ช่วงนั้นแมรี่ทำงานเป็นพนักเสิร์ฟแพนเค้กที่ IHOP และแอบทำบราวนี่กัญชาขายอยู่หลายปี จนกระทั่งถูกจับกุมในปี ค.ศ. 1981 (ตอนนั้นเธออายุ 59 ปี) และถูกเรียกให้ไปทำงานบริการชุมชนกับ The Shanti Project (องค์กรช่วยผู้ป่วยโรคเอดส์) เธอได้กลายเป็นอาสาสมัครที่โรงพยาบาล San Francisco General Hospital ในวอร์ด 86 ที่ดูแลผู้ป่วยเอดส์เป็นที่แรกในประเทศสหรัฐฯ
เป็นเวลากว่าหลายปีในซานฟรานซิสโกที่เดนนิสใช้ชีวิตในชุมชนฮิปปี้ และลักลอบขายกัญชาในนาม ‘Big Top Pot Supermarket’ ซึ่งย้ายที่ขายไปเรื่อยในย่าน Mission District ก่อนจะมาจบที่บ้านสไตล์วิคตอเรียนบนถนน Castro Street ที่ Big Top มีคนที่ทำงานกว่า 20 คนและต่างเป็นผู้ป่วยกันเอง กัญชาแต่ละสายพันธุ์อย่าง Mexican, Thai, Colombian คุณภาพจะมีให้เลือกแตกต่างกันไปตามความงามของดอกและฝีมือของนักปลูก มีจอยนท์ให้ลองชิมลองสูบก่อน และมีการซื้อขายไปตามราคาน้ำหนัก
ในช่วงเวลานั้นของการขายกัญชาที่ Big Top ได้ทำให้เดนนิสได้พบกับผู้คนมากมาย หนึ่งในนั้นคือ ‘ฮาร์วีย์ มิลค์’ (Harvey Milk) นักการเมืองเกย์คนแรกที่สนับสนุนการเดินหน้าเสรีกัญชา และเป็นผู้ที่ทำให้เดนนิสสนใจการเป็นนักเคลื่อนไหวและเรียกร้องสิทธิของชายรักร่วมเพศเช่นเดียวกัน เดนนิสเข้าใจกลุ่มคนที่ถูกลืมและถูกมองข้ามจากสังคม เขามักจะเป็นหัวหอกในการชุมนุมเรียกร้องสิทธิของ LGBTQ+ อยู่เสมอ
อีกทั้งมีโอกาสได้รู้จักและร่างกฎหมายกัญชาในอนาคตร่วมกับ ‘ท็อด ฮิโระ มิคุริยะ’ (Tod H. Mikuriya) นายแพทย์คนแรกที่ออกมาสนับสนุนประโยชน์ของกัญชาพร้อมตีพิมพ์หนังสือ ‘Marijuana Medical Papers’ ค.ศ. 1839–1972 ที่มีรายชื่ออาการป่วยจากกว่า 200 โรคที่กัญชาสามารถช่วยบรรเทาและรักษาได้
แต่ไม่นานนักกลิ่นกัญชาก็ไปถึงจมูกของตำรวจ เดนนิสและร้าน Big Top ก็ถูกจับกุมและปิดตัวลงในปี ค.ศ. 1978 ในขณะที่เดนนิสถูกโทษจำคุกหกเดือน ฮาร์วีย์ก็โดนลอบสังหารไปเสียก่อนที่จะได้ร่วมเดินหน้าเสรีกัญชาทางการเมืองด้วยกัน
San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club กลายเป็นร้านขายยาแรกของอเมริกาไปโดยปริยาย ที่เป็นที่รวมตัว พักใจ และชุมนุมทางการเมือง ในตอนนั้นคลับรวมตัวสมาชิกได้ถึง 8,000 คน โดยตอนแรกตั้งใจมีไว้รองรับผู้ป่วยเอดส์และมะเร็งโดยเฉพาะ แต่แล้วประโยชน์ของกัญชาก็กระจายตัวออกไปสู่กลุ่มคนทุกเพศทุกวัย ไม่ว่าจะเป็นรูมาตอยด์หรือโรคลมชัก
This pride month, let’s explore the changing role of cannabis – a transition from recreational use to crucial alleviation of human suffering. We’ll be delving into the historical connection between cannabis and gender groups, shedding light on its profound significance and how it drives the renewed global acceptance of cannabis.
A fresh start after the war
During the 1980s, societal concerns reached new heights during the Reagan administration in the United States. President Ronald Reagan’s enthusiastic support gave a strong push to the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign, which quickly gained momentum. The prevailing conservative ideologies of the time led to the adoption of stricter penalties and regulations. This climate paved the way for initiatives like the “Drug Abuse Resistance Education” (DARE) program, which integrated into various platforms, accompanied by the widespread practice of drug testing in schools and workplaces.
It was a challenging time for cannabis enthusiasts, as any association with the substance could spell loss of societal standing – resulting in unemployment, compromised parental rights, educational limitations, and more.
Simultaneously, during this period, the AIDS epidemic began to take hold in the United States. It emerged initially in San Francisco, home to gay and hippie communities, before spreading to Los Angeles and New York.
The primary demographic affected by AIDS consisted of men engaged in same-sex relationships, transgender women, sex workers, and intravenous drug users, with a notable percentage being African American and Latino individuals. Undoubtedly, prejudice and societal resistance surged to distressing levels. Tragically, many individuals lost their lives due to concealing their illnesses and the isolating nature of their deaths.
A ray of relief in the midst of the AIDS crisis The societal prejudice towards the same-sex male couples was starkly evident when the AIDS epidemic began to unfold in 1981. Many individuals were admitted to hospitals without anyone explaining the nature and treatment of the disease. Contracting AIDS at that time was like a countdown towards death, as there was no known cure.
The Reagan administration did not initially give adequate attention to the AIDS outbreak, perceiving it as a concern primarily within the gay community. It even went so far as to label the disease as the “Gay Plague.” It wasn’t until 1985 that the government officially acknowledged AIDS, leading to delayed treatment options and symptom relief. Moreover, the public understanding of AIDS was severely limited.
As the government remained silent on this epidemic, physicians used the term “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency” initially, attempting to link the condition with being gay. This early nomenclature reflected both the misinformation prevailing at the time and the lack of any concrete evidence.
Furthermore, in 1987, the government-produced medication aimed to combat the virus, known as ‘AZT,’ had severe side effects such as intense nausea and vomiting. Administered every four hours, taking excessive amounts of the drug could even lead to death. For those infected with AIDS, it seemed there was no alternative but to await their inevitable fate.
The Wasting Syndrome, characterized by severe weight loss, bone wasting, and gastrointestinal distress that led to loss of appetite, was a devastating consequence of HIV infection. This condition profoundly impacted those infected. In this challenging scenario, it appeared that cannabis was the forefront medicine offering solace. With its appetite-enhancing properties, pain reduction, and alleviation of nausea, as well as its positive effect on mood disorders, cannabis emerged as a beacon of hope for patients. These benefits prompted figures like Mary Jane Rathbun and Dennis Peron to champion the use of cannabis as a means of comforting the afflicted.
Some people recognized that falling ill from AIDS was not an ordinary matter and that those around them should offer assistance. One of those individuals was Grandma Mary Jane Rathbun, also known as “Brownie Mary.” She was an advocate for the rights of AIDS patients and provided cannabis-infused brownies to the AIDS-infected community in San Francisco. Typically, cannabis is smoked, but due to the elderly age of many patients and their lung issues, baking it into cookies or brownies became an alternative method of consumption.
During that period, Mary worked as a pancake server at IHOP and secretly baked cannabis brownies for several years. She continued this until she was arrested in 1981 at the age of 59. Following her arrest, she was required to work with The Shanti Project, an organization aiding AIDS patients. This transformed her into a volunteer at San Francisco General Hospital, where she served in Ward 86, the first unit dedicated to AIDS patients in the United States.
Mary noticed that her baked goods effectively alleviated their pain. Devoting both time and part of her retirement funds each month, Mary continued making cannabis-infused brownies and volunteering at the hospital to assist the patients.
“My kids need cannabis to get out of bed, to have an appetite, to reduce nausea – I bake brownies to help them alleviate the daily pain they face. Those around me know, the hospital knows, and even the doctors know what I'm doing.” — Mary Jane Rathbun
Dennis Peron: the gay hippie who pioneered medical marijuana
Dennis Peron was a Vietnam War veteran who, after being discharged, moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s. He returned to the city with a buzzcut alongside plastic bags stuffed with clothes and Thai weed.
He lived within the San Francisco hippie community and engaged in covertly selling cannabis under the moniker “Big Top Pot Supermarket.” This establishment relocated multiple times in the Mission District before settling into a Victorian-style home on Castro Street. The Big Top team, which consisted of over 20 individuals, mostly patients themselves, offered a variety of cannabis strains, including Mexican, Thai, and Colombian. The quality varied based on the beauty of the flowers and the skill of the cultivators. They provided joints for customers to try before purchasing and the transactions were priced based on weight.
During this period of cannabis sales at Big Top, Dennis met many people, including Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician who supported cannabis legalization and advocated for the rights of gay men. Milk inspired Peron to become an activist and advocate for the rights of marginalized and overlooked groups in society. Peron often led the way in rallying for LGBTQ+ rights, fighting for change and acceptance.
Dennis also had the opportunity to delve into cannabis laws and medical benefits later on, in collaboration with Tod H. Mikuriya, a pioneering medical doctor. Mikuriya was the first physician to openly support the advantages of cannabis, and he authored the book “Marijuana Medical Papers” (1839–1972), which documented over 200 medical conditions that could be alleviated and treated with cannabis.
But before long, the whiff of cannabis caught the attention of the police. In 1978, both Dennis Peron and the Big Top shop were raided and forced to close. Interestingly, while Peron was serving a six-month prison sentence, tragedy struck as Harvey Milk was assassinated. This unfortunate event occurred before they could join hands to push forward together in the political campaign for cannabis legalization.
The unnamed epidemic Dennis Peron lived in San Francisco and witnessed firsthand the positive effects of cannabis on his sick friends, who showed clear improvement in their conditions.
By 1990, his residence with his partner, Jonathan West, was raided by the police on charges of marijuana distribution. During this time, Jonathan, who was battling AIDS, openly admitted in court that the cannabis was for his personal medical use to alleviate his symptoms. Sadly, shortly after his court appearance, Jonathan passed away. Following this, Dennis vowed to advocate for the rights of AIDS patients to use cannabis as a means of improving their quality of life.
Amidst the government’s indifferent stance and the heart-wrenching loss of friends, Dennis and fellow activists came together to formulate the local ordinance “Proposition P” in 1991. This initiative garnered the support of San Francisco residents through a successful vote. It marked the starting point for advocating cannabis as an alternative medicine for AIDS patients, cancer, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis.
Cannabis transformed into medicine In 1992, Dennis’ voice resonated louder, along with the plea for help from a 70-year-old woman named Mary, who was apprehended (once again) with one kilogram of cannabis, intentionally intended to be baked into brownies for distribution. Dennis contacted various media outlets to share Mary’s story, hoping to garner sympathy for his elderly friend facing charges for providing cannabis-infused brownies to AIDS patients. The transformational role of Brownie Mary in igniting a sensational cannabis movement shouldn’t come as a surprise, as her story became an overnight sensation that stirred up conversations about cannabis.
Mary went to court alongside patients who had consumed her brownies as witnesses, and they emerged victorious in the legal battle. This court appearance shifted the spotlight onto cannabis and Mary’s endeavors. The trial caused people to turn their attention to cannabis, as many had never heard before that it could serve as medicine.
Turning crisis into opportunity
Facing a legal challenge when attempting to pass legislation, Dennis saw an opportunity in the unconventional: creating attention-grabbing events that could announce proposed laws and encourage voter participation. In 1991, he harnessed media's potential to advance his legislative goals. He motivated Mary and LGBTQ+ friends to set up the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club(SFCBC) in 1994. Though not a traditional club, it served Peron’s purpose of having consenting patients share cannabis-related stories for media coverage.
As soon as the news broke, everyone expected a police raid, but instead, over 300 calls from patients flooded in, wanting to join the “club” via telephone. Even doctors and local San Francisco police understood and supported their cause, choosing not to intervene. Patients of all kinds flocked in to purchase cannabis without any shortage of demand.
SFCBC evolved into America’s first medicinal marijuana dispensary. It became a hub for solidarity, support, and political engagement. At its peak, the club boasted a membership of 8,000 individuals. Initially conceived to cater mainly to AIDS and cancer patients, its scope expanded as the benefits of cannabis reached people of all genders and ages, spanning from glaucoma sufferers to those with epilepsy.
During this time, Dennis and his colleagues collaborated to push forward “Preposition 215,” a significant state-level marijuana legislation, and managed to introduce it to the legislature. With assistance from Peron’s political and business connections, they were able to compile and present the legislation.
Finally, on November 5, 1996, California made history by becoming the first state to pass medical marijuana legislation through the Compassionate Use Act of 1996(Proposition 215) with a leading vote of 55.6%. This victory marked a significant milestone.
As for the SFCBC, it operated until 1998, providing its services until it eventually closed its doors, leaving behind a lasting legacy.
This is the story of the LGBTQ+ community, patient rights, and human rights, which not only shifted society’s perspective on cannabis but also granted patients the right to choose their own medicine. In the face of the government’s apathy, leaving the epidemic unchecked for citizens to handle, the importance of cannabis was discovered through the empathy of fellow humans, expressed via AIDS and cancer patients in court. The Preposition 215 legislation marked a pivotal step that paved the way for medical cannabis in various countries, including Thailand, and holds the potential to shape the future of global cannabis freedom.
As citizens extended their helping hands to address the crisis ignored by the government, the significance of cannabis was proclaimed through AIDS and cancer patients in court.
The world’s perspective is shifting alongside the changing laws. This month, let’s celebrate the diversity that brings us together in the fight for equal human rights, regardless of gender identity or skin color.