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‘Marijuana Minister’ committed compassionate crimes

BAR-1996-Mitulski 4 NPR.jpeg
Photo by Phil Migliarese Jr.
(Image from archived Bay Area Reporter newspaper front page)
The Reverend Jim Mitulski, right, dispensed marijuana in Metropolitan Community Church-San Francisco in 1996.

It's LGBTQ History Month. In 1996, as AIDS ravaged San Francisco’s gay community, Metropolitan Community Church pastor Jim Mitulski risked imprisonment, dispensing marijuana to alleviate his sick congregants’ pain before it was legal. He did this in church, right after services.

“The risk was real, the spiritual intensity was real, and the tangible relief for the people who used it was real,” Mitulski recalls.

Out in the Bay this week presents a Stereotypes podcast episode about Mitulski and the LGBTQ-centered MCC’s compassionate cannabis program. In “Marijuana Minister,” produced and hosted by Christopher Beale, Mitulski tells most of the story himself — in his own words and voice.

“We had rules: No money could be exchanged. The pot had to be donated. People had to provide a note.” San Francisco officials promised not to prosecute and said they would try to protect Mitulski and the MCC from federal and state prosecution, but they couldn’t guarantee it.

Pot eased pain and diminished nausea caused by early HIV drugs, reviving appetites of people wasting away. The church distributions began after California’s attorney general shut down many medical marijuana clubs, leaving folks few options.

Phyllis Nelson, a church board member who stood by Mitulski through this time, had lost both her son and his husband to AIDS. “She said, ‘If the attorney general had to spend a whole morning trying to get his son to eat a half a bowl of cereal, like I did, he would understand what we’re doing right now.’”

Hear much more in this inspiring Stereotypes episode. Big thanks to Stereotypes producer and host Christopher Beale for providing this feature to Out in the Bay. Learn more and hear past episodes at Stereotypes‘ website; find Beale on Twitter @realchrisjbeale.

Please help us keep bringing queer air to your ears. Out in the Bay is an independent, listener-supported non-profit production. Your gift will help keep LGBTQ voices and stories coming to you, and to others who might not be able to give. (Donate tabs on our website will take you to a Media Alliance interface. Media Alliance is our non-proft 501(c)3 fiscal agent. Your gift will be earmarked for Out in the Bay.)

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Eric Jansen is a long-time broadcaster and print journalist. A former news anchor, producer and reporter at KQED FM, San Francisco; KLIV AM, San Jose; and Minnesota Public Radio, Eric's award-winning reports have been heard on many NPR programs and PRI's Marketplace. His print work has been in The Mercury News, The Business Journal, and LGBTQ magazines Genre and The Advocate, among other publications. He co-produced the June 2007 PBS documentary Why We Sing!, about LGBTQ choruses and their role in the civil rights fight.