The Spirit of Brownie Mary Lives On

The Brownie Mary Democratic Club of San Francisco proves that few causes can unite different generations quite like cannabis.

From the moment you walk into the lounge above the Green Door dispensary, it’s clear the Brownie Mary Democratic Club of San Francisco is not your run-of-the-mill political gathering.

Before it even begins, President David Goldman reminds the people sitting around a large conference table that medicating during the meeting is not allowed. Slowly, pipes are put away and joints are extinguished. It’s time to get down to business.

Started in the spring of 2014, the Brownie Mary Democratic Club is open to anyone 18 or older. Member’s dues are $20 a year, and anyone with an interest in supporting local cannabis activism is welcome. Goldman says the focus of the club is to work on cannabis policy within the Democratic Party, with a special focus on patients’ rights, education, and activism — and ensuring the Democratic Party gets its policies right.

On the evening of Sept. 13, Goldman introduces a special guest: District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy. Following a short speech about his history of working with Prop 215 author (and medical-marijuana godfather) Dennis Peron and where things stand with local cannabis regulations, Sheehy takes questions from the crowd. The main topic is the 45-day moratorium on new dispensaries that the Board of Supervisors passed the previous day.

“It’s almost like there’s less stigma surrounding HIV than cannabis,” Sheehy notes, as he fields complaints.

In fact, it was the stigma surrounding HIV that inspired Mary Jane Rathbun, aka “Brownie Mary,” to bring cannabis-infused brownies to patients dying of AIDS at San Francisco General Hospital’s Ward 86 in the late 1980s.

“We use her name in our club because Brownie Mary was one of the first cannabis activists who went out of her way to make sure that the AIDS patients at Ward 86 had access to cannabis,” Goldman says. He recalls his first meeting with Brownie Mary, on the corner of 18th and Castro streets, where Rathbun was peddling her wares with the now famous slogan, “Magic brownies for sale! Magically delicious!”

“She died about 10 years ago, but we honor her memory with her name in the club,” he says. “I knew her personally. I was one of her clients when I was buying brownies from her in the mid-’80s. I loved her a bunch, and I’m really happy our club is named after her.”

In Brownie Mary’s spirit, Goldman and his fellow club members — who number about 40 — meet once a month to welcome speakers, discuss policy, and brainstorm new ways to ensure patients continue to receive safe and affordable access to medical cannabis.

At one point during the meeting, two law students in suits get up to explain recent developments with the California State Legislature and updates to the highly anticipated regulations that will inform how adult recreational use operates, following the passage of Prop 64 last fall.

Terrance Alan, a cannabis activist who became a public figure during the fight for medical marijuana after he was ambushed by law enforcement in 1992, makes an impassioned speech. Dennis Peron used Alan’s situation to persuade the Board of Supervisors to make medical marijuana offenses their lowest priority. Alan is now a co-owner of Café Flore, the longtime Castro business that is becoming the city’s first cannabis café.

Speaking at the Brownie Mary Democratic Club, Alan chastises the group for failing to show up or complain to their supervisors about the dispensary moratorium.

“There were 15 patients protesting,” he notes with dismay. “If all of you had been there, I bet this moratorium would not have passed.”

Following the meeting, representatives from two cannabis vendors offer samples. One is a mint available in various dosages; the other a cannabis-infused cold-brew coffee. Watching the members of the Brownie Mary club mingle, it’s obvious that few causes can unite different generations quite like cannabis.

In one corner is a young man with full tattoo sleeves talking with an older woman sporting a bedazzled American flag hat. In the hallway, the law students rush to grab a moment with Sup. Sheehy. Contained in one room is every kind of person who cares about cannabis. The scene truly reflects the eclectic yet determined spirit Rathbun embodied so fully.

“There’s a reason we wear these hats,” Klein, Goldman’s husband, tells me, gesturing to the ballcaps emblazoned with a marijuana leaf the two men sport. “Every day, we meet people, and if they mention our hat, that’s an opportunity to educate them. If they start the conversation, we will finish it. We have met thousands of people that way.

“We met them coming here tonight,” he adds. “That’s why we wear these caps. There’s a real purpose behind them.”

The Brownie Mary Democratic Club of San Francisco
meets on Wednesday, Oct.11, 6:15 p.m., at Green Door Dispensary, 847 Howard St., browniemarydemclub.org.

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