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  • J. L. Campbell

How LGBTQ Ally Brownie Mary Paved the Way for Medical Marijuana

More than 140,000 Missouri residents have their medical marijuana card, but just a few years ago, taking advantage of the natural relief that cannabis provides was considered illegal. The fight to legalize medical marijuana and to reduce the stigma that surrounds cannabis use is ongoing, but the momentum is shifting as more people realize how beneficial cannabis can be for treating a myriad of medical conditions.

The fight to legalize medical marijuana may never have gotten as far without the pioneers and activists who helped pave the way for the legislation that would allow patients in Missouri and more than half of all U.S. states to access marijuana for medical treatment. One of the most unique and impactful pioneers is a woman known by the nickname “Brownie Mary.”

From IHOP to Providing Relief

Jane Rathbun - the woman who would go on to be known as Brownie Mary - was a waitress at the International House of Pancakes for more than 25 years. She supplemented her income with the side hustle of selling homemade cannabis brownies. Eventually, she began giving these brownies away to sick and dying hospital patients. Along the way, she became an iconic name in the fight to legalize medical marijuana.

Mary’s First Arrest

Brownie Mary’s first arrest happened on January 14, 1981 when word began to get around about her cannabis-infused baked goods. She teamed up with Dennis Peron, a fellow activist who sold her brownies at his underground black market dispensary, known as the Big Top Marijuana Market.

Peron was likely to blame for Mary being apprehended by authorities. He brazenly advertised her “magically delicious brownies” on billboards around San Francisco. And, if you were thinking she was just whipping up a small batch of marijuana brownies here and there, you may be surprised to learn that, when the police raided her home, they came away with 54 dozen brownies and over 18 pounds of marijuana.

When her court date arrived, she pleaded guilty to nine counts of possession. Since she was a first time offender, she was given three years probation and 500 hours of community service. It was this community service that led to Mary’s breakthrough acts of bravery and compassion.

From Profit to Compassion

Brownie Mary’s community service mandate led to her working with The Shanti Project, a support group for HIV/AIDS patients. A profile on the blog for law firm Wagner & Lynch describes this as a catalyst for Mary to use her brownies to make a difference.

Mary started to notice that when AIDS patients enjoyed her “magical” brownies that they would feel relief. She also noticed a similar effect when her brownies were given to cancer patients. She discovered her brownies could make a difference in the lives of those who were suffering from a variety of ailments.

She began giving away her brownies to patients at San Francisco’s General Hospital, where she volunteered. She would hand them out to the sick and dying. Word got around about the good Mary was doing, and people started donating marijuana to her cause. She would use her $650 monthly check from Social Security to purchase baking supplies, and the legend of Brownie Mary was born.

Brownie Mary continued on her mission into the early 90’s, never wavering in her mission to provide relief to as many patients as possible. She continued to face legal challenges, but believed in her mission, and became a spokesperson in the fight to make cannabis accessible to all patients who needed it.

A Leader in the Cannabis Movement

In 1992, shortly after being arrested for the third time, Brownie Mary stood in front of more than 5,000 people outside of San Francisco’s City Hall. The seventy year-old activist had recently been arrested for the third time. On this particular occasion, the police had raided her home and found her in the midst of whipping up a batch of her famous cannabis-infused brownies.

Despite the very real possibility of getting in even more trouble legally, she stood behind her cause fearlessly. Brownie Mary told the crowd outside City Hall that she wasn’t about to stop baking brownies to help those suffering from AIDS.

She knew that the cannabis in her brownies was easing the pain that so many AIDS patients were suffering from, and making a real difference. Her brownies were helping to ease nausea and help many patients with their appetite.

A profile in Bon Appétit describes Brownie Mary as a woman who would not veer from her mission, no matter what the police threatened her with. The fact that this defiance came from a seemingly unassuming seventy year-old woman made many people rethink their stance on marijuana as medicine.

While her work was mostly with those suffering from the AIDS crisis, it opened a door to seeing the medicinal value of cannabis as a treatment for a wide array of other conditions, helping patients worldwide.

A Legacy That Lives On

Jane Rathbun, AKA Brownie Mary, is an icon in the movement to legalize medical marijuana. She died of a heart attack in 1999 at the age of 77, but her impact is still felt around the world every day. Her work with the LGBTQ+ community during the devastating HIV and AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and early 90s makes her a beloved figure in the gay community as well.

Hers is a legacy of compassion that teaches us that we can question laws and ideals at any age and make a choice for the better. Next time you take a trip to a Missouri dispensary, remember that you have Brownie Mary to thank.

Make Your Own Cannabis Brownies

If all this talk about Brownie Mary’s impact has you thinking you’d like to try your hand at making your own cannabis brownies, we’ve got you covered. CLICK HERE for our simple marijuana brownie recipe, as well as some other beginner-level baked edibles, including a cannabutter cake and shortbread recipe. Enjoy them in memory of Brownie Mary, and remember that activists like her paved the way for Missourians to be able to feel better with the help of medical marijuana.

Relax. It’s legal

Cannabis is medicine. If you are ready to join more than 140,000 Missourians who are enjoying natural relief, all you’ll need is your Missouri medical marijuana card. If you don’t have your card yet, we can help you with that. Our medical staff is standing by to take you through a quick and easy evaluation to see if you qualify. Schedule an appointment with a marijuana doctor online by CLICKING HERE, or give us a call at (877) 303-3117 to talk to a patient support representative.


Doctors Who Care.

Relief You Can Trust.

At Missouri Marijuana Card, our mission is helping everyone achieve wellness safely and conveniently through increased access to medical marijuana. Our focus on education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce the stigma for our patients by providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.

Call us at (877) 303-3117, or simply book a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!

Check out Missouri Marijuana Card’s Blog to keep up to date on the latest medical marijuana news, tips, and information. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to join the medical marijuana conversation in Missouri!

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