Mary Jean "Watermelon" Dunsdon: The baking of a cannabis advocate

One of Canada’s most iconic names in pot activism dishes on her early days in the nation’s spotlight and the ingredients to success in culinary infusion.

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      (Mary Jean “Watermelon” Dundson will be a panelist at the Georgia Straight's upcoming event, Grassroots: An Expo for the Cannabis Curious on April 7 and 8, 2018. Get your tickets now.)

      Mary Jean “Watermelon” Dunsdon says it never occurred to her that, at 20 years old, a batch of pot cookies would be the first step to becoming a national canna-celeb.

      “I started smoking because it was a fabulously good time,” she says to the Straight in a phone interview, never thinking her childhood love of baking would skyrocket her cannabis-use into activism fame.

      After pursuing comedy in New York in the early 90s, Watermelon returned to Vancouver, broke and in search of a fun way to make money.

      Writing her own namesake, she began selling watermelon slices along the city's iconic clothing-optional tourist attraction, Wreck Beach. It was in 1993, after a year spent vending fruit to tanline-free sunbathers, when she acquired a bag of shake—cannabis bud and debris leftover from harvest—and decided to sell her first batch of infused gingersnaps. These same cookies would later be distributed in dispensaries across Vancouver.

      A High Times cover girl and pin-up model, Watermelon says creativity and inspiration has always been fundamental to her advocacy.

      “I only do things because I want to do them,” she says. “It’s a wonderful, brave new world, but everyone is rushing to brand [...] I’ve already been branded via the courts.”

      On September 8, 2001, the day she jokingly dubs her “arrestiversary”, Watermelon was very publically removed from the beach by local police. It would lead to the first of several trials over the course of the next four years for allegedly trafficking cannabis.

      “I had been selling for eight years,” she says. “I quickly learned you either plea bargain, swallow the poisonous pill and become a criminal in the eyes of the Canadian courts, or you decide to fight.”

      Unlike the majority of those arrested before her, she put up a fight and became a symbol of activism in doing so.

      “Here I was, just this young, happy girl, hanging out on the best beach in the world selling pot cookies having a great time, and I go through what was in some ways the most terrifying but most exhilarating and validating portion of my life,” she says.

      In 2005, after three provincial trials with three separate judges, all of which resulted in acquittals, demand for Watermelon’s cookies soared.

      Over the last 20 years, she has translated that infamy into several successful cooking shows, businesses, pin-up modeling gigs, infused dinners, and a run at city council in the Sensible Vancouver party.

      In between trials, she produced her first of many cannabis cooking shows. In her shows, including Baked and Baking, a DVD she says was done in a “vaudevillian, cheeky manner”, and Baking a Fool of Myself, a web series, Watermelon shows her viewers how to use cannabis as an ingredient, much like dill or oregano, in day-to-day meals.

      “For me, it’s always been about a quick and easy recipe,” she says, adding that Julia Child's style of carefully measured amounts and slow instruction doesn’t work for modern consumers.

      “Attention spans have really changed. People don’t need the backstory. They don’t need the excess information. They just need to look at the video and be inspired to try it at home.”

      Now, Watermelon shares her whimsically-named recipes on YouTube or during one of her dinners. When not running her two Vancouver-based candy stores, she hosts annual festivities serving tasty THC-infused dishes like Lemon Mer-Reggae Tarts, Quiche Your Ass Goodnight, Weedish Meatballs, and Cannaburgers.

      “I come up with all sorts of recipes that are really fun, but not suitable for retail,” she says. “At the last Bud-beque, I did an all-you-can-eat medicated taco bar. This summer I am doing Fon-don’t: Cheese and chocolate fondu—with weed in it!”

      These dinners, while playful, represent her newest philosophy when it comes to understanding the future of cannabis culinary arts: a separation between medicine and food.

      “People who are sick want to know exactly what is going to happen to their bodies,” she says, adding that there are a number of factors she believes will stop medical patients from turning to edibles as their primary consumption method.

      “There will be edibles, but they’ll be symbolic. I don’t think there will be a big market of [medicated] foods, because I don’t think they’re practical for resale in a tasty or delicious way. I don’t think it will be the billion-dollar industry people want it to be.”

      She says things like the unpredictability of the duration of the high based on different food vehicles (sugars, complex carbohydrates, fats, and so on), the bitter taste of tinctures, and easy dosing will drive patients to capsules and oils, while opting to leave their food “unadulterated.” 

      Watermelon believes major success will only come for a few infused brands and restaurants that offer a micro-dose experience.

      “My life has been a series of good problems. The universe just French kisses me all the time,” she says, reflecting on her journey over the past two decades. “I’m not sure why, but I am so grateful for everything I’ve been given.”