A 'Home Baked' Childhood: When The Family Business Is Marijuana Brownies Growing up in San Francisco in the '70s, Alia Volz's family ran a booming weed-laced brownie business. "I had this understanding of my family as an outlaw family from the very beginning," she says.
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A 'Home Baked' Childhood: When The Family Business Is Marijuana Brownies

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A 'Home Baked' Childhood: When The Family Business Is Marijuana Brownies

A 'Home Baked' Childhood: When The Family Business Is Marijuana Brownies

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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in today for Terry Gross. Our guest, Alia Volz, writes that before she could spell her own name, she knew she was from an outlaw family. In the late '70s when she was a baby and a toddler, her parents had a roaring business baking and selling marijuana-laced brownies. Thousands a month to hippies, artists, office workers and activists in San Francisco. Volz often made the rounds with her mom, selling their wares to grateful customers every Friday. As colorful as that sounds - and it was - it's no less interesting than another story told in her new memoir, the tale of her parents' relationship.

Two free-spirited psychics who made their way in a city of enormous cultural and social change - the explosion of the counterculture, the growth of the Gay Liberation Movement, the horror of the AIDS epidemic, as well as the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk and the suicides in Guyana of the followers of Jim Jones, whose Peoples Temple was an influential presence in the city for years. Alia Volz's writing has appeared in "The Best American Essays 2017," The New York Times and other publications. Her new book is "Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, And The Stoning Of San Francisco." Like many of you, I'm working from home these days. I spoke to Alia Volz, who was at her office in San Francisco.

Alia Volz, welcome to FRESH AIR. This book is, in part, about the city of San Francisco. And your mom was there, I guess, in the mid and late '70s. It was a city undergoing remarkable change. Just paint a little bit of a picture. What was going on at the scene at Fisherman's Wharf, the performances? Give us a sense of it.

ALIA VOLZ: Of course. Well, San Francisco in the 1970s was coming out of the Summer of Love, this huge influx of young people who'd come out to experiment with new lifestyles. That was very much over. But all kinds of new subcultures were flourishing. The way that I think about it sometimes is if the '60s were a sketchpad, the '70s would be the box of crayons. There was just wonderful and crazy experimentation. Some of it went horribly awry. And some of it was spectacular.

So the scene down at Fisherman's Wharf was one of the spectacular emergences. There were, actually, at the time, thousands of artists and crafts people who sold to tourists on the street all kinds of things they made themselves. And there was a busking scene of people like Robin Williams and Penn and Teller and magicians and tap dancers and musicians and whole dance troupes - this really elaborate scene that was called the New Vaudeville.

DAVIES: Right. And then, through all this, there was your mom with Sticky Fingers Brownies, the marijuana-laced brownies, which, at its height, was, you know, moving something like 2,800 brownies a week - your mom and an interesting crew of others that distributed these. What's interesting is that this wasn't the kind of operation where you'd knock on the door and get a password. Explain how this enterprise connected with its customers.

VOLZ: My mom came up with this really innovative business plan where she sold exclusively to people on the job. So she would go around to boutiques and restaurants and real estate offices and even medical offices and only sell to the people who were working. They would buy at large volume and then redistribute the brownies through their own social circles.

And in this way, the brownies were really all over town. By late 1977, I think, is when they were doing 10,000 brownies a month. It was smart in that there was no fixed location for police to find. The brownies seemed to come from everywhere. And at the same time, it enabled them to reach all of the little culture pockets that were flourishing in the late '70s.

DAVIES: You were born while the business was going. And after your mom recovered from the birth, she started bringing you along on her deliveries. What was that like? What did you learn about how she carried you, kind of how you fit into this whole thing?

VOLZ: My mom, from the beginning, she just sort of took me everywhere. And so in the early days of Sticky Fingers, this meant that I went on brownie runs with her. First, she had me in a front carrier, then on a Gerry carrier and, eventually, in the stroller. And she would hang duffel bags of brownies from the back bars of the stroller because they were very heavy.

So she would use the stroller to transport the brownies. And we'd go from business to business. And her customers just absolutely adored me and fawned over me. So I was very little. Obviously, I don't remember much clearly from this period. But I do have these flashes of memory. And there's a certain feeling that comes to me when I think of it. It was a very exuberant period in the city and especially in the Castro, where my mom was mostly working. And there was, I think, a lot of cheek-pinching and fawning and a lot of joy around it is the feeling that I get, anyway.

DAVIES: The business was still going when you were a toddler and, I guess, into kindergarten, right?

VOLZ: Yes. Well, in some form or another, it continued until I was an adult. But this original iteration carried on until about second or third grade.

DAVIES: Which meant that you as a kid had to keep a really big, important secret, a family secret. Do you remember being told what the stakes were or how you knew?

VOLZ: No. And I know that seems strange. But it was something that I learned so young that I don't have a specific memory about it. It was always who we are. So I had this understanding of my family as an outlaw family from the very beginning.

DAVIES: And did you know that that could mean prison and, you know, foster care for you? Or...

VOLZ: To an extent. My parents weren't trying to scare me with it. But from a practical standpoint, they needed me to understand that what we were doing was illegal and that if I told anyone, including other children - who might tell an adult - it could have very serious consequences for our family. So I did know from the very beginning that if I told anyone what my parents really did that they could go to prison.

DAVIES: And do you remember ever finding that hard, you know, as you got a little older and had friends?

VOLZ: Not in a very conscious way. Although, I think it did affect me. I was a child who always enjoyed hanging out with adults and was awkward around other children. And I didn't have a lot of friends growing up. As an adult, I look back at it and wonder how much of that might have come out of the idea of carrying a big secret and how that makes you build walls around it and how that makes you shut down, in some ways. At the time, I wasn't very conscious of it. I just - I had a pat answer for when people asked what my parents did. And I knew very clearly that there were huge parts of our home life that I couldn't talk about.

DAVIES: What was the pat answer when kids asked what your parents did?

VOLZ: Artists.

DAVIES: OK.

VOLZ: Which is also true. So it wasn't an outright lie. It was a withholding of information.

DAVIES: And so while you had this secret and you knew that you were an outlaw family, it was illegal, did it ever seem wrong to you?

VOLZ: No. My parents, I think, like a lot of hippies, a lot of people from their generation, saw marijuana as wholesome and harmless. And I was taught that the legislation around it and the government's view of it was wrong and that what they were doing was right. So I grew up with that idea that we were outlaws, but good outlaws - kind of like Robin Hood outlaws. And I didn't question that for a long time.

DAVIES: Well, it came from the people you loved and trusted, right?

VOLZ: It did. And I think that by the time I was maybe old enough to really question those ideas myself, the role of marijuana had changed so much culturally that I had a whole different answer.

DAVIES: You know, you write in the book that brownie crumbs blanketed the floor where you played. Between secondhand smoke, secret finger swipes of batter and stolen crumbs, you - the tots probably consumed a significant amount of cannabis. And there was some drug use among your parents and your friends beyond marijuana, you know, a lot of cocaine. You know, there are people who would be appalled reading this. What's your take on this? Did you ever feel like any of this seemed irresponsible in retrospect?

VOLZ: In retrospect, sure, of course. I feel in general that marijuana is relatively harmless. It's certainly not something that should be consumed by children. And I want to be clear that I don't think I was tottering around stoned during my childhood. I was certainly discouraged from consuming marijuana as a kid. It was grown-up stuff. That was something that I understood.

But it was around. It was so much a part of the environment that it would be unreasonable to assume that I didn't inhale it as secondhand smoke. And of course, the brownies taste like chocolate, so I'm sure I snuck some. But it's not like I was - you know, it's not like my parents were feeding me pot brownies. I want to be really clear about that. Where I think it might be more damaging is with the harder drugs. Cocaine is a substance that alters one's personality in a fairly significant way. So there's that. But I also want to say that all of the kids growing up in the Sticky Fingers warehouse came out just fine. We're all responsible adults and contributors to society. So...

DAVIES: And it sounds like...

VOLZ: I don't want to be an apologist, either. So, you know, clearly, this was not an ideal situation.

DAVIES: On the other hand, I mean, it sounds like you felt very much loved and accepted, which probably has a lot more to do with how a kid grows up than what they necessarily inhale or eat.

VOLZ: Absolutely. I - you know, I want to say that I was so well cared for and surrounded by love and affection. I was not left to run wild. I was looked after - basically, at my mom's hip through my entire childhood. So there's no neglect in that.

DAVIES: Alia Volz's new memoir is called Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, And The Stoning Of San Francisco. We'll be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE KINKS SONG, "THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with writer Alia Volz. She has a new memoir about her mother's business selling pot-laced brownies in San Francisco in the 1970s. It also deals with Volz's parents' relationship and some remarkable events in San Francisco in the period. The book is called "Home Baked."

You know, the relationship between your parents, as described in the book, is just fascinating. These are two really interesting people, and this is a very intimate portrait of them - their courtship, their marriage - involving events that were, in many cases, before you were born. And I know you did lots of interviews. I'm wondering what it was like to kind of get in your parents' heads, your parents-in-their-20s' heads, and kind of - almost, like, kind of reconstructing a 360-degree view of your early life a little at a time.

VOLZ: So I have a very intimate relationship with my mom, and it's nothing unusual for us to talk about her very personal feelings about things both from the past and today. But I started this book having been estranged from my dad for many, many years. And really, for the first couple of drafts, I didn't ask his side of the story because I didn't know how.

I finally realized that I could not write an honest book without spending as much time on his thoughts and feelings and motives as I had with my mom. And what surprised me so much is how ready he was to go there. We dug through boxes together. We talked about some of his actions from back in the day that were really hurtful to other people. And he was, I think, very brave about it, acknowledging his role in it and also having a certain curiosity himself about both how he had acted and what drove him to act that way.

DAVIES: You write about the first night they had sex, which is interesting both because you know about it...

VOLZ: (Laughter).

DAVIES: ...But also for what happened during the night. Tell us about this.

VOLZ: How awkward is that, writing about your parents having sex? (Laughter). I tried to skip it, and my writing group - that's wonderful - kept saying, look; you can't cop out on this (laughter). But what's - so my father is a grand mal epileptic, and my mom didn't know he was an epileptic. They had slept together for the first time.

In the middle of the night, my mom wakes up and the bed is shaking like crazy. Here we are in San Francisco. She thinks it's an earthquake. She sits up, realizes that nothing else in the room is moving, that it's Doug shaking wildly in bed, and she thought he might be having a drug overdose. But then he stopped and was sleeping calmly. And it wasn't until weeks later that he told her he had grand mal epilepsy, and he'd had an epileptic seizure in the middle of the night.

DAVIES: Your parents were really interested in the occult, both, you know, psychics, I think. They thought of themselves as psychics. Your mom read tarot cards. Your dad was a graduate of the Berkeley Psychic Institute. He at some point describes a vision that he has for a child. You want to describe this?

VOLZ: (Laughter) Yes. And it was very early in there dating, in fact. He told my mom at dinner that he was carrying a child, and she's like, what are you talking about? (Laughter). But he explained that he was carrying a spirit child. This is a spirit that he felt was traveling with him and waiting to be born into the world. Ostensibly, this is me (laughter).

My mom, upon receiving this information, after only dating the guy for three weeks, was a little taken aback. She wasn't looking to have a child. So there became a little push-pull between them for a while around the idea of this spirit child, which is, obviously, kind of a crazy thing to write about years after the fact, but I wanted to be true to my parents' visions of what was going on in their lives.

DAVIES: Right. And so he actually, the night of conception - at least he thinks - he told your mom, OK, that's it; you're pregnant.

VOLZ: Yeah.

DAVIES: And I guess they both expected that the spirit child was on its way to the earth. You want to share that?

VOLZ: Sure. And I want to say that my mom also confirms and describes that my dad identified the moment of conception and didn't even bother getting a pregnancy test. She believed him, and it turned out that he was right. She began to show. It became obvious. So that is a kind of a story, kind of a myth that I grew up with. I don't know how many people have these really high and magical myths about their births (laughter), but I sure had one. My dad, however, was convinced that I was going to be a boy - absolutely certain. And because he'd been right about everything else, my mom went along with it, too.

DAVIES: The description of the delivery is really something. I mean, your mom wanted a natural childbirth, and it turns out you were breached. And it was long and arduous and painful. And then the doctor declares, she's a girl.

VOLZ: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: What was your dad's reaction to this? I mean, he was so sure.

VOLZ: I think it was a blow to him. I think it was a blow to his ego. And the story that I had grown up with in my family - and I don't - I'm not even sure when I was told this - but was that he left the hospital and went to a gay bathhouse and spent the day there, which is a difficult moment to begin with. That was one of the more challenging conversations I had with my father in writing this book, I have to admit.

DAVIES: You said - that was the story in your family. Your mom didn't know it at the time, right?

VOLZ: No, but she found out. So apparently, what happened is that my dad - who can't keep a secret - told Cheryl (ph), the other salesperson, at a point. He just had to get it off his chest. And I think that she told my mom. And then he, later on, during a big fight, he told her in an angry way. So my mom found out fairly shortly thereafter. This wasn't something I was told about as a kid. But I think as a teenager - was when I found out. And it is the kind of story that sticks in your craw.

DAVIES: Well, and what's fascinating is that, you know, your dad - I mean, you write about this in the book - because he would sometimes not take his medication, he's had some really difficult mental episodes, and his memory is not reliable. And when you went to ask him, is this true that you went to a gay bathhouse after your child was born, what was his reaction?

VOLZ: He didn't remember, which seems convenient and perhaps was. But I should say about my dad and his epilepsy that the grand mal seizures would wipe out huge chunks of his memory, and there are many things that he wishes he remembers that he can't. He's a good custodian of the memories that he has, and they check out with my research and with the stories that other people I interviewed told. But there are huge episodes, huge swaths that are simply not there, and this was part of what wasn't there.

So I talk about my father and I reconciling, and confronting him about this moment was very difficult. It was difficult for me, and it was difficult for him. It upset him. And one of the things that I think really helped us come back together is that when this happened, he got very quiet, and he asked who was saying it. And when I said that it was both Cheryl and my mom who had told me this, he accepted it and took some ownership for the action. It made him very sad, you know, to think of having done that, right? I thought it was very brave of him to allow that to be the story.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Alia Volz. Her new memoir is called "Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, And The Stoning Of San Francisco." We will talk more after a short break. Also, Maureen Corrigan reviews the compelling memoir of a Vietnamese refugee who fled the fall of Saigon with his family and grew up in a Pennsylvania town. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUY VAN DUSER'S "VIPER'S DRAG")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. We're listening to my interview with writer Alia Volz. Her new memoir describes her mother's successful business serving marijuana-laced brownies in the 1970s in San Francisco and her parents' relationship at a time of cultural and social change in the city. Volz's book is "Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, And The Stoning Of San Francisco."

This operation got pretty big. Your mom was moving something like 2,800 brownies a week at its height. How did she manage the risk? I mean, this was, after all, a Class 1 narcotic. You know, these were felonies every day or every week. How did she manage the risk of it?

VOLZ: OK. So this is kind of, I want to say, a ridiculous part of the story. Although, I think my parents would disagree. But my mom - both of my parents, actually, believed strongly in the occult and specifically the I Ching, which is a 4,000-year-old Chinese divination method rooted in Daoism and Confucianism. And you would consult it in the way that you might consult tarot cards. And my mom believed wholeheartedly in this practice.

And so every week, she would throw the I Ching coins and ask about their safety and ask about the risk. And she always did what the I Ching said. I mean, the business opened following an I Ching hexagram. There was a point when the business closed following an I Ching hexagram. There was no question too big or too small to run past the I Ching.

DAVIES: You know, your dad had a habit of not taking his medication for epilepsy, which led to some really troubling and bizarre incidents at times. It was one point where he said he had to go off hitchhiking to meet the Dalai Lama. And other things like that happened. Do you have insight into why he chose not to take the medicine for the epilepsy?

VOLZ: I've done a lot of thinking about this. And I think it's pretty interesting. My dad has a spiritual relationship - or had a spiritual relationship with his epilepsy. He described that in the moments leading up to a seizure, his pre-seizure aura would appear in his peripheral vision as a multi-colored mandala with all colors of the spectrum, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He describes it as being like looking at God. And my dad is such a spiritually serious person that this really attracted him.

And so I think he would kind of edge up to it. He didn't want to deny himself that connection with the Godhead that he felt was there. And so he would try to control his seizures internally. At a point, he had a method where he thought that if - when the mandala appeared, if he shifted his eyes hard in the opposite direction, he could stop himself from having a seizure. So he kept trying to control it.

But he would have these grand mal seizures. And sometimes they led to psychological instability, as well as memory loss. But I find it fascinating because the idea of a spiritually associated seizure is not new. Dostoyevsky wrote rapturously about seizures. And some pretty interesting historical figures have been posthumously diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. So I don't know if my dad might be in that category. In any case, it was a strong force in his life.

DAVIES: Yeah. Does he still have seizures today?

VOLZ: He takes, not Dilantin, but another medication. I think it's Tegretol. And he says he hasn't had a seizure in 20 years.

DAVIES: You know, you mentioned that your mom would often make business decisions and life decisions often by consulting the I Ching, you know, this way of tossing these coins to get a reading on what should be done. I'm wondering, as a kid, did you ever feel like your life was being governed by these forces that couldn't be seen? That ever bother you?

VOLZ: (Laughter) That question makes me laugh a little bit. So as a child, I was pretty accepting of especially my mom's worldview. I had a lot of trust in her. She was always cool in a crisis. And I believed that she knew what she was doing. My parents, I would say, did not use the I Ching to decide what I should or shouldn't be allowed to do. I didn't have a whole lot of rules as a child. I kind of felt like I was part of the decision-making process to a degree that, I think, is pretty unusual.

But my relationship with the I Ching as a kid was that I trusted it. And the fact that my mom felt confident using it made me feel confident as well. So I sometimes think about how, you know, the knowledge that my parents could have gone to prison at any time, how that should have been terrifying to me as a kid. And yet, it didn't keep me awake at night because I trusted my mom's decision-making abilities. And I trusted the I Ching then. It was later, more as a teenager, that I was like, oh, no. Wait. Science (laughter), you know? And I started to rebel more against the idea. But it's really only as an adult that I look back at the situation we were in and worry about the kid I was.

DAVIES: Alia Volz's new memoir is called "Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, And The Stoning Of San Francisco." We'll be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROTHERS OSBORNE SONG, "21 SUMMER")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with writer Alia Volz. She has a new memoir about her mother's business selling pot-laced brownies in San Francisco in the 1970s. It also deals with Volz's parents' relationship and some remarkable events in San Francisco at the time. Her book is called "Home Baked."

One of the things that you do in the book is you talk about kind of the history of San Francisco. And in the 1970s, there was all of this kind of explosion of creativity and art and experimentation. But there was also some really dark stuff. You know, the Peoples Temple, which was led by Jim Jones, was active in the city and very connected to a lot of the liberal politicians. And then there was the horrific assassinations of the mayor, Moscone, and then the supervisor, the councilman, Harvey Milk that, I guess, was not a customer of your mom, but somebody that she met on her rounds a lot. How did all of that affect her?

VOLZ: Well, first of all, so Harvey was not a customer. He had sworn off drugs. But his camera shop, which was also his campaign headquarters, was one of my mom's regular stops because other people around him and who were working on his campaign were customers. So that was how that connection happened. But he was very much out in the neighborhood walking around, talking to people. He was very personable and very connected to the community. And so my mom knew him.

The Jonestown Massacre and the assassinations of Milk and Moscone happened within 10 days of each other. It was like a one-two punch. It just knocked San Francisco completely sideways. I mean, 918 people dead in one day. And then these two very important and beloved civic leaders ten days later. For my mom, it was a seismic shift, a feeling of everything is changing. She describes becoming aware, in an instant, that the wave that they had been riding was about to crash.

DAVIES: Right. And so not so long after, there was - finally, the business came to an end - or at least its first end. Do you want to describe the circumstances of that?

VOLZ: Sure. We were talking about the I Ching earlier. And suddenly, in mid-1979, my mom goes to throw her usual weekly hexagrams. And the passage is really dark. The results are bad. And the imagery in the passages has to do with imprisonment and punishment and things like that. And she became fairly convinced - well, very convinced very quickly that they were going to be busted. And the business was huge at this time. And, I mean, everybody knew about them. It was a little - maybe a little too high-profile. And she became sure that they were going to get busted. So my parents, taking this extremely seriously, packed up, closed up shop. And we moved out of San Francisco within two weeks.

DAVIES: You moved out of San Francisco. And there's an eight-year stretch of your childhood. And you described them as pretty tough. You know, your parents' relationship fell apart, in part, because, you know, your dad would not take the medicine for his epilepsy and had some pretty strange experiences. Your mom ends up reviving the business kind of with once-a-month trips into San Francisco from where they were living outside of town.

As you moved into the '80s, the brownie business changed in a way, right? It wasn't just recreational because it became a way to ease the suffering of people afflicted with AIDS. And this was at a time when the epidemic was, you know, poorly understood scientifically. There was little treatment. And it was, you know, deeply associated with homophobia. As your mom made these trips to the city, how did the epidemic present itself to her?

VOLZ: She remembers one day in December of 1981 walking down Castro Street, making her deliveries. And in the window of Star Pharmacy, there was a poster that said gay cancer. And it had photographs of a man's legs and feet with little purple spots on them, which turned out to be Kaposi's sarcoma. And my mom saw that poster and just thought, that's strange. I saw one of those spots on one of my friend's wrist today. It just was a little thing. And then, pretty quickly, people started to get sick.

But the illnesses varied a lot. And there was a long time when nobody knew what it was. Some people got the Pneumocystis carinii. Some people had the wasting syndrome and terrible diarrhea. Some people had the Kaposi's sarcoma lesions. The variety of presentations of the symptom made the onset very mysterious. And it didn't get a lot of press at first because it emerged first within the gay male population. And this was a community that broader society was maybe eager not to look at and not to acknowledge.

DAVIES: As you and your mom made these deliveries, did you find people who you had known for years and years getting sicker and sicker?

VOLZ: Yeah. Of course. So as a kid, it was something that I was - of course I was aware of it. You would see - the presentation of AIDS was so dramatic physically. And it could happen very quickly. We'd be gone for a month and come back the next month. And somebody who had been a beautiful 30-year-old would look 70.

It was really striking, you know, the weight loss and the way that it transformed how people carried themselves. Suddenly, a young man would be using a walker. It was terrible. And then people started to disappear. As a child, I only understood so much, you know? As the years passed, I came to understand what was going on. And people began to disappear from our lives.

DAVIES: And part of the business was actually finding people who needed the relief that marijuana would bring. There was another woman named Mary Jane Rathbun, who had been making and distributing marijuana brownies. She became known as - what? - Brownie Mary, as supposed to your mom, who was the brownie lady. And they kind of got...

VOLZ: Right.

DAVIES: ...Fused (laughter) in the civic consciousness. But...

VOLZ: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...In a way, they had a place in the sort of recognition of the medical benefits of marijuana, didn't they?

VOLZ: Oh, absolutely. So there had been, since maybe the mid-'70s, the beginnings of a medical marijuana movement. But it really had not made it into the press in a significant way. And it was very small. And marijuana was still, in the American consciousness, not considered a medicine. It was considered a party drug. Well, the situation with HIV/AIDS was that the first effective drug treatment didn't come out until 1996. It was 15 years. And this is a disease with an 80-plus percent fatality rate. Let that sink in for a moment.

So during that span of time when there was just nothing for people to do to take care of themselves, cannabis emerged really early on as helpful with some of the symptoms. Nobody thought weed was going to cure AIDS (laughter). But it helped with the wasting syndrome, which manifested with a total loss of appetite and crushing nausea. Cannabis was good for that. It helped with insomnia, depression, pain. So people began to turn to cannabis to help feel a little better while this horrible, horrible thing was going on. And in the case of the wasting syndrome, it helped them eat. It helped them hang on longer. It became very important.

DAVIES: Was your mom ever recognized, officially, for any of this stuff?

VOLZ: Not back then, and I'll tell you why - she never got busted. And so she certainly wasn't going to announce herself in the press. And one of the things that's interesting in the Brownie Mary and Mer the Brownie Lady confusion - so they were both part of the same zeitgeist. Well, poor Brownie Mary kept getting busted. And she had a wonderful way of handling the press. She was grandmotherly and funny, very, very witty and adorable. And the press just loved her. They just ate it up. And so she, possibly more than anyone, was responsible for bringing the concept of medical marijuana to broader society. And my mom, meanwhile, stayed underground. She didn't get busted. She didn't go to the press. But she worked throughout all of these years to get edibles to people who needed them.

DAVIES: You're in San Francisco today, when the rules are all so different. I don't know. Just reflect on that, how different it is, the attitude towards cannabis and its availability.

VOLZ: Well, yeah, San Francisco has changed quite a bit. With respect to cannabis, it is now legal for adult use. And San Francisco and then California were first in denoting cannabis as an essential business during coronavirus, which was a watershed moment. Nothing like that has happened before. So cannabis is very accessible to people. I feel that, at least for adults, that it should be. I think this is a good thing. But the culture has changed so much around it in ways that I find very heartbreaking.

So for - you know, my mom had the first really high-volume delivery service. Now you can use an app to summon a company like Eaze and a complete stranger will show up to your door with a lanyard. You don't exchange more than five words, and you pay for it with a debit card. The community aspect has completely run out of the process. The current canna-business (ph) laws are also extremely harmful to small farmers, who were the ones who kept this all going during the '70s and '80s. So some of the changes have really stripped the community-building feelings out of it. At the same time, I'm glad that people have access, especially those who use it for medicinal purposes.

DAVIES: Well, Alia Volz, thanks so much for speaking with us.

VOLZ: It has been an absolute pleasure, Dave.

DAVIES: Alia Volz's new memoir is called "Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, And The Stoning Of San Francisco."

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews the compelling memoir of a Vietnamese refugee who fled the fall of Saigon with his family and grew up in a Pennsylvania town. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF RANKY TANKY'S "FREEDOM")

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