On this, the last day of Women’s History Month 2022, WM Policy pays tribute to 3 women–each a cannabis activist in her own unique way. These women made a huge impact not only in the cannabis space, but also in modern society and American history.  They are worth learning more about, honoring during Women’s History Month, and celebrating all year long.  

MARGARET MEAD (December 16, 1901 – November 15, 1978) A pop culture cultural anthropogist, Mead seemed to be everywhere in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She was constantly observing and gathering information in all kinds of settings–including having the comedian Joan Rivers hand out surveys at her comedy club appearances during the comic’s early career. Mead’s published writings are often credited for instigating the sexual revolution of the 1960s. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1976 and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1979. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor in 1998.

Mead was an early advocate of cannabis and admitted to trying it once. Long before the idea of legalization was discussed seriously, and at a time when even talking about cannabis was considered taboo,  she testified before Congress in 1969 in support of legalization. 

“It is my considered opinion at present that marihuana is not harmful . . . I believe that we are damaging this country, damaging our law, our whole law enforcement situation, damaging the trust between the older people and younger people by its prohibition . . .”       

MARY JANE RATHBUN aka BROWNIE MARY (December 22, 1922 – April 10, 1999) is rightfully known as the “mother of the medical cannabis movement” in the United States. She hardly looked like a cannabis activist at the time–an elderly International House of Pancakes waitress favoring polyester pant suits, with a wash-and-dry hairdo and thick eye glasses. But it was her actions where she gained her cred. Arrested three times for drug possession (each provinguted “main her with progressively more notoriety and publicity) she baked and distribgically delicious” cannabis-laced brownies) to gay men suffering from the side effects of AIDS medications during the early years of the pandemic. A Castro neighborhood fixture, she was a leader in the passage of San Francisco Proposition P (1991) and California Proposition 215 (1996), which legalized cannabis for medical use in California.

“I know from smoking pot for over thirty years that this is a medicine that works . . . It eases the pain. That’s what I’m here to do.

MAYA ANGELOU (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) Poet, memoirist, civil rights activist, screenwriter, lecturer, actress, director, producer, first black streetcar operator in San Francisco and first “out” cannabis consumer to appear on U.S. currency. Recipient of more than 50 honorary degrees, Angelou recited her poetry at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

In the second installment of her autobiography, “Gather Together In My Name” Angelou discloses her cannabis use during her late teens/early 20s (the mid-to-late 1940s). And it made a huge difference in her outlook on life. As a result of her cannabis use, “For the first time,” she admitted,  “life amused me. …”

Angelou was a disciplined cannabis consumer: “One joint on Sunday and one on the morning of my day off.” It’s unknown if cannabis enhanced her creativity or writing ability, but it is certain that it helped make her happier. “The weed always had an intense and immediate effect,” she noted. “Before the cigarette was smoked down to roach length, I had to smother my giggles.”

“Smoking grass eased the strain for me. I made a connection at a restaurant nearby. People called it Mary Jane, hash, grass, gauge, weed, pot, and I had absolutely no fear of using it.” 

In honor of Margaret, Mary and Maya, I am sharing Angelou’s beautiful poem “Phenomenal Woman.” If you are not familiar with it, take a few minutes and enjoy it now. And whether it’s the first time you heard this poem, or if you have loved it for years, why not send it to a phenomenal, history-making woman in your life.