Pot brownies are a highly traditional snack on April 20 — a k a 4/20 — a holiday among cannabis users. But they’re more than just an intoxicating dessert.

Alia Volz
Alia VolzTwitter

During the ’80s HIV/AIDS epidemic, Alia Volz tells Bon Appetit that the chocolatey squares her mom, Meridy, used to bake, along with a coalition of pot activists, were a “lifeline” to San Francisco’s LGBTQ community.

“If you haven’t heard of Sticky Fingers Brownies, here’s why: We got away with it,” she writes in her new book “Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco,” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) out today — naturally.

Their collective included Dennis Peron, who fought to legalize medical marijuana in California in 1996, on behalf of his partner and AIDS patient Jonathan West. Volz also worked with the notorious “Brownie” Mary Rathbun, who was known for spearheading the whole operation to get cannabis-baked brownies to AIDS patients.

Back then, an HIV diagnosis was considered a “death sentence,” for which there were few known treatments and no cure. Pain, nausea and a lack of appetite are ubiquitous among patients of the disease, and many found that weed was one of the few drugs that helped ease their symptoms, while also promoting hunger.

And, because pneumocystis pneumonia prevented many with HIV/AIDS from smoking, they often relied on ingesting cannabis instead.

Enter Sticky Fingers Brownies, a cohort of “dealer-healers” who worked together in Volz’s home to produce highly potent “special” brownies. Meridy would bake 10,000 cannabis brownies per month out of her home in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, and hand deliver to those who were too sick to pick them up. They cost only a few dollars each and were usually strong enough to be split into multiple portions.

Meridy’s clientele included a worker at politician Harvey Milk’s campaign headquarters, and a deli where she’d drop “hundreds of brownies with the manager, who sold them over the counter.” She sold the goods out of a duffel bag hanging on Alia’s stroller.

“These brownies were messy,” writes Volz, who assures a drug-free batch was there for her, too. “Handling them tarred your hands, hence the name Sticky Fingers.”

As we live through the coronavirus epidemic, a respiratory disease, many cannabis users find themselves unable to smoke without risking their health — so this recipe, courtesy of Volz and Sticky Fingers Brownies, is for them.

Sticky Fingers Brownies

8 ozs. ground cannabis
5 sticks butter
16 eggs
6 cups sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
16 ozs. unsweetened baking chocolate

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Melt butter together with ground cannabis over a double boiler, and allow to steep for 30 minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine eggs and sugar.

In another double boiler, melt chocolate.

Fold eggs and sugar together with dry ingredients. Add butter mixture, then chocolate.

Pour batter into a greased or parchment-lined 9 inch by 12 inch baking pan and bake, making sure to “[pat]-down the batter several times with a spatula to keep it from rising.”

Remove from oven when the brownies are “solid, but still very moist.” Allow to cool with a towel covering the dish “to keep moisture in.”

Yields 8 dozen 2 inch by 2 inch squares.