Buying an edible doesn't carry the same mystique that it did ten years ago, but much of that mystique involved nights curled in faded balls after biting off more "special" brownies than we could chew. Every edible eater has a rookie story, and Sweet Grass Kitchen founder Julie Berliner is no different. And she's come a long way from having to sit in a corner at a friend's wedding because the first weed cookie she tried tasted too good.
Berliner operates one of the state's longest-running marijuana bakeries, which she recently sold to dispensary chain LivWell Enlightened Health, but she plans to continue leading the Sweet Grass brand. We recently caught up with Berliner to hear more stories and wisdom gained from over a decade in legal cannabis.
Westword: Compare the experience of eating an edible ten or fifteen years ago to now, with all of the science and testing available.
Julie Berliner: The first edible I ever purchased was at a medical dispensary on the Hill in Boulder. It was open from noon to 4:20 p.m., and of course it got shut down eventually over regulations. I bought a rice krispies treat, no label, covered in Saran Wrap. It was probably made in some dude's dirty-ass kitchen — but I was excited! I was blown away by the idea that we could purchase something made with the intention of legal consumption, regardless of how far away it was from testing or being "safe." That product was probably made the same day, or maybe the day before. That's how it was when I started: I sold my cookies to dispensaries warm, the day I baked them. Compare that to now, when all products must go under testing to ensure they're free of pesticides, are all homogeneous, and all the other things we now know about cannabis.
Fresh-baked just doesn't exist in cannabis right now, but I hope it does again one day. I'd love to be able to buy something warm in a bakery, and I say that knowing testing is a good thing for cannabis. But who wouldn't love the choice of buying something packaged at a grocery store or something fresh behind the glass?
Even with the evolution that legal edibles have undergone, why do people still look at brownies as the quintessential edible?
The pot brownie is the staple, because it was the easiest thing to make at home before legalization. You can make your own cannabutter, and brownies are simple to make. That's why they're so symbolic. Since then, we've obviously come a long way, and there's no limit to the products you'll find in commercial settings. But I think brownies will always be the staple, because they were there during those grassroots movements. And they're a nostalgic comfort food. They're certainly not the only thing you can get anymore, though.
Do you think rookie freakouts that people can experience after eating too much of an edible during their first time still happen as often as they did five years ago?
My rookie story was at a wedding, and someone gave me a cookie. It probably had over 200 milligrams in it, and I ate a quarter of it. I ended up in the corner for the rest of the night, not being able to function.
I do think it still happens often, but not to the same extent. I think 10 milligrams is a lot for novice consumers. It's a lot for me, and I've been eating edibles consistently for a long time. I'm a 2.5-milligram person, and I think most recreational consumers are in the same boat. Medical users are a different conversation.
It's not like the Maureen Dowd story [in the New York Times] from 2014, but I'm sure it still happens, no doubt. There's a social education around it now that I don't think existed back then. And you had a lot of loud people who didn't want to see cannabis succeed at the beginning, and edibles were the first to get the shitty spotlight. Now, maybe it's vaping or pesticides.
There's so many different infusion techniques out there when it comes to cooking with cannabis, but what is the best way to do it, in your opinion?
Cannabutter is my favorite. It's naturally high in fat and has a quick onset. But now, with all the advances and acceptance surrounding cannabis, there's a ton of science behind other infusion methods. Before legalization, you couldn't go to labs for this. Things are definitely changing.
Let's say Julie Berliner from fifteen years ago wanted to start Sweet Grass today. Do you think she could? How different would that look?
The simple answer is no. There's no state that is starting out how Colorado did, where you could just start cooking out of your kitchen and grow your business organically like I did. That just doesn't exist in legal cannabis now. We were the guinea pigs, and we stumbled a lot, but it allowed this kind of opportunity. That stumbling showed other states what to do right from the start. It's much more collaborative from a regulation standpoint. I don't think it'll ever be the same as it was back then, and I say that with a lot of nostalgia and pride — maybe more pride, because I'm proud of how far many of us have come.
The direction the industry has moved requires a lot more money than Sweet Grass could handle. There was not a world where I could take the business in a higher direction by myself, and that's why I partnered with LivWell. That's just how it is: You need money and operational experience.
What about Colorado cannabis has changed the most since 2012?
In 2009, during those early days, it wasn't as respected and legitimate as it is now. It's not just tie-dyes and bongs anymore. Interviews like this weren't happening, and it was still very underground. It was really cool to be part of this as it happened, but the stigma was so ingrained, and my comfort talking about cannabis in public was very different. We were working toward normalization, and that's what the movement has done. It's an amazing product for people in a lot of different ways, and it's doing wonders for our economy, especially right now.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.