Medical Marijuana

Where is the compassion?

'Brownie' Mary Rathbun

Heroic caregiver who defended her medicinal cannabis distribution and helped change California Law


Brownie Mary was an elderly nurse who became well known around San Francisco for her courageous work as a volunteer at San Francisco General Hospital. She had been baking marijuana brownies for AIDS patients, 'her kids', for many years.

"I know from smoking pot for over 30 years that this is a medicine that works. It works for the wasting syndrome &emdash; these kids have no appetite; but when they eat a brownie, they get out of bed and make themselves some food. And for chemotherapy, they eat half a brownie before a session, and when they get out, they eat the other half. It eases the pain. That's what I'm here to do."

She was arrested three times for her crime of being a Good Samaritan who took great personal risks to bake up and deliver free medicine for people with AIDS. Brownie Mary became a cause celebre for reform and her case was a rallying cry for advocates of change. San Francisco proclaimed a day in her honor, and the charges against her were eventually dropped She was a moving force behind both San Francisco's medical marijuana initiative, Proposition P, and later California's statewide medical marijuana initiative, Prop 215, which is now part of the state's Health and Safety Code (HS 11362.5). She also inspired the formation of the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, and the building that housed it was dedicated to her and called the Brownie Mary Building.

Unlike some advocates of Medical Marijuana, Brownie Mary felt that protecting a few patients was just not enough; that fundamental rights are for everyone, not just a select few. She stood for freedom of choice for everyone, sick and healthy alike. To Mary, that always included the right of adults to smoke marijuana socially and the right of farmers to grow industrial hemp.

Mary had serious leg problems and eventually had to drop out of her activism, but continued to lend moral support as a symbol of enlightened compassion and what one person can do by standing up against the system of injustice. When she died in 1999, a memorial was held in the streets of San Francisco, and even the local District Attorney showed up to pay his respects and say a few words in honor of this courageous woman who changed history.

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Medical Marijuana