Big Sexy, a Pot Brownie Expert Who Turns Marijuana Entrepreneurship Into a Lifestyle
|Big Sexy with his wares|
"I'm sorry, I'm just texting my butter maker," says the man in the black XL Rocca Wear shirt. He goes by "Big Sexy," and with a filled-out, 6-foot-5 frame, he lives up to that moniker and then some.
"It's more than a name," he says. "It's a lifestyle. Try to say 'Big Sexy' without smiling." The 32-year-old puts down his iPhone and looks up with a disarmingly youthful face. "I'm doing things that make me happy."
What makes him happy is food, specifically "handmade artisanal treats." He makes dark acai fudge brownies, white chocolate popcorn, cinnamon toast crunch crumb cake and six-ingredient, gluten-free granola. With favorites such as "caramel seduction" and "dark acai attraction," Big Sexy says, the "names of treats are flirtations," intended to "add a positive to your life to ease pain and anxiety."
The secret is in the butter. Cannabis-infused butter -- aka cannabutter -- goes into all of his muffins, cookies and brownies. Which might explain why the founder and head baker of Big Sexy's Sinful Sweets insists on going by a nickname. (He gives his real name only as "Joey.")
The grassroots business, which operates out of its founder's Venice apartment, includes a publicist and a few volunteers, who label, package and ship the baked goods.
"We're pioneers," he says, walking through a meticulously neat kitchen stocked with organic ingredients. "We're edible pioneers."
Clients include cancer and AIDS patients looking for pain relief but stretch to include a wider cross-section who desire to treat everything from chronic aches to hormone imbalance. "We make pot brownies not to put you on the couch but to get you off the couch," he explains, to "ease suffering" and provide "food and pain relief."
"Edible people are mostly people who can't smoke," he explains, "because when they're at work they can ingest weed as a pain relief. I'm a healer."
That said, getting high is an occupational hazard: "When I'm working, I wear a mask over my face while I'm making butter because of the vapors."
Big Sexy began cooking with pot in 2003, "experimenting" with leftovers from his vaporizer.
At the time, he worked at a Bay Area nonprofit, helping educate the terminally ill. He saw their suffering first, though, and wanted to help. "People's pain can be really intense," he recalls. "It ruins people."
Through trial and error, he perfected a butter-and-sea salt popcorn recipe that he was confident enough to give to a friend's grandmother, who had cancer. "It was the only thing that gave her an appetite."
Two years later, he founded his company: "A mutual friend opened a dispensary and said you should bake."
Joey-turned-Big Sexy eventually would vend to about three dozen dispensaries across Southern California, and today also sells via his website, bigsexybakery.com, using social media to buoy his business.
"I went from working at an educational nonprofit, teaching people how to read, to being a pot baker," he deadpans. "At a party, when you say, 'I'm a pot baker,' everybody wants to talk to you. But it's not just kids trying to get stoned. Older people often come up to me and say they have a friend who's sick. Those are the people that -- usually -- come up and talk to me at a party."
Despite the stereotypes inherent in his line of work, Big Sexy is no pothead. He has a business degree with a concentration in nonprofit business administration and is one thesis away from completing an MBA. "I was good at math, and baking is an artistic science. You have to understand the flow; it's all repetition and practice."
Big Sexy cites Malcolm Gladwell's theory that it takes 10,000 hours to perfect a craft: "I've been baking a lot."
The business of medical marijuana is being increasingly squeezed by federal and local authorities (see "L.A.'s Pot Prohibition Playbook," Feb. 16). Big Sexy's Sinful Sweets -- and its founder's future -- are mired in a legal minefield, caught between what the government defines as crime and what can only be called entrepreneurship.
When Big Sexy started his business, SoCal's medical marijuana economy was still largely under the law enforcement radar. Today dispensaries and growers alike operate with an ever-growing target on their backs, as cities and law enforcement agencies have toughened their stance on the industry. Meanwhile, edibles vendors are allowed to sell prepared foods without county health inspections, through a legal loophole that categorizes medical marijuana dispensaries as out of its jurisdiction.
To date, no action has been taken against edible vendors, says John Franklin, a spokesman for the City Attorney's Office. But that appears to be because the office has "never received a complaint." He adds, "If there was a complaint, we'd enforce it."
Still, even as Big Sexy promotes his burgeoning business online, he tries to keep a low profile in real life, avoiding the public eye. He isn't a target -- yet. But he feels the heat coming.
"They're going after dispensaries right now, growing operations," he says. "Edible companies are definitely next."
The entrepreneur hopes to convince people -- one person at a time, if need be -- that he has a right to exist.
"I'm just trying to make the world better," Big Sexy protests. "When I told my mom, after she got over the shock, she said, 'It's true.' "Follow us on Twitter at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook. You can also follow the writer on Twitter at @adampopescu.