Remembering ‘Brownie Mary,’ San Francisco’s Marijuana Pioneer

Brownie Mary, wearing one of her signature buttons.
Brownie Mary, wearing one of her signature buttons. Scott Sommerdorf / San Francisco Chronicle / Polaris

Baked goods are often seen as comforting. The brownies made by Mary Jane Rathbun definitely fit that description. In 1996, the New York Times compared Rathbun to the domestic goddesses of American pop culture: Betty Crocker, Mrs. Field, Sara Lee. But Rathbun’s secret ingredient was cannabis. And instead of selling baking mix, Rathbun spent years campaigning for the legalization of medical marijuana, helping establish San Francisco at the forefront. It wasn’t long before she was known as “Brownie Mary,” a foul-mouthed friend to those affected by AIDS.

Rathbun was born in 1922, far from countercultural San Francisco, a city that would eventually hold a municipal holiday

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