Cannabis has played a central role in many counterculture movements in our past. A common characteristic of advocacy for both LGBTQ rights and access to cannabis is that before before the last decade, both were outside legal and social approval. Some of the most famous activists in history realized the great value of cannabis as a symbol of unity since cannabis legalization ties together with other human rights pursuits. One such activist, Mary Jane Rathbun, known as "Brownie Mary" is well recognized for her pursuit of cannabis as medicine. Her life's work was about much more than just cannabis, however, and with Pride Month here, Mary Jane deserves reflection for her commitment to justice and equality in a time of American history when both were unfortunately lacking.
Mary Jane was devoted to the principles she held sacred and was a memorable figure everywhere she went. “Magical brownies for sale, magically delicious!” Mary called as she handed out her baked goods in the predominantly gay Castro District in San Francisco in the early 1980s. When some of these neighborhood friends were diagnosed with HIV and AIDS as the disease first became a public health crisis, much of what she baked she gave away for free. Gay AIDS patients, whose bodies were ravaged by the strong pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by doctors, were among the first to hail marijuana’s medical potential.
She later provided support while traversing the halls of San Francisco Hospital’s AIDS ward, delivering free marijuana-infused goods to sick patients during the epidemic’s brutal early days.
Mary Jane embodies the deep link between the LGBTQ rights movement and the medical cannabis movement. And there’s a direct line connecting her advocacy to the widespread cannabis access from which millions of Americans benefit from now. Decades later, Brownie Mary’s legacy looms as large as ever — both as an incredible LGBTQ ally and a pioneer of cannabis access.
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