We are sad to report that the legendary activist Dennis Peron passed away on January 27 after a battle with cancer. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, Dennis Peron was one of the most prominent advocates for medical marijuana legalization in the state of California. To put it simply, he is the reason we even have medical marijuana today.
Who Was Dennis Peron?
Dennis Peron was born in 1946 in Bronx, New York. In 1966, the U.S. military drafted him. He ended up joining the Air Force and fighting in Vietnam. While overseas, Peron tried cannabis for the first time. In a 2014 interview conducted by acclaimed journalist Bruce Barcott, Peron revealed that he returned to the United States after his service with two pounds of cannabis strapped inside his military gear.
The souvenir launched not only a career but a life of activism.
Peron planted his roots in San Francisco. As a gay man, he found himself accepted there. He started a commune and later began to sell weed to support himself in the Castro District. The Castro was also home and headquarters to Peron’s friend, Harvey Milk. A fellow activist, Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.
Although he had numerous run-ins with law enforcement, Peron only saw significant trouble in 1978, when he was arrested for possessing 200 pounds of cannabis. He served a six-month jail sentence. During this time, Milk was assassinated.
The AIDS Crisis and Cannabis Activism
In the 1980s, the AIDS crisis was in full swing. Peron’s partner contracted the virus (Peron did not), as did many of their friends. They found that consuming cannabis relieves AIDS side effects in a way that other medications did not. The plant, specifically the THC, alleviates nausea and helps combat wasting syndrome, also known as cachexia.
Peron’s partner died of AIDS in 1990. His death prompted Peron to ramp up his cannabis activism. In 1991, he worked to collect enough signatures to put a medical marijuana measure on a citywide ballot. The measure was called Proposition P and would legalize the use of medical cannabis within the city limits of San Francisco. The law passed and Peron co-founded the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. It was the first-ever public dispensary in the country. One of the other co-founders was Mary Jane Rathbun, better known as Brownie Mary. In 1993, she and Peron published a cannabis cookbook together.
And then, in 1996, Peron co-wrote the proposition that shaped the future of cannabis for the entire country: Proposition 215. Also called The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, this was the measure that implemented a medical marijuana program throughout the state of California.
California residents voted in favor of Proposition 215 on November 5th, 1996. The rest, as they say, is history.
Final Hit: Remembering Dennis Peron, The Force Behind Medical Marijuana
Until the end of his life, Dennis Peron was a force for both LGBT activism and cannabis activism. In the past decade, he was able to benefit from his years of fighting the good fight. He married his partner, fellow activist John Entwistle when California legalized same-sex marriage and he even got to witness something that no one could have predicted in the 1970s: the legalization of recreational cannabis in California. If that isn’t vindication, we’re not sure what is.
We are sure of one thing though. Without Dennis Peron’s tireless fight to help those suffering from disease, medical marijuana programs might not exist. And legalized adult-use? Absolutely out of the question. Those in the cannabis space—whether they are recreational users, medical patients, activists or journalists—owe a great deal to Dennis Peron.
We owe it to him, and to each other, to continue his legacy of righteousness.