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Celebrating San Francisco, The Birthplace of Medical Cannabis
By Kaisha-Dyan McMillan
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February 26, 2020

Celebrating San Francisco, The Birthplace of Medical Cannabis


San Francisco is best known these days as a hub of technology and innovation, but not many people know that it also holds tremendous historical significance to the progress of cannabis legalization. The City by the Bay, which has attracted disruptors since long before the invention of the smartphone, also happens to be the birthplace of the medical cannabis movement. And If not for a small group of misfits – including members of the LGBTQI community – advocating for patient access to marijuana during the 1980s, we might not have a legal cannabis industry today reportedly worth $30 billion

The Father And Mother Of Medical Cannabis

At the same time that President Ronald Reagan declared the war on drugs in 1982, kicking off the enforcement of harsh drug laws that helped drive mass incarceration and the disproportionate arrest of people of color, AIDS was quickly becoming a public health crisis. In the early days of the epidemic, when patients were spurned for both being gay and having the disease, Vietnam veteran and gay activist Dennis Peron started giving cannabis to friends and loved ones in San Francisco’s Castro District – the neighborhood where he lived. Peron saw firsthand that cannabis offered relief from nausea, pain, dangerous weight loss, and other symptoms experienced by AIDS patients, and through his compassionate giving, he swiftly became an advocate.

He would find a kindred spirit in Mary Rathbun, a waitress at the local IHOP who was in her sixties when she started baking medicated brownies for patients. Known in the community as Brownie Mary, both she and Dennis became frequent targets of local law enforcement due to their actions, which only motivated their activities further. Together, Peron and Brownie Mary in cooperation with a cohort of community activists starting paving the way for what would become a push for legal access to medical cannabis.

In 1991, Dennis and Mary helped organize the passage of a city resolution allowing for the permitting of medical cannabis. Proposition P passed with 80% of the city’s vote, making the arrest and conviction for personal medicinal use, possession, or cultivation of cannabis a low priority for San Francisco law enforcement. Peron soon thereafter opened the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers club, the nation’s first cannabis dispensary. Five years later in 1996, Dennis and Mary were among the co-authors behind Proposition 215 – also known as the Compassionate Use Act and Medical Use of Marijuana Act – the legislation that would make California the first state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana.

Today, the San Francisco Bay Area remains highly influential in the broader cannabis industry. In addition to being the home to multiple cannabis brands and dispensaries, in 2019 the city became the first in the nation to allow cannabis sales and consumption at a major music festival.

Be A Part of History

Join us in commemorating the National Cannabis Industry Association’s 10th anniversary when the Cannabis Business Summit arrives at San Francisco’s Moscone Center on June 15-17, 2020. Founded in 2010 after the release of the Ogden Memo – in which the Justice Department directed prosecutors against using federal resources towards the prosecution of patients and caregivers operating in compliance with medical marijuana laws – NCIA was founded by policy reform leaders Aaron Smith and Steve Fox as the only trade association at the time centered on the cannabis industry. Seven years after hosting its inaugural Cannabis Business Summit and Expo in Denver, the nation’s most influential cannabis tradeshow returns to the city that started it all – Registration is now open!

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