Brownie Mary Is the Reason You Can Get Medical Marijuana Today

Brownie Mary stood at the center of 5000 people at a rally in front of San Francisco City Hall with her short, curly grey hair, her granny specs, and a sweater vest covered in pins. It was Augusta 25, 1992, about a month after her third arrest, this time at the home of a cannabis grower about two hours up the coast in cazadero, the 69-year-old activist was mixing cannabis into brownie batter when law enforcement busted in and charger her with possession. Released on bail, Mary gained international media attention as the Sonoma County District Attorney tried to charge her with two marijuana possession felonies.
“If the narcs think I’m gonna stop baking brownies for my kids with AIDS, they can go fuck themselves in Macy’s window,” she cried out with her fists up in the air.
Born Mary Jane Rathbun in Chicago in 1922, brownie Mary was cut from the cloth of “tough, traditional, blue-collar, working-class lefties,” says Clint Werner, gay activist, author, and friend of Mary’s. She spent most of her childhood in Minneapolis, where she went to catholic school. She moved out of her parents house as a teenager, finding waitressing work and getting involved with social activism. She fought for abortion rights and minors rights to form unions before making her pilgrimage to the Mecca of civil disobedience, San Francisco, during World War 2.
In 1974, she shared a joint with her new friend Dennis Peron, one of The Godfather’s of medical marijuana, at cafe Flore in the Castro. Soon after she joined the ranks of revolutionaries who would go on to pioneer cannabis law reform.
Mary kept a job as a waitress for 25 years while running a side hustle selling pot brownies, “she was above ground, (her weed ) was for everyone,” says John Entwistle, Peron’s husband and co-author of Proposition 215, which made California the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, “I’m Brownie Mary, buy my brownies. But she legit busted twice within a two year period span and after her second arrest in December 1982, she took her brownies underground.
By 1984, she was a volunteer in the AIDS ward at the San Francisco Federal Hospital and baking nearly 600 brownies a day, but only for those who needed them. Cannabis was especially helpful for AIds patients with waisting syndrome, increasing their appetite, slowing their high speed metabolic weight lost, and easing their suffering.
Mary never made much money from her brownie sales beyond covering costs of ingredients. Entwistle describes her as down to earth, very humble, but in a non assuming way,” She lived in public housing not far from Height-Ashbury and the Castro. Friends would joke,” What are you gonna do with that money? Get a perm?
After her arrest in Cazadero in 1992, Mary testified to the San Francisco Board of Supervises about the medical benefits of marijuana, leading to a board resolution to make medicinal cannabis possession the “lowest priority” in arrests and prosecution. On the day of the city hall rally, the Board the Board declared Aug 25th to be “Brownie Mary Day”! In recognition of her work at the San Francisco General Hospital.
Prop 215 passed in 1996, less than a decade Brownie Mary’s testimony, two years later, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada passed their own medical marijuana initiatives, today medical medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, and ten have legalized it for adult use. It wasn’t the Hippies per se, “it wasn’t the standard establishment marijuana movement players, but it was the gay people who legalized pot in California because of the AIDS epidemic,” says Entwistle. “That’s been forgotten to some extent.”
In 1979, she passed away at the age of. 76. A week later, 300 people gathered in the Castro for a candlelight vigil to honor her life. Mary’s friend and district attorney Terrance Halliman, who was in attendance, remembers her as “the Florence Nightingale of the medical marijuana movement.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.