Dennis Peron, also known as the “father of medical cannabis” in California, died on Saturday at the age of 72. The legendary cannabis activist succumbed to lung cancer at a hospital in San Francisco.
Peron was the one who fired up the medical cannabis revolution in California in the 1980s. He was considered a pioneer when it comes to recognizing the various health benefits of cannabis at the height of the AIDS crisis during that time.
Peron helped push through an ordinance in San Francisco that allowed the use of cannabis for medical purposes. This move paved the way for the legalization of weed in the entire state of California in 1996, with the passage of California Proposition 215. Peron co-wrote the preposition, which is the first statewide medical cannabis legalization law in the United States.
Early years as a cannabis seller
Born in Long Island, New York, Peron was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. This is where he first encountered cannabis.
After the war, he decided to settle in San Francisco, where he later became one of its flourishing cannabis sellers. During this period, he got busted by the police many times. But with the help of civil rights attorney Tony Serra, who was known to defend the most famous and infamous people in the Bay Area, he always managed to dodge jail.
In the late 70s, however, Peron was arrested for possession of 200 pounds of cannabis. The charge was too heavy for him to get away from. As a result, he served a six-month jail sentence.
Gay rights advocacy, AIDS, and the pro-cannabis cause
Aside from being a cannabis advocate, Peron was also a prominent figure in California’s gay community. He supported gay activist Harvey Milk who, like him, also came from Long Island. Milk was San Francisco’s first openly gay city supervisor.
Peron was in prison when news broke out that Milk was assassinated, together with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. Peron had recalled that this was pivotal moment in the city’s history, with the collective outrage sending a signal to the city’s police force, which was notorious for arresting and beating gay men.
In 1990, Peron’s partner, Jonathan West, died of AIDS.
Saddened by his partner’s death, Peron decided to leave West “a legacy of love” and dedicated himself to the cannabis cause. According to him, he made it his moral pursuit to let everyone know about West’s life, his death, as well as his use of cannabis and how the drug had given him dignity during his final days.
In 1991, Peron founded the country’s first public cannabis dispensary during the height of the government’s war on drugs. He and a friend distributed cannabis to AIDS patients.
Peron undoubtedly knew how his partner found relief with cannabis as he was battling AIDS. Weed has anti-nausea effects and it stimulates the appetite, thus helping AIDS patients fight the so-called “wasting syndrome,” which is a condition where they find it extremely hard to eat and digest enough food in order to stay alive.
Moreover, Peron gathered enough signatures to put Proposition P on San Francisco’s citywide ballot. Proposition P legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes within the city’s limits. San Francisco voters subsequently passed – by an overwhelming 80 percent – the measure in November 1991.
Peron and other advocates took a similar measure statewide five years later. Proposition 215 was approved with 56 percent of California voters voting in its favor. This made California the first state in the country to legalize medical cannabis.
Peron spent some of his remaining years on a Lake County farm, where he also grew and gave away medical cannabis.
He lived long enough to see two more of his advocacies reap rewards. First was when same-sex marriage finally became legal in California. Because of this, he got to marry his long-time partner John Entwistle. Second was when California voters legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, with cannabis retail stores opening on January 1, 2018.