Pride Month is a global celebration of freedom, civil liberty, and pride in one’s identity. But there’s much more to the story. Here at The Sanctuary, we’re passionate about serving all our customers, whether they’re seeking adult-use or medical cannabis. But Pride Month has a special place in our hearts, because while many of us might not know it, the story of medical cannabis in California is in large part an LGBTQIA+ story.
In honor of this special month, we’d like to share the stories of three pioneers in the compassionate use movement: Harvey Milk, Dennis Peron, and Mary Rathbun, better known as “Brownie Mary.”
Pride Month: Harvey Milk, America’s First Out Elected Official
Naval officer, stock analyst, Broadway producer’s associate: Harvey Milk already had a long backstory by the time he moved to San Francisco in 1972, but his résumé doesn’t tell the whole story. He had been forced to resign from the Navy after he was spotted in a park popular as a cruising spot with gay men.
Milk’s move to San Francisco energized both his latent political activism and his resolve to live his life as an out gay man. He lost his first bid for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, but in 1977 he was elected to the office of City Supervisor, thus becoming the nation’s very first out elected official.
One of Milk’s most influential political stances was his support of Proposition W, a non-binding policy paper that urged the City to stop arresting and prosecuting those caught growing, selling, and using cannabis.
Tragically, Milk was assassinated along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone in 1978. But his legacy is stronger today than ever, both in the freedom of self-expression that LGBTQ+ people enjoy today and in the provisions for medical cannabis in California and beyond. And in 2019, the U.S. Navy even apologized, naming a fleet oiler after the once-disgraced former officer.
Pride Month: Dennis Peron, Cannabis Firebrand
A friend and associate of Harvey Milk’s, Dennis Peron is known today as “The Father of Medical Cannabis.” In the 1970s, Peron was already a cannabis activist, holding smoke-ins and other events in his commune in the Castro. But his political awakening came when his partner Jonathon West—already terminally ill with AIDS—was arrested for possession of cannabis. West was acquitted, and died shortly after a highly publicized trial.
Peron’s work was only beginning. Recognizing that the federal government wasn’t interested in addressing the AIDS crisis, he began laying the political groundwork that would eventually culminate in 1996, when California voters approved Proposition 215, thus becoming the first state to recognize the medical value of cannabis.
Pride Month: Mary Rathbun, aka “Brownie Mary”
Dennis Peron also founded California’s first medical cannabis dispensary, the San Francisco Buyers Club, in 1992. One of his partners there was a 70-year-old named Mary Rathbun. A volunteer at San Francisco General Hospital, she had become known for baking cannabis brownies for AIDS patients there.
Although Rathbun’s focus was on harnessing the power of cannabis to relieve the pain, appetite loss, and other symptoms associated with AIDS and other diseases, she became an unlikely media star over the course of her three arrests for possession and distribution of cannabis. Eventually, the City grudgingly gave her permission to continue distributing her cannabis-infused brownies to those in need. And buoyed by supporters such as Rick Doblin of MAPS, her work inspired researchers to begin clinical trials to determine the effects of cannabinoids like THC and CBD on those suffering from HIV/AIDS and other serious diseases.
Together, this unlikely trio of activists made a huge difference in the lives of those who rely on medical cannabis. We’re both proud and humbled by their work, and we hope that Pride Month will serve as a lasting tribute to their courage and determination!