Category Archives: Marijuana

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Peter Brooker/Shutterstock (221195c). Mary Rathburn with Dennis Peron.  MARY RATHBUN WHO SUPPLIED MARIJUANA TO AIDS VICTIMS – 1993


On December 22, 1922 a girl was born in Chicago.  The parents, Irish-Catholic and conservative in their views, named their baby Mary Jane. They had no irony in mind, but it would turn out to be exactly that.

Mary Jane Rathburn grew up in Minneapolis and attended a Catholic grammar school. As was the case in many schools during the 30s, teachers physically punished recalcitrant students.  The problem with caning a recalcitrant student is they might fight back.

Mary Jane did. Mary Jane left school. Mary Jane left home. Mary Jane became a waitress, a job that would be her primary one for most of her life. At least the primary one if someone asked her, “So what do you do for a living?”

Mary Jane was far more than a waitress.

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

Early activism

She campaigned for the right of miners to form unions. In the late 1940s, she worked as an activist promoting abortion rights for Minneapolis women.

In between, during World War II and living in San Francisco, she married, had a baby in 1955, and named her Peggy. Divorced, Mary Jane  and Peggy moved to Reno, Nevada. In  1974, a drunk driver hit and killed Peggy.

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

San Francisco again

Mary Jane moved back to San Francisco.

In 1974 she met fellow activist Dennis Peron at Cafe Flore. They shared a joint.

Cafe Flore was in the Castro district, a largely gay area of San Francisco. During the war, the armed services dishonorably discharged soldiers found to be gay and many of those discharges took place at the port of San Francisco. Many stayed.

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

Becoming Brownie Mary

In  the late 1970s Mary Jane began to supplement her income by baking brownies. She decided that adding marijuana to her brownies would make them what she described as “magically delicious.”

Mary Jane was not the first to use cannabis as an ingredient. Humans had been using it for centuries. Most famously in the west was the Alice B Toklas’s fudge recipe that was included in her 1954 cookbook.

In 1981 the law caught up with Mary.  It raided her apartment and hauled away “35 lbs of margarine, 50 lbs of flour and sugar, 22 dozen eggs, 21,000 sq ft of plastic wrap, and 20 lbs of high-grade cannabis.”

Mary was upset they said it was margarine. She said she only used the best butter.

In order to pay for her legal defense, she sold her belongings – including the kitchen table.

A judge sentenced her to 500 hours of community service which she willingly completed by working at a hospital with young men who were dying of the yet-unnamed AIDS.

For the rest of her life she continued to minister to AIDS patients and providing for some relief by bringing her increasingly famous brownies. She bought nearly all the ingredients with her own money. Somehow, the marijuana appeared for free from generous growers.

Two other arrests occurred, but her reputation of assistance led to a lenient sentence. The last charge was dropped.

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

Medical Marijuana

As the AIDS crisis grew and the use of cannabis demonstrated its  obvious and effective analgesic properties, Brownie Mary became increasingly involved in the Proposition P campaign to recommend its legalization for medicinal use in San Francisco in 1991.  She received a standing ovation at its hearings.

The proposition passed overwhelmingly but not until 1996’s passage of Proposition 215 was the recommendation legalized.

In 2008 the medical marijuana group “Americans for Safe Access” estimated that California had more than 200,000 doctor-qualified medical cannabis users.

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

 San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

In 1992 San Francisco declared a ‘Brownie Mary Day’  to honor her work with dying patients in the AIDS ward. 5,000 people rallied in her praise.

That same year, she and Dennis Peron founded the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. The Buyers Club was meant to provide a place for safe distribution of medical cannabis to people with cancer, AIDS,  and other diseases. Akin somewhat to the Prohibition speakeasies of the 1920s, the product was illegal and raids regular.

Just weeks before the Prop 215 vote, police arrested Dennis Peron.

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

Disabilities catch up

By the mid-1990s, arthritic knees forced her to retire but she continued to bake and support positive marijuana legislation.

A Marijuana dot com article said, “Her sympathies were always with the underdog, the poor, the busted and the downtrodden,” John Entwistle Jr., a former legalization advocate and longtime friend of Rathbun, told “One could see that she had overcome tremendous difficulties in her own life and that created a natural empathy and sense of compassion for others that was tangible and sincere.”

Brownie Mary  died of a heart attack at age 76 on April 10, 1999.

On April 17, 300 people, including her friend, district attorney Terence Hallinan, attended a candlelight vigil held in her honor in the Castro.

Hallinan told a crowd of several hundred people gathered at her memorial that she was a hero who will “one day be remembered as the Florence Nightingale of the medical marijuana movement.”

Friend and partner activist Dennis Peron said, “I figure right now she’s making a deal with God: If you let me in, I’ll make you a dozen brownies on the house.’ ”

Activist Brownie Mary Jane

Haight Street Head Shops

Haight Street Head Shops

On January 3, 1966 the legendary Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street opened its doors. It was likely the first, but no one was keeping track.

Haight Street Head Shops

Haight Street Head Shops

Why “Head” ?

Why did the word “head” come to refer to someone who used marijuana? The association between the word head and drug use goes back at least to 1911 when the writer C B Chrysler wrote in White Slavery Opium smokers, ‘hop fiends,’ or ‘hop heads,’ as they are called, are the fiercest of all the White Slavers.”

In other words, the drug of choice, usually an illegal one, was the prefix for the word “head” until the word alone referred to a drug user.

In the 1960, the most common drug was marijuana, of course, so a “head” commonly referred to that person and that drug.

Haight Street Head Shops

Feed Your HeadHead shops

While that use of the word may have been an underground one, entrepreneurs would still shy away from using that specific a word to name their establishment.

Head shops were not simply a supply store. They were places where so-called underground news was found whether it be in newspapers, flyers, or political conversation.

What were a head shop’s supplies? Black lights for posters that used inks containing phosphors. When the ultraviolet light hit those inks the posters glowed. A nice enhancement to an evening atmosphere in a dorm room or a basement rec room.

The pill case, but not the pills, The grass container, but not the grass.

Candles and incense. The Beatles influence went beyond music, of course, and their delving into Eastern philosophy meant those things associated with the East were automatically interesting.

When tie-dyed clothing became popular, it joined the scene along with other “hip” clothing along side water buffalo sandals.

Haight Street Head Shops


Haight Street Head Shops

Not that a head shop sold the drugs themselves (at least not directly), but the shop sold those things necessary for drug use. Rolling papers (Zig Zag? Big Bambu?), hash pipes, and water pipes (for those harsher cheaper blends that were the only mixes sometimes available or adding a bit of mentholated mouth wash to the water for a cooler drag).

Haight Street Head Shops

On line

Google “on line head shop” and not surprisingly one will discover that that they are there in full. “Smoke Cartel,” “Dankstop,” “Everyonedoesit,”  “Smokesmith Gear“, and many others offer both the new necessities (vapes) and the old school standbys.

As always, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Haight Street Head Shops

Beatles Say Legalize Grass

Beatles Say Legalize Grass

July 24, 1967

Beatles Say Legalize Grass

Beatles Say Legalize Grass

Controversy and the Beatles

Beatles Say Legalize Grass

By 1967, the Beatles were used to media scrutiny and controversy. Sometimes the media thrust it upon them; sometimes the Beatles put themselves out front. John’s 1965 comment comparing the Beatles’ popularity to that of Christ resulted in some radio stations banning their music and some record stores refusing to sell their records.

The original 1966 album cover for “Yesterday and Today” with them sitting in bloody butcher smocks holding pieces of meat and broken baby dolls was so controversial that Capital Records immediately withdrew the album, re-covered it, and only then re-released it.

Beatles Say Yes To Grass

Beatles Say Legalize Grass

John Hopkins

In 1967, most people and their govenments continued to view marijuana as a gateway drug, addictive, and deadly. While research had already suggested that none of those views were accurate, society continued to legislate against its use, sale, and production.

Those familiar with the substance saw it in a different light.

John “Hoppy” Hopkins was a British photographer, journalist, researcher and political activist. He used marijuana and a jury found him guilty of its possession and use. The judge sentenced Hopkins to 9 months in prison.

A “Free Hoppy” movement resulted.  [2015 Guardian obituary]

Beatles Say Legalize Grass

Stephen Abrams

Stephen Irwin Abrams was an American drug policy activist living in the United Kingdom. He led the “Free Hoppy” movement and wrote a full page advertisement that demanded cannabis law reform.

Beatles Say Legalize Grass

Beatles join

Among the dozens of researchers, academics, scientists, and other well-known people, Abrams sought out the Beatles imprimatur. They not only granted the use of their names to the petition, Paul paid for the advertisement in  The Times. Paul did not want it known he had done so, but having such an illustrious person sponsoring such a controversial piece in a major paper meant the secret was poorly kept.

The text’s lead sentence read, “The law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.”

It went on to speak to the view of marijuana’s danger and dispute those views.

64 signatures appeared.  After each of the Beatles’ names, the initials M.B.O. appeared: Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Queen Elizabeth had honored them with the award on October 26, 1965.

Click on the following to view the entire text, from the excellent Beatles Bible site.

Beatles Say Legalize Grass

John Lennon, ex-M.B.E

Two years later, on Nov. 25, 1969, John Lennon returned his MBE medal stating, “Your Majesty, I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts. With love. John Lennon of Bag”

Likely, many of the same people who had criticized the Queen’s honoring John with the award because they felt him unworthy, again criticized Lennon for returning it.

Gosh darn it. The Beatles: damned when they do. Damned when they don’t.

Beatles Say Legalize Grass