the man who sits across from me over doughnuts at Poste in downtown DC.
A bespectacled fortysomething in a business suit, Scott Hawkins is in town working on contract as an adviser for several DC applicants. He has a background in agriculture, communications, political fundraising, and hospice care, and he has done policy work and “business-process consulting” for dispensaries and cultivation centers in Arizona, New Jersey, Maine, and California, where he’s based.
But despite having served as a spokesperson for past clients in Maine and California, Hawkins is wary of journalists. He’s initially vague about his role in DC. When I ask how many applicants he’s working with, he hesitates, then says, “More than two.”
He’s also quick to correct terminology. “Suppliers” are marijuana growers, not dealers, he says. “Legalization” can’t be used as shorthand for “legalization of medical marijuana” because it refers to legalization of recreational use as well. “User” implies a drug addiction; “recreational user” does not. In one conversation he mentions his “lobbying work,” but in another he bristles when I ask if he’s a lobbyist.
Later, he explains his hesitation: “It’s still something of a stealth industry. You want to be known but not excessively visible, which allows you latitude. I can talk to the US Attorney in Northern California and speak with present and former elected officials on both sides of the Bay Bridge because I don’t prop myself up. Thus my reticence to promote myself in this.”
Like Scott Hawkins, the business of marijuana is balanced on a teetering mountain of nuances. The slightest slip of a word can nudge a connotation from legitimate to sketchy.
Indeed, the raids of four DC stores in October partly came down to semantics. Over three days, police raided the Adams Morgan and Chinatown locations of Capitol Hemp—the city’s largest seller of hemp clothing—and two other Adams Morgan stores. Officers seized hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise, such as pipes and scales, and arrested ten people.
During the first four years that Capitol Hemp was in business, police left the stores alone. The company sells clothing, shoes, soaps, lotions, and paper made from industrial hemp as well as pipes and paper that can be used for smoking. (For an update on the raids, go to washingtonian.com/capitolhemp.)