Mary Jane Rathbun, the chocolate brownie activist

Mary Jane Rathbun, the chocolate brownie activist

Durch: Laura Rueda Aktivismus

As with all struggles, to reach this point, many people have had to fight for the cause. One of the most original activists in the history of the medical cannabis fight was Mary Jane Rathbun, better known as Brownie Mary. Yes, activism can begin in a San Francisco neighbourhood in a kitchen baking cookies with a secret ingredient, marijuana.

Mary Jane Rathbun, the chocolate brownie activist

Deliciously magical brownies

Like all of us, Brownie Mary’s life had conventional parts. She married, had a daughter and worked most of her life as a waitress. However, since she was young, she was always very interested in social causes. As a teenager she campaigned for the right of miners to form unions and later worked as an activist for abortion rights in Minneapolis.

But it is in the 70s when she started earning some money baking and selling her cannabis brownies, which she advertised as „deliciously magical“ and that she sold to the LGBT community in San Francisco. And when she met the medical cannabis legalization activist, Dennis Peron, with whom in 1993 she wrote „Brownie Mary’s Marijuana Cookbook and Dennis Peron’s Recipe for Social Change.

Activist for medicinal cannabis

Through these cakes she began to make a profit, but they also constituted the beginning of her activism for the rights of medical marijuana. In the early 80’s she increased her production up to 50 dozen brownies a day, that’s 600 cakes which is some work!  And there began her problems. With all the extra work Mary Jane was more exposed, since she published her offers on the bulletin boards of San Francisco. The first time the police arrested her she was 57 years old and had over 8 kilos of cannabis and 54 dozen brownies in her house.

Mary Jane Rathbun, the chocolate brownie activist

This date is a milestone in her life for several reasons. The first because, upon hearing her case, the media nicknamed her Brownie Mary. The second because, in addition to the probation rules she had to comply with, she was sentenced to perform 500 hours of community service. And that’s how she came to the Shanti Project, a support group for people with HIV.

HIV and cannabis

Mary Jane Rathbun, the chocolate brownie activist

According to activist Dennis Peron she did those 500 hours in record time, just 60 days. „Although she was no longer required to do community service, she continued working for the St. Martin de Pores dining room until 1982, when she joined the Shanti project, which responded to the demands of the emerging AIDS crisis, which at that time was an unknown disease. Mary had lost her only daughter in a car accident and now adopted all the children of San Francisco as if they were her own. „

When their gay clients started getting sick with HIV, Rathbun noticed that cannabis helped them with the wasting syndrome and also discovered that the same thing happened with cancer patients. So people donated cannabis to Mary Jane and she baked brownies that she then distributed for free. Those 500 hours of community service became 18 years helping people with this mysterious disease that nothing was known about, only that it was killing young people and that it was related to gay men. That was the point at which the demands for the right of sick people to use cannabis for medicinal purposes began.

An important page in the legalization of cannabis

Among Mary Jane’s most important achievements were her pressure for the legalization of medicinal cannabis; her campaign for it to be legalized in San Francisco in 1991 and for the approval of Proposition 215 in California in 1996, legalizing the plant for therapeutic use. She was also involved in opening the first medical cannabis dispensary in the US, the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. It became well known nationally and internationally due to its three arrests and this motivated some researchers to propose one of the first clinical trials that studied the effects of cannabis in adults infected with HIV. However, Rathbun’s brownies recipe remains a secret.

She consumed her brownies therapeutically, having survived colon cancer, suffering gout and walking with articular knees. She took one half in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. During the last years of her life her health was so fragile that she even considered going to a doctor specializing in assisted suicide. On April 10, 1999, she died from a heart attack when she was 77 years old. She was living in a shelter for the poor.


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