• High Vibes Media

Women of Weed: Brownie Mary.

Updated: May 15, 2020

Written By Rebecca Victoria

Women of Weed is a new High Vibes Media series highlighting admirable ladies who work to educate and advocate for the cannabis community.

There once was a badass little old lady who baked pot brownies.

Brownie Mary by Maureen Hurley, 1992.

Baking weed brownies started out as a side hustle to make extra cash. It ultimately turned into distributing laced chocolate baked goods to AIDS patients, years of legal battles and eventually the legalization of medical cannabis use in California. It was all started by a seemly mild-mannered woman who was known for being outspoken, smoking weed and never being afraid of breaking the rules. She was arrested on more than one occasion for providing these pot brownies to the public. Not only was she a cannabis baker, but she was also an activist for the cannabis and the LGBTQ+ community. She spent many years as a volunteer at San Francisco General Hospital in the 1980’s when the AIDS epidemic hit the city. Her magical medicinal chocolate squares brought comfort and peace to those who suffered from the lack of medicine, research, and compassion that came with being diagnosed with AIDS. She was recognized and remembered for her heart of gold, fierce spirit, and even called the angel of mercy. Her name was Mary Jane Rathbun, better known as ‘Brownie Mary’.

Brownie Mary was a lifelong activist for civil rights and enjoyed cannabis.

Rathbun was born on Dec 22, 1922, and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her spirit and fight manifested themselves at a young age. At the age of 13 she fought back a nun who tried to cane her. Rathbun continued to march to the beat of her own drum as she got older. She dropped out of high school to become a waitress. She worked in restaurants for 50 years while she simultaneously traveled all over the country to advocate for the rights of laborers and women. After World War II, she moved to San Francisco. She got married and divorced and had her daughter, Peggy. Peggy tragically died in a car accident. Shortly after, Rathbun settled back down in San Francisco. She enjoyed the everyday joint and in the ’70s she started baking her weed laced brownies to get additional income. She advertised her unique recipe as “magically delicious” in the streets of San Francisco with flyers. The brownie flyers ended up catching law enforcement and media attention. Rathbun became known as 'Brownie Mary' and was arrested for the first time. In her lifetime, she was arrested three times for cannabis-related charges.

She was also labeled the Angel of Mercy for her volunteer work in the AIDS hospital ward.

Brownie Mary, wearing one of her signature buttons. SCOTT SOMMERDORF / SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE / POLARIS

As a result of her arrest, Rathbun was assigned community service hours. She spent those hours at San Francisco General Hospital in the AIDS ward. The disease had just reported by the Center for Disease Control as an epidemic. It affected over 10,000 gay men just in the San Francisco area. Rathbun continued to baked her special brownies, only now she passed them out for free to patients. She understood that for those diagnosed with the auto-immune disease the treats could help provide relief from nausea and induce hunger. The brownies could even help those diagnosed with cancer. She continued to volunteer at the hospital long after she met her court-mandated community service requirements. The people she met in the ward were her community and her family. She referred to them as her “gay friends”, her “kids”. She had compassion for a community that was discriminated against and denied basic medical treatment. She fought in court and on the streets for her iright to distribute cannabis as medicine. She became a vital and positive part of the community. In 1992 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared August 25, “Brownie Mary Day”.

Best Buds: The joint that sparked the cannabis movement.

The cover to Brownie Mary’s cookbook. COURTESY SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY <https://sfpl.org/>

Dennis Peron is a name often associated with Brownie Mary. Peron was also an advocate for the LGBTQ+ and cannabis community. He met Rathbun in 1974 when she asked for a puff off his joint at a local cafe. The two became good friends. They worked together over the years to distribute cannabis to those in need. In 1992 Rathbun helped Person open the first public cannabis dispensary, the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. The two even wrote a cookbook "Brownie Mary's Marijuana Cookbook and Dennis Peron's Recipe for Social Change". Together they advocated for the legal usage of cannabis for medical purposes. Rathbun and Peron worked together to help pass Proposition P in 1991 as well as Proposition 215 in 1996. These propositions were California’s first steps towards legalizing and normalizing cannabis. The legislation allowed people legally buy, sell and consume pot as medicine. Peron and Brownie Mary remained close throughout the years. Peron stayed by Rathbun's side as she aged and her health began to deteriorate. She was known to eat her own brownies to help ease the pain of her ailments which included osteoarthritis. Brownie Mary died of a heart attack in 1999. Hundreds of people showed up to her vigil.

“I have seen a lot of people die, and it always hurts me, but this was too much. I really couldn’t handle it,” Peron told Cannabis Culture.

In 2018, almost 10 years after Brownie Mary died, California passed Prop 64. It legalized the recreational usage and sales of cannabis for anyone over the age of 21. The market is expected to reach over 5 billion dollars in value by 2022. Brownie Mary’s story of advocacy and compassion remain a staple in the history of cannabis in California. Her feisty spirit, compassion for others, and love of the plant changed how generations of people percieved cannabis. She bridged together the LGBTQ community and the cannabis industry in California with love, chocolate and a little bit of weed.