Nick and Mary eventually decided to follow his parents to Portland, where Mary began helping her mother-in-law with the company. She created a Facebook page and designed the logo, coming up with a whisk-and-marijuana-leaf motif. Before long, Mary told me, “I realized we could have a real business.” She and Wolf are an unlikely pair. In contrast to Wolf’s bohemian vibe, Mary exudes wholesomeness. She has short blond hair and rosy cheeks. “I call us Beauty and Obese,” Wolf said. In cooking videos on the Cannabist, they have an “Absolutely Fabulous” dynamic. When Mary says, “We’re going to mix it all into the pot, and it’s going to be delicious,” her mother-in-law exclaims, “Ha-ha. You said ‘pot!’ ” But their skills appear to be well matched. Wolf is the right-brain person, dreaming up recipe ideas, while Mary oversees the left-brain tasks, navigating Oregon’s complicated regulatory requirements.
Mary only recently told her family in Oklahoma about the new turn in her career. “I was so nervous,” she said. “I felt like I was coming out to them.” She was surprised to learn that they were curious about the medical uses of cannabis. One relative, who has chronic pain, started taking a Laurie & MaryJane brownie instead of painkillers to help him sleep. (He got his doctor’s approval.) Another uses their infused coconut oil to treat his aging dog’s epilepsy. (He mixes it with dog food.)
The day after the dinner party, Wolf picked me up in her car, a Kia Soul in a shade called kale green. “The perfect Portland color,” she said. Despite her affinity with the city, she still thinks of herself as a New Yorker, and seems to enjoy shocking West Coast sensibilities. “People here are so earnest,” she said. “I once told a group of people someone’s baby looked like a tampon. They were, like, ‘I’ve never heard anyone say that out loud.’ ”
We pulled up to Wolf’s “office,” a commercial kitchen called the Bitchin’ Kitchen, which was home to seventeen edible-marijuana startups. It has industrial-sized ovens, steel countertops, and a walk-in refrigerator with a vault door. Wolf opened a freezer to show me seventeen pounds of marijuana-infused butter. She and Mary made a fresh batch every week.
It was a busy day at the Bitchin’ Kitchen. Marijuana entrepreneurs bustled in and out. A team from Weedmaps, a “Yelp for pot” based in Irvine, California, was visiting the facility, and a photographer had set up a light box, which he was using to take pictures of pot cookies.
Wolf had given me a rundown of the legal-cannabis industry during our drive, dividing it into three broad categories. First are “the black-market people who’re forging on,” the original patchouli-scented pioneers. Then there are the profiteers: venture capitalists and M.B.A. types who’ve been pouring funds into the legalizing states, a phenomenon called the green rush. “These are people who’ve never smoked pot in their lives,” she said, with disapproval. “They’re just in it for the money.” The majority of pot entrepreneurs fall into the vast third category, driven by the complicated blend of motives—ambition, libertinism, a desire to help sick people—that drives the legalization movement as a whole.
Wolf places herself in the last category, but she admitted that her heart is with the hippies. She seemed troubled by the men of the Trichome Institute. Though they were obviously “passionate” about cannabis, she worried that they were a marketing operation. “ ‘Budtender’ classes online!” she moaned. She especially disliked a plan to regularize the grading system for cannabis. “To me, it’s like picking a baby,” Wolf said. “Like saying, ‘Well, you definitely want your baby to be blond, but maybe with green eyes.’ It feels so removed from the community aspect of this business. It’s making it soulless.”
Wolf told me that she, like many other people, sees an industry at a crossroads. Down one path is a future that resembles the wine business, or the farm-to-table movement: boutique pot growers turning out harvests that reflect local climates and customs. Down the other is Big Weed: industrial farms, joints by Marlboro and pot cookies by General Mills, Monsanto patenting genetically modified strains of Purple Kush. Wolf had already observed the corporate interests circling.
The Bitchin’ Kitchen’s tenants represented a cross-section of this world. There was a businessman who had raised venture-capital funds to start a candy operation, and a married couple from Ohio who had saved their money and moved to Oregon to start a strain-specific cookie company called Titan’s Kind. Then there was the facility’s owner, a no-nonsense middle-aged woman named Nancy Jones, who started out as a living-room farmer with six plants. “I’ve been growing for nineteen years,” she told me. She is now involved in several enterprises, including Badass Dabs, which makes concentrates and extracts. She handed me a sample of her newest product: a vaginal suppository, which treats pain from menstrual cramps or endometriosis. It looked like a large vitamin. “It’s fifty milligrams of THC, seven milligrams of CBD, and coconut oil and beeswax. All organic,” she said.
I followed Wolf into a back room, where Mary was at work, wearing a green apron decorated with the Laurie & MaryJane logo. They’d been hired to provide the desserts for a cannabis dinner party, and Mary was testing some miniature pumpkin pies. She pulled a baking sheet full of pies from a cooling rack. “I used one of Laurie’s recipes from the Cannabist,” she told me. “We’ll have to taste it to see if the flavor is right.”
I nibbled a small pie: it tasted like pumpkin, but with a weedy aftertaste, which brought back Proustian memories of high school.
“It might make sense to increase the spices a little bit,” Mary suggested. “You could double the ginger.”
Her mother-in-law nodded. “I think vanilla would definitely help.”
In some ways, cooking with cannabis is just regular cooking, with a few adjustments for taste and technical considerations. The food can’t be cooked at temperatures higher than three hundred and forty degrees, because that would destroy the THC. “It’s been a little bit of a challenge cooking some foods that normally benefit from a really high heat start,” Wolf said. An example is fried chicken, which she recommends topping with infused oil or salsa.
In the early days, Wolf tried selling baklava at Oregon dispensaries, which baffled the medical-stoner crowd. “We were catering to the lowest element of pot smokers,” Wolf said. Since then, the audience has changed: sophisticated consumers are known today as “cannasseurs.” They appreciate savory foods, not only because savories avoid cliché—“everybody infuses desserts,” Wolf said—but also because many medical-marijuana users are diabetic, or avoiding sugar for other reasons. Wolf recommends having a bottle of infused salad dressing or pesto on hand. “Infusing a pesto is so easy,” she said. “You can make a bunch and toss it with noodles, and you’ve got a delicious meal.”
Wolf’s mixed nuts have had a lot of traction. She adapted them from a Danny Meyer recipe and added infused coconut oil, a staple in her kitchen because it can also be used topically, “so you’re getting more bang for your buck.” (An elderly friend of Wolf’s rubs it on his hands to treat his rheumatoid arthritis.) Wolf’s newest book, “Cooking with Cannabis,” emphasizes comfort foods like mac and cheese and meatloaf. There’s a chapter called “Recipes for One,” intended for solo eaters. “It’s great to be able to make yourself ramen,” she said. (The cannabis goes in the broth, mixed with sesame oil.)
At the end of the day, however, a great marijuana cook has to have a great pot brownie. “Once Mary came into the business, we tested about eight different brownie recipes,” Wolf said. They tried one from the back of a brownie-mix box and one that Wolf had learned at the Culinary Institute of America. Nigella Lawson’s brownie was delicious, but too mild to counter the weedy taste of canna-butter. Finally, they settled on an adaptation of a “fudgy” brownie developed by a magazine-editor friend of Wolf’s, Freddi Greenberg. Wolf’s version includes extra vanilla and cocoa as “flavor disguisers.” She uses a short baking time, to create a gooey interior. Last year, the cannabis Web site Leafly held a pot-brownie contest to coincide with college basketball’s March Madness tournament. Recipes from Martha Stewart, Mario Batali, and Julia Child faced off against pot-oriented recipes from publications like Edibles List and High Times. Wolf’s brownie won. The Cannabist called it “among the most heavenly creations known to ganja-loving humanity.” Wolf said, “It’s pretty fucking delicious, I have to say.”
Laurie & MaryJane’s brownies went on sale in February. They come in packages of five, which sell for twenty to thirty-three dollars, depending on potency. Wolf currently has them in thirty-five dispensaries and has developed new products: an almond-cake bite, a chocolate truffle, and a soon-to-be-launched savory cheese crisp. Ultimately, she hopes to conquer Oregon—and then to try for California. “The dream is to be everywhere it’s legal,” Wolf said, sounding a bit Big Weed herself. “To be the Mrs. Fields of cannabis foods.”
The Dope Cup was held on a Sunday. Laurie & MaryJane had entered its brownies and almond bites in the competition. The Wolfs arrived at 10 p.m., three hours after the event started, because, as Laurie told me, “everybody’s late in this business.” The atmosphere was part county fair, part tent revival. A rap group, the Pharcyde, performed on a stage, and reps from marijuana businesses had set up booths. Wolf mingled with the crowd, which was mostly young and male. There were the seven scruffy dudes from 7 Points Oregon, the boutique growers whose product she’d used at her dinner party, and there was a purchasing agent from a dispensary called Canna-Daddy’s, who was holding a twenty-three-inch blunt. He wrapped Wolf in a bear hug. “Laurie’s the nicest lady I’ve ever met,” he told me.
Wolf returned the compliment. “Andrew makes me wish I had a son,” she said. “And then I remember I do have a son.”
Nearby was the Trichome Institute’s booth. I recognized Montrose, who was wearing a white lab coat and instructing people on how to examine marijuana flowers under a microscope. He had a joint behind his ear. “There’s a hundred strains of cannabis in this one joint,” he said, when Wolf approached.
Wolf seemed to have softened toward him. “Were you impressed with the level of the weed?” she asked.
Montrose nodded vigorously. “Oregon killed it,” he said. “Seriously, some of the best-quality weed I’ve seen in my life.” Wolf seemed proud.
Soon, the awards ceremony began. A Dope employee with dark glasses and an Afro led the proceedings from in front of a table full of silver trophies. Wolf told me that her “main competition” was a Portland outfit called Elbe’s Edibles, a beloved purveyor of marijuana cake balls whose slogan is “My balls your mouth.”
The Best Savory Edible trophies were distributed to a two-man team called the Baker Bois, which won second place for its hot pocket, and to a company called Cannavore, which won first place for its smoked salmon. Wolf seemed discouraged. “They have a huge, huge grow that makes their cannabis,” she said of Cannavore.
A trophy for Best Sweet Edible, Medical, went to an outfit called Lunchbox Alchemy, for a grape-flavored squib. Wolf watched respectfully. “Their squib is tasty and ridiculously strong,” she said, as a young woman made an acceptance speech. “Thank you guys for loving the squib as much as we do,” one woman said. “We fuckin’ love you guys!”
Finally, the announcer came to the category of Best Sweet Edible, Recreational: “Brownie by Laurie & MaryJane!” The crowd cheered, and the Wolf women climbed onstage to accept their trophy. Like many of this year’s Oscar winners, Wolf made a political speech: “This is for Hillary!” she said, hoisting her trophy in the air.
When she returned, she was out of breath. “Wow,” she said. “Honestly, I thought if anything was going to win, it would be those almond things. But the fucking brownie! People just love it.” ♦
Cannabis-Infused Chocolate Bark
From Laurie Wolf
Chef’s note: Keep water out of the bowl, don’t let the chocolate get too hot, and you will be fine. And you will be high. Know your dose—overdoing it is never pleasant. Try a small piece, and give it several hours before eating more.
1-2 tablespoons canna-butter
16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
8 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 cup roasted cashews
1 cup dried apricots, sliced
½ cup flaked coconut, toasted
¼ cup crystallized ginger, chopped
Prepare the canna-butter.
Place the bittersweet chocolate in a heat-safe bowl over a pot of simmering water. Melt over low heat while stirring. When melted, add the canna-butter and cocoa and stir well to distribute evenly. Remove the bowl from the heat but keep it over the warm water.
Place the white chocolate in a second heat-safe bowl over another pot of simmering water. Melt over low heat, stirring occasionally.
Cover a large baking sheet with parchment. Spread the dark chocolate over the paper, smoothing to make somewhat even, although slight differences in thickness are part of chocolate bark’s charm.
Immediately pour the white chocolate over the still-wet dark chocolate. Use a chopstick or a skewer to swirl the chocolates; so easy and so beautiful.
Distribute the toppings over the still-wet bark. Allow to sit until set, about an hour. If you want things to happen faster, place in the fridge. Break the bark into desired servings, and remember, with cannabis, less is more!
Yield: About 30 pieces, approximately the size of a matchbook. The THC content will vary depending on the potency of the cannabis.