No one person had more to do with the “mainstreaming” of medical marijuana in the United States then Dennis Peron, who died recently at the age of 71.
Peron died at a San Francisco hospital after a battle with cancer. It was another disease, AIDS, that drove him to become a strong advocate for medical marijuana in the 1980s and 1990s.
Dennis Peron The Advocate
Peron’s untiring efforts to get medical marijuana legal started after seeing the relief marijuana brought to his partner who was dying from AIDS in the late 1980s. Peron’s efforts led to the city of San Francisco changing the laws to allow for the medicinal use of marijuana.
Eventually, that led to California becoming the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996.
Last year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors recognized Dennis Peron with a certificate of honor, with one supervisor calling him “the father of medical marijuana.”
The Benefits Of Marijuana
Born in New York City and raised on Long Island, Peron began smoking cannabis at the age of 17. After returning from serving in the Air Force in Vietnam, he told Leafly in a 2014 interview, he “kissed the ground. I was happy – partly because I had two pounds on me.” He had smuggled cannabis back to the U.S.
He also had fallen in love with San Francisco during a brief stop there before shipping out to Vietnam and decided to move there after his military service ended. While he had to hide the fact he was gay during his youth on Long Island, he now openly became part of the city’s large gay community.
He also became part of the city’s active cannabis culture. He dealt marijuana for a time. He opened a restaurant where he sold marijuana on the second floor. Police arrested him many times. He got shot in the leg during one arrest.
But his marijuana use went beyond business, according to the New York Times. He knew marijuana had helped him stay away from drinking after years of being an alcoholic. He also had seen the positive effects of marijuana on his partner when he was dying of AIDS.
The final motivator came when police arrested Peron and his partner in 1990 for marijuana possession. His partner was using cannabis to combat nausea and pain. The arrest came not long before his partner died.
It’s difficult to imagine now, with medical marijuana legal in more than half the states, but in the early 1990’s legalizing cannabis was a very hard sell. Americans were not far removed from the “Just Say No” anti-drug era of President Ronald Reagan, and marijuana had been vilified and grouped together with drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
But Peron took on the fight to get it legalized. He joined forces with San Francisco leaders who saw it his way. In 1991, they wrote Proposition P, which allowed doctors to prescribe cannabis for patients without fear of being arrested. Voters passed it overwhelmingly.
He later helped write Proposition 215, the first statewide law legalizing medical marijuana. Voters approved it in 1996.
Peron, meanwhile, had opened a dispensary in San Francisco where he sold marijuana to those with AIDS, cancer and other terminal illnesses. He got arrested for that, too, just months before the Proposition 215 vote.
With his dispensary closed, Peron eventually grew marijuana on a farm and gave it away to the seriously ill. He later ran a bed and breakfast in San Francisco.
Dennis Peron is considered a trailblazer in legalizing medical marijuana. He viewed his actions as simply doing the right thing. According to the Times, he said in a 2016 interview, “In 1996, it was like a dark room had been left for so long without any light.
“I let a little light in. A light of compassion, hope and empowerment.”