This Independence home baker is building a following for her ‘epic’ weed-infused cakes
Unable to afford a state license, Melissa Lewis accepts donations for her whimsical creations, often adorned with fondant marijuana leaves or Tootsie Roll blunts. She says there's demand for THC-infused edibles beyond gummies or drinks.
Melissa Lewis is growing more at ease publicly proclaiming her pro-cannabis stance.
When she opens the door to her modest ranch house in Independence, Missouri, she is wearing an apron, T-shirt and stretch leggings with a layered marijuana leaf motif.
The 49-year-old mother of three adult sons leads visitors into a bedroom-turned-workshop. On the wall closest to the door, a metal baking rack displays neatly stacked baking ingredients and decorating supplies. In the window, an air conditioning unit cools marijuana leaves molded from fondant and blunts made out of Tootsie Rolls.
Lewis of Mama Mel’s LLC spends the next few hours decorating a tie-dye THC-infused birthday cake decorated with strawberry cream cheese frosting and cotton candy clouds. Her cottage business includes custom wedding cakes, groom’s cakes, decorated sugar cookies and CBD dog treats. She also bakes non-infused cakes, although even some of those include weed-themed decorations.
In Missouri, recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over became legal to possess in December 2022. Retail sales began in February.
Unable to afford a recreational state license, Lewis accepts donations for her weed cakes. She typically buys marijuana at a dispensary or uses marijuana grown and gifted by the person ordering the cake.
“We think we’re so close, but, yet we’re so far away,” Lewis says. “The idea of me ever having a (cannabis) bakery is probably not going to happen. That’s sad for me. The way that they have done the legalization is really a big money grab for corporate cannabis.”
Marijuana Venture recently proclaimed edibles the “sleeping giant of the cannabis industry.” The segment grew to $3.4 billion in 2022. Candy is the biggest subcategory at 73% of sales, followed by chocolate, beverages then infused food and “other edibles,” according to market researcher BDSA.
Lewis flips a half-circle of a layered cake onto its diameter and gradually a rainbow appears as she uses a pastry bag to create bands of icing. THC is also added to the blue cotton candy clouds on top and the puffy white frosting that form the cloud base. Marijuana leaf candy sprinkles add the final touch.
A week after her birthday celebration, Jasmine Hughes is still overwhelmed with the rainbow cake design.
“Really, I was speechless. I’ve never had a cake made for me before. It was breathtaking…I was shocked by how much time she put into it,” says the 35-year-old Midtown resident who has been smoking marijuana since she was a teen.
For her birthday, Hughes had a few pieces of cake and relaxed while watching movies with her husband.
“For me, it’s like a wave,” she says of the effects of the THC-infused cake. “You’re kind of hanging out, and then your body gets a little heavier and more relaxed.”
She also received non-infused cakes for her four daughters ages 3-14 to enjoy.
A self-taught baker, Lewis got her start baking cakes in her Easy-Bake Oven at age 9.
When Lewis ran out of cake mixes for the Easy-Bake Oven, she learned how to use the real oven and bake cakes incorporating a few basic ingredients that were usually on hand – milk and sugar for her mother’s coffee. With her own money, she’d buy flour, butter and eggs.
Her mother recognized her artistic talent and bought her a Wilton’s Cake Decorating Yearbook and enrolled her in a cake decorating class at JC Penney.
“I learned how to cook having almost nothing in the pantry,” she says. “We grew up poor, but I found fun and passion in my cakes.”
Lewis made her first wedding cake for her best friend’s mother at age 14 and recalls her mother driving the wedding cake over whole rather than in pieces to be built onsite.
“It was the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” she says, with a laugh.
A regular pot smoker since her teens, Lewis initially began infusing cakes with THC to add a high to celebrations. But soon she found herself expanding her repertoire to include THC-laced candies for a friend with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who could not inhale smoke and sugar-free baked goods for a diabetic family member.
Lewis has even made an “end-of-life” butterscotch pudding for a friend suffering the ravages of cancer who yearned for the comfort of a favorite dessert.
“I take care of everybody. I’m not trying to do anything bad,” Lewis says. “There are not enough options with just gummies or drinks.”
Lewis makes decorations out of all sort of things. Here she uses Tootsie Rolls, dipped in various died sugars, to form a candy joint. (Cami Koons | Flatland)
There are plenty of legit recipes for aspiring cannabis bakers on the internet for brownies and cakes from mainstream foodie magazines. Examples include Double Chocolate Weed Brownies from Food 52, Gooey Pot Brownies from The Washington Post and Food & Wine Magazine’s Cannabis-Infused Olive Oil Citrus Cake.
Most marijuana-themed cookbooks offer instructions on how to use butter and oil to make an edible infusion. But Lewis likes to get creative with distillate, concentrate, tinctures and emulsions as vehicles to retain potency without ruining flavor.
“I also try to figure out how to keep the recipe as close to the original and pleasant to the palate. When I infuse my cakes, it’s usually a different strain or method of infusing each layer so that it spreads the flavor out and is not obnoxious or overpowering,” she says.
For example, the rainbow birthday cake batter included infused butter, an infused simple syrup poured over the layers before freezing (makes decorating easier) and a concentrate in the frosting.
Ingesting an infused cake is stronger than smoking a joint, and the effects usually take longer to wear off.
“Even people who consume all day don’t always like the edibles,” Lewis says.
As an adult, Lewis has suffered medical setbacks that have led her to use marijuana for pain management. She contracted COVID three times, weakening her immune system. She broke her leg and continues to have persistent pain. Physicians have diagnosed her with fibromyalgia, but she is finding little relief through conventional treatment.
“In my medical records it says I’m high risk for drug use and that I have cannabis use disorder, but I’ve never touched any drugs, and it makes me angry that they would say that and that’s in my chart,” she says.
Although the occasional bakery has begun to pop up in Kansas City, edibles continue to have a stigma. Lewis’ health sometimes prevents her from fulfilling orders on her own. Two of her sons are in training as assistant pastry chefs.
While individual tolerances differ, edible calculators offering dosing guidelines for beginners are available online. The highest potency she has ever been asked to create is 10,000 milligrams (about the weight of 10 raisins), which, in Lewis’ book, is too much and “tastes terrible.”
Another mistake that leads to less-satisfying treats is adding too much butter to balance the infusion.
“I think more like a chef would than a stoner would. It gets me in trouble online. I get kicked out of groups all the time. I’m not being rude. I’m just saying think like a chef first. Don’t alter the recipe or you’re going to screw it up,” she says.
“So many people only know how to make butter and they say, ‘Oh, I want to make Rice Krispies Treats.’ Well, Rice Krispies Treats only calls for 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter. That’s too weak, so they’ll put a whole stick of butter in and then it’s disgusting… I try to give them advice (in online chat groups or social media) and they think I’m a jerk, but you can’t mess with the science of it so much.”
Some of her recent designs include an elegant chocolate ganache wedding cake with fondant mushrooms, a VW hippie van, a cowboy boot, a Star Wars-themed birthday cake with matching cupcakes and a Batman-themed graduation cake.
“When people ask me to repeat a cake, I cringe. I can’t do it,” she says. “It’s funny, I saw a post from 10 years ago and I said it was the most epic cake. But it’s funny, I say that every time.”