June 22, 2021
Eric Stanley, Associate Director and History Curator
June is Pride Month, celebrating victories in the LGBTQ rights movement. This June also marks 40 years since the CDC reported the first cases of HIV and AIDS in the United States. The story of the unlikely duo of Dennis Peron and “Brownie Mary” is an important part of the story of compassion and determination during the AIDS epidemic, a dark time in the LGBTQ community.
Mary Rathbun and Dennis Peron attending a Pride Parade, ca. 1995
Dennis Peron was a Vietnam veteran who arrived in San Francisco in the late 1960s. A friend and associate of Harvey Milk, Dennis Peron is known today as “The Father of Medical Cannabis.” He had been active in both San Francisco’s gay and underground cannabis communities for years when the AIDS epidemic struck. He also had deep connections to the Russian River community in Sonoma County. After he was arrested in 1990 over possession of marijuana for his ill partner, who was dying of AIDS, Peron decided to fight to change laws in California. He first helped pass San Francisco’s Proposition P in 1991, which allowed doctors in the city to recommend medical marijuana to patients.
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 volunteer at San Francisco General Hospital, named Mary Rathbun. She had gained notoriety for baking cannabis brownies for AIDS patients.
Running afoul of the law several times, Mary’s third arrest took place in Cazadero in Sonoma County, where she was making brownies for patients. Dennis Peron recognized a public relations opportunity when he saw one and helped leverage attention on “Brownie Mary” to advance the cause of compassion for those suffering from AIDS.
One of the products of this unlikely duo is this 1993 edition of Brownie Mary’s Marijuana Cookbook and Dennis Peron’s Recipe for Social Change now in the collection of the Museum of Sonoma County.
Brownie Mary’s Marijuana Cookbook and Dennis Peron’s Recipe for Social Change, 1993
The Museum of Sonoma County maintains a permanent collection of over 18,000 objects, documenting the region's rich history and celebrating local artists.
More About MSC's Collection: museumsc.org/collections
The mission of the Museum of Sonoma County is to engage and inspire our diverse community with art and history exhibitions, collections, and public programs that are inclusive, educational, and relevant.