“Move forward, the mind also thinks of moving back.” —The Principles of Tai Chi Chuan, Master Chang San-Feng, 12th century C.E.

With these wise words to start our new year, yet another in the great cannabis adventure, I thought it would make sense to look at the history of cannabis in its spiritual home, here in the Bay Area. Which is another way of saying I picked up a copy of Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco, by native daughter Alia Volz.

I don’t think I’ve ever done a book review before, but when my buddy—let’s call her “Bella Eclair,” to protect her identity—gave me her signed copy of the book with her highest, ahem, recommendation, I was intrigued.

Chronicling her life growing up in the world of professional pot brownies decades before legalization, Volz shares an insider story on how black-market commercialization set the groundwork for our beloved legal cannabis market of today.

But the book is so much more than that. Volz’s almost claustrophobically detailed family history is just as much a revelation of the very essence of ’70s and ’80s San Francisco, the magic place that drew my friends to cut high school, drive up from the Peninsula, and buy records in the Haight and focaccia sandwiches in North Beach.

Volz’s tale of Sticky Fingers brownies is as hilarious as it is tragic. Once sold on the sly in the vacant hull of legendary Ransohoff’s department store in Union Square, in what we would now call a pop-up market; among the first to incorporate “superweed” sensemillia—insider tip: we call this “weed” now; and chowed down to facilitate spiritual conversations among a cast of characters laying horizontally on an array of beds, these brownies made life fun.

They also made life bearable. Volz’s parents spent a great deal of the ’80s serving their product to the gay population decimated by the AIDS epidemic. Just as cannabis is recognized for its medicinal properties by governments today, so were those properties known among its users then. And have been for thousands of years.

Among my favorite passages are those chronicling the twin tragedies of San Francisco in the ’70s—the assasination of Harvey Milk and the People’s Temple Massacre. The connections are myriad and heartbreaking, and so very close to the heart of the community within which the modern age of cannabis was born, right here in the Bay Area.

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