My Life As A Professional Cannabis Baker

“I decided I would never to go back to a corporate environment.”

A 45-year-old professional cannabis baker based in Los Angeles talked to BuzzFeed about her job. She asked to remain anonymous.

I was pregnant when I left my last office job. I was chief of staff at a nonprofit tech organization, but I became disillusioned with that path, and after my daughter was born, I decided I would never to go back to a corporate environment. A friend of mine was baking edibles — that is, foods infused with marijuana — and had approached me a few times about getting involved.

I was reluctant because I knew that if I was going to do it, I had to go all out. I couldn’t hide it from my family, and I didn’t want to hide it from my family. I’ve been around marijuana and smoking for years, but I kept it private. I was going to step out of a closet in a way, and that was something I struggled with for a while. It took a little bit of courage. But my family was very supportive.

As soon as my daughter was old enough that I had a little more time, I started baking with marijuana, alongside my friend. At first, I would bake huge batches, but sometimes my cookies could sit around for weeks before they went anywhere. I knew I could develop a niche for myself by using fresh, quality ingredients (like freshly squeezed organic lemons from my mom’s garden). Now I bake everything to order and deliver the goods fresh to a handful of medical marijuana clubs in my neighborhood.

This cannabis trim costs about $300 per pound. Each batch of oil (10 cups) or butter (6 lbs.) requires nearly half a pound of trim. Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

For now, I sell only sweets. I have five cookies and bars: peanut butter oatmeal cookies, snickerdoodle cookies, lemon bars, brownies, and peanut butter brownies. The cakes are red velvet with cream cheese glaze cake, triple chocolate cake, carrot cake, lemon cake, and ginger cake. I just finalized a recipe for a Rice Krispie treat, and people love it, so I’ll add that to the menu soon.

I make extractions using both butter and oil, so that I can have flexibility, depending on the recipe. The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is THC, and that’s what’s getting into the butter and the oil when I do the extraction. Eating these is different than smoking pot, because the THC gets into your blood stream through your digestive system, which means it takes a little bit longer to hit you. When it does, you get an all-body high and it’s very relaxing.

Sometimes the trim comes with small buds in it because growers don’t want to take the time to separate them out. Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

The oil I make takes nearly 24 hours all said and done, and I do it in a Crock-Pot — it’s three cycles of heating on low for three hours, and then cooling for nine hours. The butter requires a little more babysitting. I use marijuana trim, which are the plant’s small leaves and stems that the dispensaries trim away from the buds. I boil the trim in water first, because butter can’t get hot enough on its own. After I add the butter, it’s the same heating and cooling process as the oil on the stovetop. When the process is done, I strain out the leaves and let the let the mixture cool, allowing the butter to separate from the water.

When I’m baking, I feel like a good witch with my cauldron. It’s fun. The vapors can get you stoned — they’ve actually made me ill if I haven’t had enough to eat or if I forget to open the windows. I don’t work on the oil or butter while the kids are home, and I make sure the house is really well-ventilated.

I have a 12-year-old son and my daughter is 4. They both understand as much as they can. We have discussions with them. My son knows that it’s medicine, it’s in a different fridge, it’s labeled, and that it’s not to be touched. He knows it’s for people who are sick, he knows he’s not sick, and he knows that if he were to try it, it would make him sick. And I’ve told him that a lot of people who are sick and use it don’t want to talk about openly, so he understands how to respect people’s privacy. And my little one knows that it’s medicine. She’s knows that she’s not to touch it and not to eat it. And they don’t question it.

Marijuana and canola oil are gently cooked in a crock pot — in three cycles of heating and cooling for about 18 hours — to make the infused oil. Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

For the butter, the trim is gently boiled in water. Next, butter is added and the mixture is gently cooked on the stovetop — with the same three cycles of heating and cooling — for about 18 hours. Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

The marijuana is strained out of the butter-water mixture.

The strained mixture is refrigerated to make the butter solidify and separate from the water. Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

Making 62 ginger cookies requires one cup of this cannabis butter. Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

A finished tray of ginger cookies. Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

I donate my edibles to medical marijuana clubs for a recommended donation price to recoup my cost and be reimbursed for my time. To be a member and buy goods at a club, you need a recommendation from a doctor, which has to be renewed annually. The clubs offer my baked goods to their members for another recommended price, which is often double what they give me for them. My recommended donation is $5 or $6 for a package of three cookies; the members donate $10 or $12 for that same package. Baking edibles has been my only source of income for the last three years, but it took some time to build up the business. I like to barter as much as I can to get the cannabis. I need nearly half a pound of trim to make 6 pounds of butter or 10 cups of oil, and I was spending like $300 a pound for trim. Now I bake marijuana edibles in exchange for the marijuana. So yeah, I bake a lot.

These days, I bake 20 to 30 hours per week, and I can make maybe 15 dozen pastries. At my busiest, I was working 11-hour days. My husband and my mom had to help. Honestly, I’m not sure if I want to get back to that point. I’d like to find a happy medium.

The ginger “kush-kies” are made with fresh ginger and crystallized ginger.

The guy who provides my trim doesn’t own a dispensary — he gets it directly from growers. There isn’t a lot of law to protect him against marijuana possession, even though he is transporting cannabis that will be sold legally. So a lot of medical marijuana clubs or collectives will write what’s called a “designation letter.” The letter basically says, “This person is part of our collective and we trust him to transport medicine for us on behalf of all of the patients we have.” So that’s how it works. It doesn’t mean he’s not going to get stopped and pulled over.

It’s tough to build a business because the marijuana industry is so unstable. The conflicting state and federal laws are hard to navigate. Banks don’t want to deal with you. You can’t get a checking account because a lot of banks have been threatened at the federal level and are told they are not to hold funds for anyone involved in the business of medical marijuana. You don’t know if the dispensaries you’re working with are going to be around next week. That’s scary. In my former profession, I was used to networking and finding a group of people to work with. People in this industry are very protective and isolated, so it’s hard to find a community. Even though everything I am doing is legal, it’s very hard to do business.

I don’t have a website or anything — it’s not considered wise to have one. I talked to an attorney who specializes in cannabis law and he says it’s probably not the best idea for me to be marketing myself. I think attitudes and laws will change soon; it’s silly that people are still so afraid of this plant.

The cakes — like these carrot cakes with cream cheese glaze — are three to four times as strong as the cookies. Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

A box of lemon cakes sits on top of Ruby Doobies carrot cakes (left) and triple chocolate cakes (right). Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

This chalkboard is for keeping track of orders. Sticky notes are a reminder to work on other projects, like developing a vegan brownie recipe. Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

We don’t fully understand all the medicinal properties of cannabis yet. I wanted to really educate myself when I was getting started, so I volunteered for an internal medicine doctor who left his practice after 30 years to focus on cannabis medicine. I spent a year working with him and learning how the plant works and what it does to your body. I wanted to learn who the industry leaders were and who was doing the most research. I read books like Smoke Signals, Marijuana Gateway to Health, and Marijuana the Forbidden Medicine. And I try to keep up with sites like Project CBD and the research journal O’Shaughnessy’s.

My next goal is to expand into savory foods, because not everyone wants something sweet all the time. And I’d like to try topicals. A friend of mine makes a marijuana salve — I didn’t think it would do much, really, but I started using it on skin irritations when my daughter would get diaper rash. It cleared up her rash right away. And you don’t get high from the salve, it just has the anti-inflammatory properties that really help aches and pains.

Each box of baked goods is labeled with a warning. Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

I’m proud that my products are consistent. My batch sizes are the same, and I measure the amount of trim in each batch down to a tenth of a gram. The potency varies from plant to plant, so there’s no way of being exactly precise without getting it tested in a lab. And the effects vary from person to person, based on metabolism, weight, and how you’ve eaten throughout the day.

I do smoke. Not all cannabis makes you sit on the couch for hours. I find that certain strains help me maintain my energy level and focus. So if I’m going to clean the house, I’ll have a little smoke and it’s great. It becomes more of a meditation, almost. It makes doing chores a lot more enjoyable. I don’t smoke every day and I don’t eat edibles every night, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using them. I can take it or leave it.

You’re not going to overdose with an edible — it’s not really possible. But you can become uncomfortable. Your heart might race. Maybe you pass out. You might get paranoid. I’ve gotten feedback that my cakes are too strong. You definitely have to be careful with them, as a lot of people end up taking more than they should. Some people will tell me, “I ate the whole thing and I was down for the whole day and it was GREAT.” That’s why my cakes clearly note that they include three to four doses. And people love the lemon bars. There’s actually something about lemon in particular; it has a chemical property that helps push the medicine in a little faster or something.

As told to Emily Fleischaker

Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

Finished and packaged edibles. Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

Packaged edibles ready to be delivered to the dispensaries Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

Joshua Ballinger for BuzzFeed

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