Much of what we have accomplished in the medical marijuana movement results from the brave and determined actions of a small group of key individuals.
One of these was a true American folk hero named Brownie Mary who died in 1999. Like Rosa Parks, Brownie Mary said a loud and uncompromising “No!” to heartless and irrationally cruel authority. The arrest of the activist AIDS nurse in San Francisco in the 1990s was truly a shot heard ‘round the world that ignited the state-level rebellion against federal refusal to allow the seriously ill to use cannabis as a medicine.
Her civil disobedience — giving marijuana edibles to AIDS patients and getting arrested and tried for it — helped galvanize public opinion in California, which became the first state in the world to legalize medical marijuana 20 years ago this November — kicking off a global revolution.
Brownie Mary was legally known as Mary Rathbun and by the 1980s she was well-known for selling weed brownies in the largely gay- and lesbian-populated Castro district of San Francisco. Mary was arrested twice by the same cop, convicted and sentenced to community service. She fulfilled it at SHANTI, a support organization for the terminally ill.
After her sentence was completed, Brownie Mary continued to work with Shanti. As the AIDS crisis began to overwhelm San Francisco, SHANTI and Mary worked the front lines. Rathbun left SHANTI to volunteer at the world’s first dedicated AIDS ward established at San Francisco General Hospital.
In today’s world of effective treatments for AIDS, it might be hard to understand how terrifying the mysterious disease was. People didn’t know how AIDS spread, and terminal patients became horrifyingly disfigured.
Amidst the horror, Brownie Mary was named Volunteer of the Year for three years running, assisting the sickest of the sick: taking them their medications, pushing them in wheelchairs to appointments, comforting them through suffering — and slipping them marijuana brownies that kept them hungry, eating and happy. Hospital staff looked the other way.
Mary did her medicinal baking across the Golden Gate Bridge in Sonoma County where a pot dealer friend donated plant trim and sack “shake” unfit for smoking.
One day, as she was folding a half-pound sack of ground cannabis into a vat of butter, a sheriff’s deputy dropped by to serve a warrant on the dealer, but caught Mary green-handed. Rathbun was arrested for trafficking, jailed and made her one jail phone call to her longtime friend, marijuana entrepreneur and gay rights activist Dennis Peron.
Thanks to Peron, Brownie Mary posted bail and was released into a herd of news cameras and reporters ready to interview, saying, ‘the little old lady arrested for baking marijuana brownies for AIDS patients’.
Her intensity and sincerity made her a fascinating presence on TV. She looked straight into the camera and spoke from her heart with the sincere glimmer of a tear in her eye and absolute righteousness, “I’m not going to stop baking pot brownies for my kids with AIDS!”
CNN put her story into heavy rotation on both their domestic and foreign outlets and news spread around the world, triggering local protests and rallies. San Francisco leaders declared Brownie Mary Day, and citizens rallied for her at City Hall.
“If the narcs think I’m going to stop baking pot brownies for my kids with AIDS, they can go fuck themselves in Macy’s window,” she reportedly said.
In court, she faced a serious felony, and a conservative prosecutor who whispered, “I’m going to kick this old lady’s ass,” at the trial’s opening.
Quite the opposite. Rathbun’s lawyer got her confession to the arresting officer thrown out as a Miranda violation, and the entire case collapsed. Brownie Mary became a triumphant American folk hero. She inspired research proposals on marijuana for AIDS by Dr. Donald Abrams, who had witnessed cannabis’ value on his own partner who died of the disease. When the federal government refused to allow the research, even conservatives were disgusted, fueling Proposition 215’s passage with 56 percent of the vote.
Since then, global research has confirmed the health benefits of cannabis for AIDS weight gain and immune system response. Later animal research found cannabinoids directly block the spread of AIDS in simians.
Much of that progress is the result of one little, old lady who stood up to authority and bravely said, “No! I will not stop baking pot brownies for my kids with AIDS!”
Here’s Brownie Mary’s canna-butter recipe, from Brownie Mary herself.
Please note: All the recipes in this book must be made from the leaf and/or shake of high-grade pot. It must be cleaned first, ground in a blender and sifted through a flour sifter. I work with sick and dying people all the time. Therefore, my recipes are made with simplicity as well as good health in mind.
1 pound of butter or margarine
5 oz. marijuana
Melt butter in large frying pan. Add marijuana. Cook Covered on low heat for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Let cool overnight, then store in a covered dish in the refrigerator.
For Brownie Mary’s Pot Brownies
Purchase 1 box of pre-made brownie mix. Substitute marijuana butter for butter/oil in the recipe. Bake. Distribute responsibly. Change world.
By Clint Werner