On Saturday the Medical Cannabis industry lost another relentless advocate. Dennis Peron, 72 lost his battle with cancer on January 29th, 2018 sending social media into a spin as every person that either knew him or admired him shared touching messages of how Dennis positively impacted their lives. In the cannabis industry Peron is an icon. Dennis was one of the pioneers in recognizing the health benefits of cannabis directing the public to begin seeing the plant as the medicine it was. He was the first to highlight its medicinal benefits in the early 80s during the Aids epidemic. His story is one of heroism from being a vet to advocacy pushing for medical cannabis freedom in San Francisco. Dennis Peron not only co-wrote Prop 215 he was the also the 1st in the nation to open up a public marijuana dispensary. Without the efforts of Dennis Peron, we would not have had medical cannabis in California, which later paved the way for Prop 64 adult use in California. In order to get to know the legend, its important we recognize his path.
Prior to starting his infamous cannabis crusade in San Francisco and teaming up with Harvey Milk to protect gay rights, Peron was drafted in 1966 to serve during Vietnam. Once Peron arrived he spoke of his military supervisors handing him a gun, “I can’t take a gun, I close my eyes when I shoot” he stated with no hesitation. That probably had something to do with him continuing the rest of his time in Vietnam serving with the United States Air Force. His deployment ended up playing a vital role in Peron learning and connecting with his deepest secret. Peron recognized he was gay while serving in the USAF. As he served he would fondly look back at the month before he was deployed where he visited San Francisco for the first time, a town that actually accepted him for who he was. Dennis promised himself he would return.
In a 2014 interview conducted by acclaimed journalist Bruce Barcott, while sitting in front of Castro District Peron declared, “I came to San Francisco to find love and to change the world.” “I found love, in my husband Jonathan West, only to lose him through AIDS, together we changed the world through legalization of marijuana.” It was his love for both the gay community and cannabis that he continued to spread his wisdom even upon his battle with cancer. Cannabis helped his then dying husband with the side effects from Aids and now it was helping him with his appetite and pain levels due to cancer and in the beginning, he believed it helped him with his depression. There was always a medical connection to the plant. His story with cannabis starts as his deployment ends.
Peron once revealed he returned to the U.S after his service with 2 lbs of cannabis strapped in his military gear, little did he know that was the start of him entering the California cannabis culture. Shortly after arriving in San Francisco he visited, Napa State Hospital for his Psych studies, where he met patients that were admitted there solely because they were gay. Peron is quoted saying, “during this time in our history, being ‘gay’ was practically against the law”. Many of the patients at Napa were admitted by the court or family members to a hospital with insane asylum standards to change them into heterosexual Americans. Peron learned here upon speaking with many of the patients who were suffering that their symptoms were eased by the use of cannabis. Peron felt a kinship with these patients, feeling the stigma himself; being an Italian, church going Veteran. He believed there should be a place for people to obtain this medicine for whatever ailed them. Peron believed every cannabis user was a medical patient whether or not they knew it.
Peron became a marijuana dealer after returning from Vietnam to San Francisco in 1969. In the 1970s, he ran the Big Top marijuana supermarket out of his home where met and developed a close relationship with Harvey Milk, who would later become the 1st openly gay man elected into public office in San Francisco, CA. In the 1970s, Peron even offered space in one of his business, “Island” a restaurant on the corner of 16th and Sanchez that always smelled like pot. In his years involved in the cannabis industry Peron was arrested 26 times but he never saw significant trouble. Except for once during a raid, where he was shot in the leg by an officer who was later quoted saying,” I wish I would have killed the faggot.” Words that only fueled Peron’s fight against the bigotry and ignorance around him. In 1978 Peron was sentenced to 6 months in prison after being charged with possession of 200lb of cannabis. Sadly, it was during this time that Harvey Milk was assassinated. Proving the unfortunate reality, equality and acceptance had still not reached the gay community.
This relationship was very special to Peron, Harvey was known as the, “Mayor” of Castro Street where in 1995 Peron ended up creating the, Cannabis Buyers Club. This was the nation’s 1st public marijuana dispensary.
With his love for activism and protecting others right to choose both their medicine and their partner. Like many activists their accomplishments are recorded and Peron is no different. According to Ballotpedia, he was a major contributor to 3 important cannabis propositions.
1978: Peron organized San Francisco Stop Prosecuting Marijuana Offenses, Proposition W (1978). Proposition W directed the district attorney to stop arresting people for possessing, transferring, or growing marijuana. It was approved by 56% of the electorate but was not implemented.
1991: Peron organized San Francisco Marijuana Enforcement as the City’s Lowest Law Enforcement Priority, Measure P (1991). Measure P was approved by 79%.
1996: Peron California Proposition 215 (1996) and organized the signature drive to put the measure on the ballot.Peron’s leadership on Proposition 215 was in memory of his partner, Adam West, who used marijuana to cope with AIDS symptoms.
In addition to the many ballot measures Peron took part in, he also ran for Mayor of San Francisco multiple times, even once running for Governor, which he later admitted was just an attempt to get under his opponent’s skin, on a grand stage. His opponent was the Attorney General who was responsible for one of the raids on his shop.
This past Valentine’s Day, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave Peron a certificate of honor along with the pronouncement that Peron is the “Father of medical marijuana.” A title and honor that Peron accepted with humble gratitude and ironically, if it was about legalization he may have rejected.
Although Peron was a proponent and advocate for the medical use of cannabis he was a staunch opponent to all the recent efforts to legalize it. Even taking his hatred against taxing the plant to a personal level when he left his job at Amsterdam University. As the leaders expressed the intention of endorsing and funding the support campaign for an initiative to tax and regulate marijuana. His bio in Ballotpedia also mentions that in August 2009, Peron expressed opposition to the taxation of medical marijuana, arguing that other medicine wasn’t taxed and that giving in to the idea of taxing marijuana was a compromise that would ultimately harm the medical marijuana movement.
In recent years, Peron even drove to Humboldt County where growers were already prepping their greenhouses for the commercial cannabis market and told the growers that tyranny and taxing marijuana meant giving up control and calling it “recreational” was the worst of all, as he put it. “It trivialized the plant.”
Dennis Peron was one of our greatest advocates in this industry. His relentless efforts to have the government recognize cannabis as a medicine was finally observed when he was able to get Proposition 215 passed. It is from the compassionate care act that we find ourselves where we are today in the current, post Prop 64 culture. Peron definitely read between the lines and I am sure he would be saying, “I told you so” to everyone in the industry complaining about over taxation.
Dennis Peron believed cannabis was a medicine. One everyone should have access to and that, medicine should not be taxed or used as a tool to discriminate. Peron hated when officers would tell him, he couldn’t smoke pot and that it was harmful and not a medicine. Peron once said, “You may be able to control my body but you will never be able to control my mind.” Dennis Peron thank you for your mind, your advocacy will never be forgotten.