Lynette Shaw is one of the medical cannabis movement’s most important pioneers.
Known as the Godmother of Ganja, Shaw opened the first licensed medical cannabis dispensary, the Marin Alliance CBC, thanks to a law that she helped create.
Shaw’s relationship with cannabis began years before her advocacy when she started selling weed at 14. Leaving home at a young age, her gift for music led Shaw to Hollywood, where she continued to sell cannabis on the side while working on a singing career.
In 1981, John Belushi invited Shaw to be a backup singer with The Blues Brothers. Tragically, she was only in the band for one month before Belushi died. Shaw’s seeds of activism were planted in 1990 when she met Jack Herer. His groundbreaking book The Emperor Wears No Clothes confirmed her belief that cannabis is medicine. Those seeds began to bloom when she was introduced to Dennis Peron, a gay Vietnam veteran-turned-political activist who was fighting for both cannabis legalization and LGBTQ rights in San Francisco.
In 1991, Shaw began working with fellow activist Pebbles Trippet at Peron’s San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club—the country’s first illegal dispensary. At this time, AIDS was wreaking havoc on the gay community and had claimed the life of Peron’s partner, Jonathan West, the previous year.
Peron taught Shaw to lobby, and she went door-to-door in Sacramento, meeting senators and hearing from patients about how cannabis helped them manage their agonizing AIDS-related symptoms. In September 1995, Shaw helped Peron open the Prop 215 campaign headquarters in San Francisco, and in July 1996, they opened another in Fairfax. Victory came to the campaign on November 5, 1996, when Proposition 215 passed with 55 percent of the vote, making California the first state to legalize medical cannabis for approved patients.
In 1997, Shaw opened the very first legal licensed dispensary, The Marin Alliance CBC, in Fairfax, Marin County. “CBC” stands for Cannabis Buyers Club in homage to Peron, her close friend and mentor, who passed away in 2018.
A 2011 crackdown led by the US attorney for the Northern District of California, Melinda Haag, closed the Marin Alliance and Shaw was banned for life from working in the industry she helped create. But, in 2015, US District Judge Charles Breyer decided that the injunction was unenforceable as long as a congressional prohibition on spending funds to challenge California’s medical cannabis law was in place, and the ruling was overturned.
The Marin Alliance CBC reopened in 2017 with the support of both the local community and patients and the tireless Shaw continues to operate it to this day.
This story was originally published in issue 44 of the print edition of Cannabis Now.