Celebrate Pride

AIDS & Cannabis: How Love and Perseverance Paved the Way for Legalization

Episode 246

Show Notes

Love and Legalization with Meridy and Alia Volz

In this powerful kickoff to our Pride series, join us as we honor the resilience and love of San Francisco’s gay community during the 1980s AIDS crisis. Meet Meridy Volz, the woman behind Sticky Fingers Brownies, and her daughter Alia Volz, who witnessed the transformative power of compassion and community from a young age. Discover how delivering cannabis brownies to AIDS patients provided relief and hope, and learn about the pivotal role this played in sparking a national legalization movement for medical cannabis. Celebrate Pride with us and hear these remarkable stories of courage, advocacy, and the enduring fight for compassionate use legislation that led California to become the first state to legalize medical cannabis in 1996.

“I’d be on the playground and people would be using homophobic epithets and associating queerness with weakness. And so I was like, oh no, that’s strength, that’s real power. Real strength is to be who you are, whether or not it’s acceptable to other people, that’s balls. It really did shape how I understand strength and how I see the world, in very fundamental ways and I feel fortunate to have grown up in the community that I did, even in dark times.” – Alia Volz

If you enjoyed this episode, we’d recommend Episode 245 Marijuana Minister: Celebrating Pride With Stereotypes Podcast.

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[00:00:00] Ellen Scanlon: This podcast discusses cannabis and is intended for audiences 21 and over.

[00:00:12] Ellen Scanlon: Support for How to Do the Pot comes from can a queer founded cannabis beverage company can’s drinkable, delicious cannabis beverages come in lots of flavors, and with THC levels that range from one milligram to 10 milligrams. So you can choose how you wanna feel. Use promo code. Do the pot for 20% off when you visit.

[00:00:33] Ellen Scanlon: Drink can.com. That’s drink C A N N. Try a can today and celebrate pride without a hangover.

[00:00:49] Alia Volz: I’d be on the playground and people would be using homophobic epithets and associating queerness with weakness. And so I was like, Oh no, that’s strength. That’s real power. And real strength is to be who you are, whether or not it’s acceptable to other people. That’s balls. It really did shape how I understand strength and how I see the world in very fundamental ways.

[00:01:14] Alia Volz: I feel fortunate to have grown up in the community that I did, even in dark times.

[00:01:23] Ellen Scanlon: Welcome to How to Do the Pot, a podcast helping you feel confident about cannabis. I’m your host, Ellen Scanlon.

[00:01:35] Ellen Scanlon: You just heard from Alia Volz, the Portugal based author of the book Home Baked, My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco. Welcome to the first episode in our new three part series about how the AIDS crisis led to the birth of medical cannabis and sparked a national legalization movement. This month, we are celebrating pride by honoring the love and perseverance of San Francisco’s gay community during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

[00:02:11] Ellen Scanlon: This series will share the often forgotten history of the pivotal moments and the courageous advocates that helped shape medical cannabis. The AIDS crisis led to California becoming the first state in 1996 to legalize cannabis for compassionate use. Last week, we featured an episode of the podcast Stereotypes, hosted by award winning journalist and producer Christopher Beal.

[00:02:39] Ellen Scanlon: The episode shared the story of Jim Metulski, a gay pastor who provided cannabis through his church to dying AIDS patients. I hope you’ll check it out if you haven’t listened yet. Throughout this new series, we are shining a light on the brave advocates who, at great risk, helped alleviate the suffering of dying AIDS patients.

[00:03:03] Ellen Scanlon: It’s hard to fathom the desperation and fear that existed at that time. We will hear directly from people who were there about how they made it through the early dark days of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. In this series, I’ll be using the term gay instead of LGBTQIA This is to stay true to the terminology that was used during the AIDS crisis.

[00:03:30] Ellen Scanlon: In today’s episode, you’ll meet Meredith Vowles, the woman running the largest cannabis operation in San Francisco in the 1970s and 80s, called Sticky Fingers Brownies. Meredith shares how delivering brownies on her regular route in the largely gay neighborhood, the Castro, changed as she became the source of cannabis to help relieve the symptoms related to AIDS.

[00:03:57] Ellen Scanlon: Her daughter, Alia, was a child in elementary school when the epidemic began. She witnessed it all and a few years ago wrote her book, Home Baked, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Good job. It’s an amazing book. I loved it. I’m struck by how much love you’ll hear throughout this series.

[00:04:21] Ellen Scanlon: I believe that love is the secret weapon behind the legal access to cannabis that so many of us enjoy today. Love and the motivation to leave a legacy for friends and loved ones who died of AIDS. I think you’ll be moved and inspired by how a brave group of people came together to fight for the survival of their community.

[00:04:45] Ellen Scanlon: Happy Pride.

[00:04:53] Ellen Scanlon: Want to keep the conversation with us going? Sign up for our twice monthly newsletter and have a direct line into my inbox. The newsletter is full of resources that will help you feel confident about cannabis for health, well being, and for fun. And you can hit reply and let me know what you’d like to hear more of on the show.

[00:05:15] Ellen Scanlon: To join the thousands of subscribers already receiving it, head to dothepot. com to sign up. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do this without you.

[00:05:34] Ellen Scanlon: Meredith Volz moved to San Francisco in the 1970s with dreams of hippie magic and a plan to illustrate children’s books. She ended up taking over a coffee and bakery business from her friend Barb. Meredith explains how she started selling pot brownies.

[00:05:55] Meridy Volz: It started with us selling coffee. on Fisherman’s Wharf.

[00:05:59] Meridy Volz: We had, like, breakfast bakery, and then we started just doing a few hot brownies, and one day Barb forgot to put the flour in the brownies. And we ended up with this big pan of like chocolate mess. And we were sitting around going, what are we going to do with this? And it took maybe a half hour to realize that, Oh my God, the key to a good brownie is an underbaked brownie.

[00:06:31] Meridy Volz: And that’s where they started to be really good. And by Christmas that year, all the bakery had to go. And it was all brownies. And they made great gifts, and friends of friends started buying them, and so it caught on. I remember that Christmas being insane. They couldn’t be baked fast enough for the demand.

[00:06:55] Meridy Volz: That’s how the brownie business started. Alia

[00:06:59] Ellen Scanlon: Volz explains how the media attention on San Francisco at the time led to the growth of her mom’s business.

[00:07:06] Alia Volz: People were coming from all over the world to come out of the closet, essentially, and live free. And San Francisco had this reputation of being the place to do that.

[00:07:18] Alia Volz: And a lot of it was manufactured by, uh, Yellow journalism and in a way and panic journalism. So the summer of love was really manufactured by a terrible article in time life magazine that was like, these kids are unattended and they’re topless and look what’s happening. And so, you know, all the kids who want to be topless and unattended come to San Francisco.

[00:07:42] Alia Volz: And really the same thing happened in the early seventies with the large. Migration of LGBTQ people. There was an article that referred to San Francisco is the gay capital of America. And so if you’re gay and you’re closeted and you’re dealing with your family somewhere in suburbia, you’re like, Oh, well, why don’t I get on a bus?

[00:08:01] Alia Volz: That’s where I should go. It became true. After the fact, because it acted as a clarion call for so many people. So there was this huge influx, hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian people coming to San Francisco to explore their identities. People were experimenting and love to party. And so Sticky Fingers, which my, my mom had her root in the Castro and Sticky Fingers just took off.

[00:08:30] Alia Volz: I mean, she would make hundreds of stops in a day. It was always two people who were working. She’d go into beauty salons and florists and cafes and dental offices and real estate offices. Just anything you could think of where people would buy large volumes to then distribute through their private circles of friends.

[00:08:51] Alia Volz: And this was how this very small mom and pop, my dad was involved too, mom and pop business became citywide extremely fast.

[00:09:00] Ellen Scanlon: Meredith and Sticky Fingers never got busted. Alia explains how they cleverly avoided police suspicion.

[00:09:09] Alia Volz: What was so clever about it was that the customers only dealt with their particular salesperson and they only dealt with that salesperson at their own place of business.

[00:09:19] Alia Volz: So Sticky Fingers was Cheryl coming in. On roller skates and gold lame on Friday afternoon to the hair salon. That was sticky fingers, brownies, nobody associated it with this really nondescript warehouse in the mission where the brownies were actually being produced and where we lived. They had three salespeople, normally, my mom, my dad, and a friend of theirs, and what was kind of wild about it is that every day the three of them would dress up in theme, all three of them would match, and they were just wild, I mean, they’d be spandex, and face paint, and headdresses, and weird thematic costumes.

[00:09:59] Alia Volz: And they felt that calling so much attention to themselves, you would never think that they were doing something illegal. They felt that it gave them protection. And then my mom, rather bizarrely, had this other layer of protection where I was at that point in the stroller and she would load the stroller up with brownies and take me with her.

[00:10:21] Alia Volz: So really my earliest, earliest memories are of being on sales runs in the Castro and having just these Vibrant, beautiful people fawn over me. And everyone was always so happy to see us. You know, I just have these really idyllic and kind of surreal early memories from that.

[00:10:41] Ellen Scanlon: Alia tells us about her early memories of being part of the family business.

[00:10:46] Alia Volz: I knew not to eat the weed brownies. Whoever was baking would make some that didn’t have cannabis in it so I could have some brownies. And I knew it wasn’t kid stuff and whatever. But those evenings of sitting around with my mom and her friends, and it’s adult conversation, but I was allowed in. And I was treated like a little adult, and I absolutely loved that.

[00:11:10] Alia Volz: So it was all about storytelling at that time. With cannabis, dealing is like hanging out, right? So, people would come over, and we, my mom liked to hang, she had a big bed, and she liked to hang out on her bed, and we called it the barge. And people would come over and barge, as we called it, for hours, because you could like, get on the bed and float.

[00:11:33] Alia Volz: And it was just this really caring environment, that during the heavy years, was also a place that people would come for solace and community and, you know, sharing and there would be a lot of laughter.

[00:11:49] Ellen Scanlon: The 1980s and the election of Ronald Reagan brought a lot of changes to the underground cannabis industry.

[00:11:55] Ellen Scanlon: It was also the beginning of what would come to be known as AIDS.

[00:11:59] Alia Volz: Reagan took the reins in 1980. And he had come to power on campaign promises of cleaning up drug use and because he came from California and California at that time, this is still in the world of outdoor growing, was a main source for high quality cannabis for the entire country.

[00:12:20] Alia Volz: And so he. He was going to make an example out of California farmers and California dealers. One, of course, unintended consequence of that was that the price of high quality cannabis just went through the roof. So if you were on the dealing end of it, it became a lot more dangerous, but it also became a lot more lucrative.

[00:12:42] Alia Volz: So that was happening on one end. And so my mom, at that point, she had this direct line to this whole community of growers who were eager to get their stuff out. And it was dangerous, and more importantly, was that At this same time, HIV AIDS was emerging in San Francisco, and San Francisco was one of the international hotbeds for the early days of the disease.

[00:13:12] Alia Volz: It hit so fast and so hard and so many people.

[00:13:17] Ellen Scanlon: Marity felt the presence of AIDS very quickly in her brownie runs in the Castro.

[00:13:23] Meridy Volz: And it happened really quickly. And my run being in the Castro, really quickly. And I would see somebody one week and I’d see a lesion and they’d be dead by the end of the month.

[00:13:39] Meridy Volz: It was stunning. And people around them would be dead. So whole groups died. And it seemed mainly men to me at the time. But that was mainly my clientele. It was both frightening and it was stunning. And there’d be these young, gorgeous men, beautiful, beautiful, buff and lovely and gorgeous, and then they’d be dead.

[00:14:07] Meridy Volz: It was so fast. I think I still felt like I was. invulnerable. You kind of feel that at that age, I think. Your body feels strong, and your mind feels strong, and you feel like you could do anything if you set your mind to it. I wasn’t as afraid of it as I probably should have been. Right.

[00:14:34] Ellen Scanlon: The Reagan administration’s response to AIDS was basically to ignore it.

[00:14:40] Ellen Scanlon: This meant communities in crisis had to figure out how to help themselves.

[00:14:45] Alia Volz: With its kind of evangelical right support bed and morality, the Reagan administration really was not super excited to take the needs of, well, first, you know, it hit, it hit queer communities and it hit. Communities of drug users and Haitian immigrants were the first communities really hit hard by it, and, and the Reagan administration was not all that interested in going to bat for these groups, the pharmaceutical response, the scientific response, and this being funded by the government moved very, very slowly.

[00:15:20] Alia Volz: Years and years and years. And meanwhile, thousands of people are becoming, well, hundreds of people become thousands, become tens of thousands of infections and deaths. So it was, it was a very dire situation and it was felt very quickly in San Francisco. It was just a death sentence for the first 15 years.

[00:15:39] Alia Volz: And in the absence of that, people made the connection on their own that cannabis was helpful with some of the symptoms.

[00:15:49] Ellen Scanlon: Alia explains how cannabis helped relieve symptoms of AIDS.

[00:15:54] Alia Volz: Not going to cure anybody, but it helped with some of the most common symptoms. People were wasting from appetite loss and nausea and cannabis helped with nausea.

[00:16:06] Alia Volz: Cannabis gave you the munchies. That doesn’t take a A doctor to figure out it takes a stoner, a terrible insomnia, depression, headaches. There’s a whole manner of things. We know now that the endocannabinoid system can be soothed and that you can have a systemic reaction of calming the entire system. And so cannabis became a community reaction to what really was a public health issue and should have been handled in other ways.

[00:16:38] Alia Volz: So, Dennis and the other people he worked with, Brownie Mary was hugely important, really put everything on the line to make sure that their community would have access to at least something that would be helpful. And my mom became part of that movement.

[00:16:55] Ellen Scanlon: Dennis Perrone was one of the most important pioneers in cannabis legalization.

[00:17:00] Ellen Scanlon: Alia tells us more about him.

[00:17:02] Alia Volz: He was the self proclaimed Prince of Pot. And he had taken it upon himself, he had made a vow to himself. And he tells the story. That starts in 1970 when he was put in jail for a night for possession of a joint and had a terrible time and he promised himself that night that he would spend his life working to change the laws around cannabis.

[00:17:25] Alia Volz: And in fact, he did spend his life doing that as with my mom, as with a lot of the cannabis pioneers. It wasn’t medical at the beginning, it was initially about having, having a good time, being creative, and also people recognized the way that cannabis propaganda was racialized, the way that it was being used politically, how unreasonable that was.

[00:17:50] Alia Volz: Dennis kind of took this on really early, and he’s been arrested just dozens of times and was really proud of his arrests. He sought them out. He also was a real pioneer in being a spokesperson for getting cannabis legislation on the books. He got some of the first pieces of language passed, even before they had any legal bite, but expressed the will of people.

[00:18:18] Alia Volz: He liked to get things done. busted. And my mom didn’t like getting busted. So she stayed away from actually working with him for a long time that they were friends.

[00:18:31] Ellen Scanlon: Meredith shares some of her memories of Dennis Perrone.

[00:18:34] Meridy Volz: He was the gentlest of people. He was soft spoken, very smart, very kind, and determined to get pot legalized.

[00:18:47] Ellen Scanlon: You may have heard me talk about a woman named Brownie Mary in past episodes. She was a pioneering advocate along with Dennis Perrone. She was also commonly confused with Meredith from Sticky Fingers. Brownie Mary distributed her brownies to patients who she called her kids at San Francisco General Hospital, despite the constant threat of arrest.

[00:19:11] Alia Volz: She was this amazing figure, this little old lady, she was so cute, and she had a foul mouth, and the press just loved her, she was hysterical. And she, like Dennis, was perfectly fine with getting arrested to make a point. And she made her points very well, and it ended up being kind of a battle fought in the press a lot of the time.

[00:19:33] Alia Volz: What was funny about it was that she and, my mom’s name is Meridy, and her name is Mary. They’re not the same age. They don’t look alike, but they both have curly hair. They’re both a little pudgy and they both did. cannabis brownies in the same neighborhood, kind of overlapping, but like different periods of time.

[00:19:52] Alia Volz: But sometimes it would be simultaneous. The thing was, unfortunately for Mary, she kept getting busted. And it was very clear that she was also getting busted for my mom’s activities, which. It’s really unfortunate for her. My mom never got busted.

[00:20:16] Ellen Scanlon: Since 2019, one of my favorite women run edible brands, Camino, has been celebrating pride with a special limited edition gummy. This year, the flavor is Passion Fruit Punch, and it’s a love letter to folks who stand for inclusivity and love. When I pull out Camino’s signature round gummy tin, The most common thing I hear is, Oh, I love those.

[00:20:40] Ellen Scanlon: The pride tin is particularly special too. It features some of the most important locations across the U S in the LGBTQ plus community, including San Francisco’s Castro district, which is not far from my home. Pride is a feeling that runs deep in the Castro. As one of the first gay neighborhoods in the U.

[00:21:01] Ellen Scanlon: S., it remains one of the most prominent symbols of LGBTQ plus activism in the world. And proud is what you’ll feel after trying one of Camino’s delicious passion fruit punch gummies. They’re created to help you feel exhilarated. Another reason to feel Pride. Camino has donated over $275,000 to various lgbtq plus charities since launching the Camino Pride.

[00:21:29] Ellen Scanlon: Gummy Camino’s Pride gummies are available in select states and compliment the rest of their delicious gummy product line. I’m very excited to offer our listeners 20% off Camino gummies. That ship right to your door. Use promo code DoThePot when you visit ShopKivaConfections. com for 20 percent off your order.

[00:21:53] Ellen Scanlon: The offer is available for any states included in Camino’s available distribution list. I’ll add links and all the details to the show notes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support our show.

[00:22:12] Ellen Scanlon: While the adults were scrambling to support their friends and loved ones, Alia was a self described outcast trying to make it through her days at school. From her viewpoint as a kid, AIDS felt more like a natural disaster than a disease. She shares a vivid memory of witnessing desperation and love while on a brownie run with her mom.

[00:22:36] Alia Volz: I have this specific memory that’s a terrible memory, in some ways also beautiful, of going on a delivery with my mom. I would sometimes go with her. And we got to a house and they were dying. They were so sick. It was a couple and probably a very young couple. I doubt they were even 30. There was a dying man caring for a dying man and, and that was something that you would see a lot and they loved each other.

[00:23:07] Alia Volz: That was the thing that really made a huge impression on me, probably the biggest impression out of all of this. And it was terrible, terrible way to learn this, but you really saw love and compassion and bravery. In the way that people would care for each other through the absolute worst case scenario.

[00:23:28] Alia Volz: The worst thing that you could possibly imagine happening was happening all the time. The community kind of cast out to the wilds for a long time, really banded together and took care of one another. And I will never forget the way these men were looking at each other, how much love was there and the absolute horror of what was happening to their bodies.

[00:23:51] Alia Volz: It was just awful. But, um, you know, my mom came and she was, she had wonderful bedside manner, not flinching a bit and brings their brownies and is making jokes and trying to uplift. And you could see that they were glad to have the brownies. It would help a little bit with the symptoms.

[00:24:12] Ellen Scanlon: Community is at the center of this story and the gay community in San Francisco really supported one another.

[00:24:20] Alia Volz: Being openly gay in those times for a lot of people meant leaving their families or. Being rejected by their families. And it’s still, it still means that today for a lot of people, this element of chosen family was really powerful and people would come together to create systems and to create families for people who didn’t have their families when they were the most.

[00:24:47] Alia Volz: So you had systems to deliver hot meals to people who couldn’t go out of their houses. You had organizations that arose to cover bills because people couldn’t work. You had organizations that arose to help people retain their housing as long as they could or to house them as they died, hospice organizations, to go with people to medical appointments.

[00:25:11] Alia Volz: In a lot of ways, like, the work of people like Dennis and Brownie Marion, to a certain extent my mom, it was part of that, that larger movement to try to, try to take care of people.

[00:25:23] Ellen Scanlon: I was a kid living on the East Coast during the AIDS crisis, and I remember there being so much fear around the disease and people who had it.

[00:25:33] Ellen Scanlon: None of that fear seemed to be present for Meredith, and she helped Alia not to be afraid either. I asked her about bravery.

[00:25:43] Meridy Volz: It was more fearlessness than bravery. It didn’t feel brave, but it felt Exciting because it was illegal. It felt to kind of be an outlaw, right? It felt very Robin Hood outlaw ish with a baby.

[00:26:03] Meridy Volz: I didn’t feel frightened for myself somehow. Like, oh, they’re going to breathe on me and I’m going to get sick, and it was never that for me. There was this horrible, like, angel of death kind of fear. And it happened so fast, and it always seemed like there was one survivor in a group. Because they were cliques and groups.

[00:26:28] Meridy Volz: Social groups. And I deliver 10 dozen brownies, and they’d all disperse them. And groups were going so fast. And it always seemed there was one survivor who inherited everybody’s stuff. And in the hospitals, the only thing which gave any relief at all We’re brownies, and so it changed. It changed over to be not recreational.

[00:27:00] Meridy Volz: I’m sure there was still some, but there was a black cloud over the city. People were shutting down socially. The business was booming because they were so needed. It was really quite a time. It was overall frightening for humanity, but I never sort of felt, oh, I’m going to get AIDS and die. I never felt that.

[00:27:28] Meridy Volz: I just felt like I can be of some help. I mean, how could you not? There’s the least we could do is that. I don’t know that I would call me brave, but I, I was a pioneer as was Brownie Mary.

[00:27:45] Ellen Scanlon: Looking back, Alia feels a great sense of sadness and a lot of gratitude for having seen such courage in her community.

[00:27:56] Alia Volz: I always come back to how as a child, and even at the time I was aware that I was very privileged. To witness, to partake in, to be around true courage and, and true compassion. The real deal. Absolutely real deal. And in the days before anyone knew how it was transmitted, there were medical professionals who were afraid to go into rooms with people with AIDS.

[00:28:30] Alia Volz: There was a lot of fear around it, and then there were people who just were going to love each other and care for each other no matter what. And that, that to me is overwhelmingly powerful. The strongest people I’ve, I’ve ever had the honor to know.

[00:28:49] Ellen Scanlon: The gay community was in a unique position at that time, having spent the previous decade fighting for gay rights.

[00:28:57] Ellen Scanlon: Over those years, they had honed their skills in organizing and advocating effectively for their cause.

[00:29:05] Alia Volz: It was this confluence of events, of situations, where you had in the LGBTQ plus community You already had a community that was mobilized to fight for its rights, because the Gay Liberation Movement, as it was called in those days, was really a creature of the 70s.

[00:29:23] Alia Volz: Bleeding a little into both directions, but it was a 70s thing, and Harvey Milk had been elected in 77 and shot in 78, right? And there was a lot of protest and a lot of mobilization that had already happened around that. And I think that’s part of it. When AIDS hit, you had a generation of people who already believed in standing up for themselves in a way that is not, I think, native or natural to all generations, right?

[00:29:55] Alia Volz: So they’re already used to, Organizing, phone trees, taking to the streets, getting arrested, it was old hat. A lot of people did, I think, went really seamlessly from protesting the Vietnam War, to fighting for gay rights, to fighting for the rights of people living with AIDS, and cannabis folded into that.

[00:30:21] Alia Volz: It was this progression and yes, it was absolutely about love, but it really was also about desperation. It was out of necessity. People were dying. The access to cannabis folded in with ACT UP, which was a really powerful organization.

[00:30:38] Ellen Scanlon: ACT UP was a grassroots political organization that started in New York City in the 1980s and worked to end the AIDS pandemic.

[00:30:47] Ellen Scanlon: ACT UP pushed hard for faster access to experimental medications, including cannabis, to support dying patients.

[00:30:56] Alia Volz: Very dramatic demonstrations to, to draw attention to the needs of people with AIDS, and they focused on getting early access to experimental meds, because the problem was that medications were being developed to approach AIDS related symptoms in different ways, but they could get hung up in FDA testing for years and years and years.

[00:31:19] Alia Volz: And of course, we want the FDA to test medications, but they made the argument that if people are dying, it doesn’t matter because they’re going to die before you find out whether this medication is safe for them, and, and cannabis became part of that. Being viewed as an experimental drug because part of the runaround that the U.

[00:31:40] Alia Volz: S. government would give to people who were already asking for cannabis legalization outside of the realm of AIDS was that it couldn’t be tested on human subjects because it was classified as a drug that had no medical use. The circular logic was that, you know, it’s not safe to test because we know it doesn’t have medical use because we haven’t tested it because it’s not, you know, and it goes on and on.

[00:32:06] Alia Volz: And ACT UP very successfully a lot of times and very passionately made the argument that in, in the case of people who had a, a fatal diagnosis, they should be able to decide whether they wanted to take a risk. The wild thing in the case of cannabis was that the argument had already been successfully made in court that cannabis had medicinal properties for certain things.

[00:32:35] Ellen Scanlon: In the 1970s, there had been federally funded research showing that cannabis had medicinal uses. Yet this information was largely buried.

[00:32:46] Alia Volz: The first person to successfully win this lawsuit was a guy named Robert Randall, who had glaucoma and, um, he was absolutely horrified to find that, that in federally funded testing, it had already been shown that cannabis could help with glaucoma, but this was being kept under wraps and there’s no way to access it.

[00:33:07] Alia Volz: So he sued the government for access and won amazingly. This is in 76 and from then on the US government. So there was a program that was tacitly admitting that cannabis had medicinal properties, even as it was scheduled as a drug that had no medicinal properties. So there’s this really infuriating logic and I feel like it just would have gone on indefinitely if not for the absolute fury and desperation of people who are dying of AIDS.

[00:33:45] Alia Volz: It would not take no for an answer.

[00:33:47] Ellen Scanlon: In 1996, California became the first state to legalize cannabis for compassionate use. This legislation exempted certain patients and their primary caregivers from criminal liability under state law.

[00:34:03] Alia Volz: That enabled people to get their cannabis at a buyer’s club if they had medical permission.

[00:34:11] Alia Volz: And it was imperfect. It wasn’t a smooth course, but that was the beginning of legal access. And this was, you know, Dennis and other people finally getting this project through. So when that happened was when my mom started to step away.

[00:34:26] Ellen Scanlon: The Bay Area Reporter, a gay magazine, printed weekly obituaries, sometimes pushing the thickness of the magazine into phone book territory.

[00:34:38] Ellen Scanlon: One 1998, the front page had a huge audience. All caps headline, no obits. It was the first time in over 10 years that there were no deaths to report. This was also the beginning of the end for Marity and Sticky Fingers Brownies. She was ready to retire and she moved to Mexico.

[00:35:03] Alia Volz: She never went back to dealing.

[00:35:05] Alia Volz: So for her, it was like, by that point, the city was full of ghosts and she had done her part.

[00:35:11] Ellen Scanlon: As time went on, Alia felt she had a role to play in sharing the story of this remarkable time.

[00:35:18] Alia Volz: I remember seeing that very little of the conversation that was being had around recreational use and legalization in general and what the industry would look like.

[00:35:30] Alia Volz: Post legalization, there was almost no really thought or acknowledgement given to what had come before and hundreds of thousands of people who had lost their lives prior to medical cannabis becoming accessible during the AIDS crisis and how those two things were intertwined and having grown up in that world, it, it, It bothered me.

[00:35:54] Alia Volz: I felt like there was a debt of remembrance that was not being paid. And so I thought I had this little piece of the puzzle that I could put into place. I feel serious about it. I feel like it’s about these impossible odds and what happens when a community comes together to take care of each other and to get what they need.

[00:36:14] Alia Volz: You know, I just felt like there was something so, so essential and beautiful and deep and hard about that.

[00:36:20] Ellen Scanlon: Thank you for celebrating Pride with us today. It is a real honor to share the story of these pioneers, along with the fury, the courage, and the love that drove the gay community in San Francisco in the 1980s.

[00:36:37] Ellen Scanlon: Stay tuned for the next episode in our AIDS and Cannabis series. We’ll hear from Dr. Donald Abrams, a pioneering AIDS doctor who was on the front lines of the crisis in San Francisco. Dr. Abrams shares how losing his partner to the virus inspired his years long mission to secure the first government grant to study cannabis for medical use in AIDS patients.

[00:37:03] Ellen Scanlon: Don’t miss it. If you liked this episode, please share it with a friend. We love new listeners and are here to help everyone feel confident about cannabis.

[00:37:19] Ellen Scanlon: Thank you for listening to how to do the pot for lots more information and past episodes visit do the pot. com. Are you one of the thousands of people who love how to do the pots newsletter. If you’re not getting it, please sign up at do the pot. com and if you like how to do the pot, please rate and review us on Apple podcasts.

[00:37:42] Ellen Scanlon: It really helps people find the show. Thank you to writer Joanna Silver and producers Maddy Fair and Nick Patry. I’m Ellen Scanlon and stay tuned for more of How to Do the Pot.



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