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Brownie Mary great American activist

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Cannabis Sacrament Minister
Cannabis Sacrament Minister

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 09, 2004 8:30 pm    Post subject: Brownie Mary great American activist Reply with quote

Mary Rathbun -- a.k.a. Brownie Mary -- became a fixture of San Francisco's Castro district in the 1970s when, carrying a napkin-lined basket, she sold her self-described "magical brownies" for $2 to $4 apiece to passers by. She turned to charitable baking in the 1980s, when the AIDS crisis began to peak among the city's gays and claimed the lives of many of the young men she had befriended after her only child died in a car accident. At the height of her baking operation, from the mid-1980s to about 1990, she had so many requests from sick people for her marijuana treats that she pulled names from a cookie jar to decide who would receive them. Along the way, she became an outspoken advocate for legalizing the medical use of marijuana, which she believed eased AIDS patients' pain and boosted their appetites. "My kids are dying, some of them in the streets. Why marijuana is not allowed is something I will never, never understand," a tearful Rathbun said in 1995. The next year, California passed Proposition 215, becoming the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Rathbun came to San Francisco from Minnesota in the 1940s and worked as a waitress for four decades. When her daughter died in a car accident in the 1970s, she began to befriend many of the young gay men who were flocking to the city and she realized that she could still be someone's mother if she wanted to. In the mid-1980s, when many of her friends began falling ill, she decided to give them the marijuana-laced brownies, believing they would lighten their pain and help them eat and thus avoid the wasting syndrome that accompanied AIDS. She passed out the brownies in clear defiance of the law, not, she once told the Chicago Tribune, because she wanted to be a hero. She did it because "it was something I wanted to do to help my gay friends." Soon her baking efforts expanded and she was producing hundreds of brownies every few months. The marijuana was donated by growers. It would simply appear on the doorstep of her public housing project apartment near Haight-Ashbury. But she paid for the sugar, flour, chocolate and other baking supplies out of her $650 monthly Social Security checks.

She gained national attention with her 1992 arrest, when police caught her in the act of whipping up her brownies with 2.5 pounds of marijuana at a friend's home in the Sonoma County town of Cazadero. The charges were dismissed several months later, after the district attorney for Sonoma County realized the trial of "the grandmother who bakes pot brownies" would be a media circus. Rathbun did "straight' baking, too, whipping up peanut butter and chocolate cookies that could only give a sugar high, delivering them by the dozens to AIDS patients at city hospitals. Every Thursday for more than 16 years, the petite figure with curly white hair showed up on Ward 86--the AIDS ward--of San Francisco General Hospital where she volunteered, visiting patients and carrying specimens to the lab. Although she had no grandchildren, she acted like everyone's grandmother, calling every patient "honey" or "sweetheart" and regarding them all as "my kids."

"She was a legend around here," J.B. Molaghan, a nurse practitioner at the AIDS clinic, said Monday of the woman who was voted the hospital's volunteer of the year for three years. Rathbun, he recalled, maintained her visits even when she was in great pain. An arthritis sufferer, she had two artificial knees. She also suffered a bout of colon cancer, Molaghan said. She described herself as an anarchist; she often wore a cannabis leaf pendant, even during a court appearance after her 1992 arrest. Molaghan called her "refreshingly irreverent," a deeply compassionate woman whose often off-color language clashed with her little old lady image. "She adopted everybody," he said. "She helped a lot of people who otherwise were unable to receive pain relief." She scrimped and saved to buy the ingredients for her baked goodies, Molaghan said, sometimes freezing parts of a batch for the next week if she didn't have enough money to bake a fresh batch.

Mary died of a heart attack on April 10th, 1999 at San Francisco's Laguna Honda nursing home, a public facility for the aged poor. She was 77.

(Source: LA Times)


Mary Jane Rathbun, AKA "Brownie Mary"
April 20, 1999
By Dennis Peron
Californian's for Compassionate Use
Mary Jane Rathbun, better known as "Brownie Mary" died peacefully with friends at her side on the evening of April 10, 1999. Mary attracted nationwide attention several times during her 25 plus years in San Francisco. She moved to San Francisco from Reno, Nevada in the early seventies following the tragic death of her only daughter, Peggy in an automobile accident.

The first of what was to be three busts for baking marijuana brownies gained national attention for her age, which was about 65 at that time and her fliers spread on Castro Street light poles advertising her wares, while working at I-Hop as a waitress. America was really taken with her defiance and course language. The result of that bust was 500 hours of community services; 500 hours which would turn into 18 years of community servitude. At first she bounced around doing hours with Saint Anthony's and the Community thrift store.

It was the early '80's, the beginning of what was to be known as the AIDS epidemic that would sweep like a tidal wave across San Francisco and America forever changing us. It was the Shanti Project that first responded to the epidemic and it was there Mary found her home, caring for the young men she would later call her kids. She would be the first volunteer at Ward 86.

Part of her regimen at S.F. General was baking "straight cookies" for all the Ward and on the side baking marijuana brownies and giving them away to kids she met at the hospital. In the late '80's (while still on probation), as she was delivering brownies to one of the first AIDS patients that the same cop that busted her the first time stopped her on the street, checked out her bag, and busted her again. This time the charges were dropped under public pressure and Mary continued to work quietly at the now bustling S.F. General's AIDS ward.

It was her third bust in 1990 that would reverberate around the world. It was news because of the fact that all the brownies she was caught in the act of baking were going to her "list" of patients dying of AIDS. She was 71 years old and was working six days a week at the hospital, "Brownie Mary" became a hero to people on every continent, virtually overnight. Dr. Donald Abrams was stunned at the AIDS conference in Switzerland as he watched Brownie Mary on television, having just seen her the day before roaming the Ward cheering people up.

She beat the rap and went on to help me start the Cannabis Buyers Club on Church Street. That Club grew and eventually moved to Market Street in a high rise dedicated as the "Brownie Mary Compassionate Care Center" by the late Senator Marks and Supervisor Tom Ammiano. She helped put both Proposition "P" on the '91 S.F. ballot and Proposition 215 on the '96 ballot. Her senior years were dedicated to legalizing medical marijuana, collecting signatures, giving interviews and caring for her kids.

Mary and I co-authored a book in 1994 called "Brownie Mary's Cookbook and Dennis Peron's Recipes for Social Change." In that book she refused to give the famous brownie recipe and instructed me, on her deathbed to retrieve the recipe from her safety deposit box and use it to raise money for charity. She told me to go to Betty Crocker or some cake company to see if they want it. I'm going to try Ben and Jerry's.

In the end we will all die. If there is a measurement of our lives maybe it's the love we leave behind, for the millions that loved Mary her spirit of giving and her fight for social justice will be a call for a new generation to get involved and never give up.

Her life changed the world and in her wake is a more compassionate and loving society. Thank you Brownie Mary, you will always be in our hearts.

-- Dennis Peron

Mary Rathbun's Awards & Honors
San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, Grand Marshal, 1996
San Francisco General Hospital, Volunteer of The Year, Ward 86, 1986
San Francisco Saints Alive Benefit, Declared a Living Saint, 1994
August 25, 1992 Declared Brownie Mary Day by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors


I'd known Brownie Mary and we'd lived through six years of incredible, events in San Francisco. I had met her at the Café Flore in the Castro district in 1974. I was smoking a jpint when a friend said, "That old lady wants a hit of your jpint." So I gave it to her and started a friendship that's lasted 20 years. I was carrying her brownies in my pot supermarket before the bust, but I didn't realize she was still doing it until I read in the newspaper that an old lady had been busted for making marijuana brownies. Mary was working as a waitress at the International House of Pancakes and was supplementing her income by making brownies, but because of her age and the sweetness of her character, San Francisco fell in love with her. Even the prosecutor was embarrassed by the case. Mary received a thirty day suspended sentence and three years probation with a search clause, and 500 hours of community service.

Those first 500 hours she worked at a variety of places, from the gay thrift store to the Shanty project, doing her community service in record time - 60 days. Although no longer obligated to do community service, she continued her work for St. Martin de Pores soup kitchen until 1982, when she joined the Shanty project, which was responding to the demands of the emerging AIDS crises. Mary had lost her only daughter in an auto accident in 1973, and now she adopted every kid in San Francisco as her own.


Of course Brownie Mary never stopped baking her brownies, but her clientele was definitely changing. It was on a sunny day, a year and a half after her first bust that Mary was delivering brownies to a friend with cancer, who was undergoing chemotherapy. Crossing Market Street, she walked right into the arms of Officer Bossard, who was one of the original busters. He asked Mary what she had in the bag, and promptly took her to jail when they found the brownies.

Interestingly, between Mary's first bust and her second bust, Officer Bossed was himself busted for being drunk and naked, shooting his gun off half baked in the hallway of his girlfriend's apartment. So we found the article describing Officer Bossard's bust and put it next to the article about Brownie Mary. We put the two articles together in a flier, asking which person was more dangerous, and we put a picture of Officer Bossard, drunk and naked, shooting his gun off, next to the picture of Mary baking her brownies.

The cops cried foul, to no avail. Again, the District Attorney, embarrassed by the case, dropped all the charges and refused to revoke her probation. The AIDS crises was now growing. Mary became the first volunteer on the AIDS ward, Ward 86 at SF General along with her friend, Terrell Burn. Mary continues to hold this position today. Thirteen years of volunteer work for the people she calls her kids.


Despite her busy schedule, Mary was still making brownies for the kids to ease the pain of this terrible illness. Three weeks before the hearings were to be held in San Francisco, concerning the implementation of Proposition P, Brownie Mary was busted in the act of baking brownies in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco. Because of her age and her 13 years of volunteer work, the media adored her, as much of America soon would. The requests for her to appear on talk shows poured in - - Maury Povitch, Sally Jesse Rafael, and others, as well as newspaper and magazine articles - - it was a feeding frenzy, and Mary was the meat. Her story was more about compassion than marijuana. Mary touched the hearts of America with her commitment and her passion. There was not going to be a deal with the District Attorney on this one. It was going all the way to trial.

Not. The preliminary trial was explosive, with three lawyers, one of them Tony Serra. Objections were flying. The narcs all looked like football players, all wearing pro-marijuana T-shirts. On the stand, they acted like prize fighters out to ship an old lady into submission. It didn't work. All that macho energy couldn't bring Mary down. The judge, in a ruling, stated that Brownie Mary was not read her Miranda rights, therefore the statement that she was making brownies for AIDS patients could not be admitted. The case against Brownie Mary was falling apart. Subsequently, the District Attorney, again embarrassed by this fine kettle of soup, dropped the charges.

Between the time of the arrest and the final disposition of the case, the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco honored Brownie Mary for her work and declared the date, August 25, 1992, Brownie Mary Day in the city. We had a rally in front of City Hall, which attracted 5000 people for Mary's cause. She appeared on Maury Povitch's show, ABC Evening News, and on the covers of major newspapers throughout California. Her bust focused attention on Proposition P, the medical marijuana initiative, which had won with an 80% yes vote the previous November. The hearing was held the same day as Mary's arraignment. At her arraignment, the judge threatened Mary with contempt of court because of the pro-legalization political buttons on her clothing. Her lawyers, Dick Nick and the brilliant Tony Serra, argued that Mary was allowed to wear anything she wanted and that she would not remove the buttons.

Mary rushed from Sonoma County to the crowded hearing room in San Francisco City Hall, where the implimentation of Proposition P was being considered. The hearings were very emotional, with testimony from Kenny Jenks, who, along with his wife, had AIDS. They had been busted in Florida for growing marijuana for medical purposes. He told how his wife had recently passed away, and that he was determined that no one should ever have to go through what they had gone through again. Amy Casey, the president of Nurses for Social Responsibility, spoke about her experience with many terminal patients, and how marijuana improves their outlook, helps them to hydrate themselves, and generally improves their quality of life. Dixie Ramango, a woman with multiple sclerosis, walked shakily up to the stand to tell about how marijuana was the only drug which helped her condition. Even a member of the hearing panel, Angela Alioto, talked about her own experience with her husband dying of cancer, and how marijuana allowed him to be conscious and with her in his last days, instead of being drugged up on robitol. When Mary walked in, the crowd went crazy, including members of the board, who greeted her with a standing ovation. Her statement was emotional and heartfelt. It gave meaning to marijuana as medicine.

Mary testified in support of SJR 8 in Sacramento before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Assembly Health Committee. I believe it was her testimony that swayed both committees to approve SJR 8. As members wiped tears from their eyes, SJR 8, the medical marijuana resolution, passed both houses of the state legislature by a bi-partisan overwhelming vote, and was sent to the President.

Brownie Mary has also testified before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors concerning their medical marijuana resolution, and the Fairfax City Council, home of Brownie Mary's friend, Barbara Sweeney, who has AIDS and was busted for having two marijuana plants.

Throughout her many years, Mary has worked tirelessly for a better world, from her protests about the Minnesota milk strike of 1937 to pro-choice demonstrations, beginning in 1941, to today, when she continues to bake her brownies, take care of her kids, and fight for justice.


I know from smoking pot for over thirty years that this is a medicine that works. It works for the wasting syndrome - - the 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.

The last bust created so much publicity that my list of kids is too long for me to handle everyone all at once. The growers and dealers who give their product free to help the suffering, have increased their donations, too. Now I bake 24 to 40 dozen or more brownies at a time. I pick as many names as I have dozens of brownies from my cookie jar, and each one gets a dozen.

I'm going to continue to work at Ward 86 like I have for the last nine years. I'm going to continue to bake my brownies and give them to my kids. I'll go to jail for what I believe. We've got to have medical marijuana. We need it now.

I'm seventy years old. I've had a great life. I just hope that one day before I die, we have legal marijuana.

-- Brownie Mary
"Today I choose to be happy. Today nothing will bother me. Today I'll have a great day!"
Lord Help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that YOU and I together cannot handle.
" I pass to you the torch that Christ once passed to me,others are still in the dark an need the light to see"
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