September 9, 1992
SAN FRANCISCO’S MOTHER THERESA
AND THE QUEEN OF POT
By Paul DeRienzo
Brownie Mary Rathbun, the grey-haired 70 year old resident of a San Francisco
housing project for senior citizens, has been named volunteer of the year
for the past three years in a row at San Francisco General Hospital’s
AIDS ward. Despite a citywide day in Brownie Mary’s honor recently
voted by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors her next home may be a
In July Brownie Mary was arrested while baking her trademark confection,
chocolate fudge and nut brownies each laced with about 3 grams of marijuana.
She faces up to five years in prison for possession of under two pounds
of pot but Brownie say’s she’s willing to go to jail for her
cause because marijuana helps AIDS Sufferers relieve the nausea that frequently
accompanies chemotherapy. The federal government doesn’t recognize
any therapeutic value for pot and doctors are not allowed to prescribe
it without permission from the Drug Enforcement Administration. The medical
profession does recognize that marijuana is at least somewhat effective
in blocking nausea and allows a synthetic form of THC, the active ingredient
in pot, to be prescribed under the name Marinol. Brownie Mary argues that
Marinol pills are undigestible by most critically ill people while her
brownies not only stop nausea but stimulate the appetite of people wasting
away from AIDS.
Brownie Mary wits recently in New York City to appear on the Maury Povitch
Show and CBS Good Morning She also spoke with Downtown about her concerns
for the people Suffering front AIDS that she calls "my kids."
We met in the coffee shop of a Midtown hotel where Brownie Mary was enjoying
brunch with a fellow San Francisco activist. Brownie Mary was Obviously
tickled by the limo on loan from CBS where she had appeared that morning
and she was anxious to tour the city before her plane left for the West
Cost. She was dressed in a red pants suit and bright red sweater with
a red ribbon on her left shoulder. Around her neck was the image of a
green marijuana leaf on a thin gold chain.
Paul DeRienzo: Why are you here in New York?
Brownie Mary: I am from San Francisco and I’ve been a volunteer
on the AIDS Outpatient ward for nine years. I was making marijuana brownies
for my unfortunately I had to kind of play God, which is not right but
I couldn’t make enough to give at needed some. So I picked out the
worst—got a dozen every two or three months. Meanwhile, I got this
dope from volunteers, restaurants donated eggs…
Pot totally takes away the nausea, it is a wonderful appetite stimulant
for the kids with the wasting syndrome and it make‘s them feel good
for a day, and an maybe get out of bed that day. They may feel like walking
to the kitchen and doing something for themselves.
Their self-respect has been taken away because they’re constantly
relying on either a visiting nurse or a hospice nurse or one of the volunteers.
They feel like hell because they lose their dignity with somebody always
having to wait on them. If one day they can feel good—great.
What led you to give patients the brownies?
I was busted 12 years because I had a cottage industry going. I was making
magically delicious brownies. That was a legitimate bust because I was
selling and I got three years probation and 500 hours of community service.
A soup kitchen in San Francisco called my lawyer and said they’d
love to have Brownie Mary come here and work.
When the AIDS epidemic broke seriously at the end of 1982 I joined Shanti,
which is San Francisco’s patient care program that dealt with the
terminally ill. When we became overwhelmed by the AIDS epidemic they just
worked with AIDS patients. Shanti had the first practical support group
and I joined for it for that reason. That’s where we had clients
and I’d do their banking or cooked. I also cooked twice a week in
the very first Shanti house to house people with AIDS who didn’t
have anyplace else to live. Now there’s 20 or 30 of them in San
Francisco alone. We were all sworn to secrecy because people on either
side might freak.
I cooked at the Shanti house the first two years until the dinner program
started falling apart because the kids were getting sicker and I couldn’t
keep it together. In 1983 we went to San Francisco General Hospital’s
Ward 86 where we started the Ward’s first volunteer group. When
I first went there I thought it’d be for a year and a half -- ten
years later I’m still there.
When did you notice that brownies helped people suffering from
I’d been a pot activist for years. I know that medical marijuana
was used for hundreds and thousands of years. It was one of the most prescribed
medicines in this country up until the Anslinger (Harry Anslinger, first
head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics responsible for antimarijuana
laws in the late 1930s) -- reefer madness craze.
Since I’ve been a pot activist for so many years I knew the medical
use of marijuana, so I passed the word among the growers that the old
lady needs pot and I need it for my kids on the Ward. I call them all
my kids because anyone t them could have been or anybody else’s
kids. Listen up Middle Class America because this is your issue too.
What effect did you see when your patients got brownies?
If one of my kids had chemotherapy that day they would when they woke
up eat half a brownie and take his chemotherapy and he would have no nausea.
He would leave the hospital and eat the other half a brownie and in a
hour he’d be hungry.
They need it as an appetite stimulant for the wasting syndrome. They can’t
eat because of nausea and diarrhea so they literally waste away. I have
seen people lose thirty pounds in two weeks because they can hold nothing
in their stomachs. If they eat a brownie they don’t have the nausea
and they are able to, ("K. The main, thing about medical marijuana
is that it helps these patients to have a better quality of life.
What is a marijuana brownie?
I’m not about to give you my recipe but I can tell how much dope
is in a two inch square – it’s about two joints.
Is it stronger when eaten?
Yes! It’s a different high, it’s more of an appetite stimulant,
munchies, nonnauseating type --it’s not a drug, it’s an herb.
For these kids it’s a great help-I’ve seen these kids not
throw-up after a chemotherapy where they’ll throw-up a Marinol pill.
Then they’re freaking out because they think they should pick the
Marinol pill out of their vomit and try and swallow it again. They don’t
do this with marijuana brownies.
What’s a Marinol Pill?
Marinol is a synthetic THC pill that the DEA has allowed in this country.
THC is the most active ingredient in marijuana. But the problem here is
that the federal government on one hand has said they have no studies
to prove that marijuana is in any way medicinal. Yet on the other hand
they make A Marinol pill with which some company is making billions on
a year and Marinol is THC, which is the same as in the herb marijuana.
What is it? They’re contradicting themselves.
Ninety percent of my kids don’t like Marinol because they get side
effects from it and they’re putting all kinds of pills in their
systems from AZT to DDI anyway. They’re systems are toxiced out
so to speak. If they like the pills that’s great but I question
the contradiction behind it. If they don’t want to take the pill-why
can’t I give them a brownie-if that’s their preference.
How did you get arrested?
I was at a friend’s house in the suburbs baking brownies. I can’t
do it in San Francisco because I live in senior housing and if I got caught
with any kind of illegal substance I can be evicted in three days.
They thought I was just making marijuana brownies for the hell of it.
They did not know that I was making marijuana brownies for AIDS patients-I
was not selling them-I was giving them away. I’m facing five years
in prison but if that’s what it takes marijuana goddess chose me
to take this bust to get the word out-fine, so be it.
How much was the bail?
Our bail was $5,000 apiece. My friend put up his property as collateral
because we have no money. I live on $650 a month and after I pay my bills
I have $60 a week to live on.
Did they think you were a risk of flight?
They didn’t know that I have two new knees but the standard bail
for under two pounds is $5,000.
Doesn’t California have liberal marijuana laws?
You can possess less than an ounce for your own personal use and then
it’s only a $100 ticket, which nobody pays hopefully. Having under
two pounds is what I’m charged with.
Is the State really going to prosecute this?
You bet they’re going to prosecute it. I’m facing five years
in jail but I’ll 90 to jail for my cause. Compassion is not illegal
as far as I’m concerned. If I have to go to jail I will do it because
I will not cop a plea-no way. In the first place I wouldn’t pass
the piss tests in California which would be part of my plea bargaining.
No way! I’m not plea bargaining with them at all period. Compassion
is not a crime and goddammit I’ll go to jail for my cause.
Whales been the reaction in San Francisco to your arrest?
They think I’m the Queen of Pot. The support has been absolutely
overwhelming, everybody at the hospital, all the kids and all the staff
are with me all the way, everybody in San Francisco is for me.
We went before the Board of Supervisors to implement Proposition P and
we passed it in San Francisco by 80 percent.
What is Proposition P?
Proposition P states that we want to be able to grow and cultivate five
to six plants for our own medicinal use and we will not be—harassed
by the police or the District Attorney’s office.
Last week we went before a committee of the Board of Supervisors to ask
them that they implement Prop P. We had an overwhelming turnout. Doctors!
All kinds of people came.
Why do you do this Brownie Mary?
It’s just for seeing your kids come up to the ward one day and maybe
they make it on their own; they took the bus and use their cane. He doesn’t
have an attendant with him, he isn’t in a wheelchair and its ’Hey
old lady what kind of cookies we got today?’ because I make 350
straight cookies and take coffee and cream and sugar up to the ward every
Thursday. I’m the cookie lady and I’ve be en for almost 10
years and these are totally straight cookies.
Is that what you’re doing now?
Oh Yeah! Every Thursday I still go out. Last week it was chocolate chip
and I’ll probably make coconut this week.
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