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The true story of how grassroots activists changed the societal view of cannabis as a medicine is largely unknown to the public. Several key figures contributed to this movement that forever shifted the public’s opinion. Without these people and their actions, we would never be at the pivotal time of cannabis legislation and legalization that we are now. This is their story.

Mary Jane Rathbun

Mary Jane Rathbun was a volunteer in Ward 86 at San Francisco General Hospital during the AIDS epidemic in 1981. Ward 86 exclusively treated HIV patients. Rathbun passed out THC infused brownies to the patients and it helped them have immense relief from their symptoms. Rathbun is the real Mary Jane.

Dr. Donald Abrams, an assistant director of the AIDS program at the Hospital, saw the drastic changes in the patients. In 1997 Dr. Abrams received funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to conduct a series of clinical trials on the effect of cannabinoids in HIV infections. By the time Dr. Abrams’s study was approved by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 410,000 Americans had tragically died of AIDs.

People were dying slow, painful deaths. The medicine available to treat their symptoms resulted in awful side effects like appetite loss, diarrhea, fatigue, bleeding, bone loss, nausea, and vomiting. Rathbun was able to provide these people with temporary relief with no debilitating side-effects. 

Dennis Peron

Dennis Peron’s life partner, Jonathan West, used cannabis instead of Marinol, a drug given to HIV and cancer patients to stimulate appetite, which he would throw back up after ingesting. Peron began to grow medical marijuana for himself and his partner. On a San Francisco winter night in January 1990, Peron’s home was raided. He was charged with “possession of marijuana with intent to sell.”

Peron had previously been arrested for selling weed as a teenager, so this could have been really bad for him. Six months after Peron’s arrest, West told the court that the cannabis was his and the charges were dropped. Shortly after this West passed away along with many other of Peron’s loved ones.

Heroes Of Cannabis Unite

This lit a fire in Peron.  He and Rathbun worked together to pass Proposition 215 in 1996, which allowed the medical use of cannabis within California. This law would decriminalize the possession of cannabis. Peron opened up “San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club“, the nation’s first dispensary. There he treated many medical marijuana patients within the LBTQ+ community. Police didn’t leave Peron alone; his dispensary was raided and he was arrested in Oakland and charged with criminal conspiracy and possession of cannabis. 

It’s due to the efforts of Rathbun and Peron and the LBTQ+ community that cannabis is where it is today. There are currently many other cannabis activists fighting the same fight, and facing many of the same challenges. They keep fighting for decriminalization, regulation, legalization, and education. The legalization of cannabis in all 50 states is inevitable, but it’s these grassroots movements that will eventually make that possible. 

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