Jeffrey Peron, Dennis’ brother wrote on his Facebook, “It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my brother, Dennis Peron,” describing him as “a man who changed the world”. Dennis was an American gay activist and businessman who played vital roles in the lifting of marijuana prohibition laws in the country.
If 20th century politics and legislation in the state of California is being discussed, it will be noted that Peron had made significant impact. His crusades for the legalization of marijuana in California earned him the position of a leader in the movement through the 1990s. And with the sway he had on many people in California, he changed the political discussion on cannabis in the United States.
Dennis Robert Peron (April 8 1945 – January 27, 2018) was born in The Bronx, New York City into an Italian-American family. He served in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War where he first had experience with marijuana. After the war, he moved to The Castro, San Francisco. Peron had associations with Harvey Milk, a (murdered) gay activist who was elected into the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.
From when Peron was quite young, he knew he was gay. The social convention of that time disapproves of homosexuality. He said he hid his sexual identity for long time, just like he had to hide his marijuana use. He however “came home from Vietnam with 2 pounds of cannabis, and started a career that lasted 40 years”,
Harvey Milk helped him push through a San Francisco ordinance that permitted the use of cannabis for medical purposes in California. That was viewed as a harbinger to the legalization of weed for medical use in 1996, when California Proposition 215 (which Peron co-wrote) was passed. That was the beginning. Today, many states including the capital have legalized both medical and recreational weed.
Dennis realized how much marijuana was benefiting AIDS patients when he moved back to The Castro. His partner, Jonathan West, died of AIDS in 1990. Peron recalled how marijuana helped Jonathan, his friend. “He was wasting from 142 pounds down to 110. Doctors prescribed Marinol, the THC formula in a pill. Jonathan just vomited the Marinol up…It didn’t make sense…A few puffs on a joint, by contrast, did everything the Marinol couldn’t” he said.
He started selling marijuana in storefronts, and organized for San Francisco Proposition P to be passed. The proposition advocated for the state government to lift the ban on marijuana for medical use
Peron lived as one of the most prominent figures in San Francisco’s gay culture and cannabis underground in the 1970s and 1980s. Towards the end of the 1980s, San Francisco had a high HIV/AIDS infection rate. Peron kindled America’s marijuana revolution as he discovered the immense health benefits of marijuana, especially against treating AIDS symptoms.
Peron co-founded the Cannabis Buyers Club and opened the first public marijuana dispensary in the country. That time was at the peak of the federal government’s war against illicit possession and use of drugs. Between 1978 and 1990, he was arrested several times. In 1993, Peron co-authored a cookbook with Brownie Mary. It was a book with recipes for marijuana edibles.
Peron’s campaign against the criminalization of cannabis and the success his advocacy recorded were not devoid of challenges. Eventually, he flourished to become one of the city’s most successful marijuana sellers but he was arrested numerous times by the San Francisco Police, and also did time. Peron usually beat his cases with help from Tony Serra (a civil rights attorney in San Francisco Bay Area). He was arrested, and jailed for being in possession of over 200 pounds of cannabis—a charge too heavy to be completely wiped away. He spent 6 months in prison.
Peron’s activism was not just against the prohibition of a drug with medicinal uses. He was advocating for the decriminalization of marijuana use in all its forms. His fight for the legalization of marijuana is however, not misguided. He opposed the use of cannabis for children, even on medical grounds.
Peron did not believe that cannabis has any other uses except for its healing properties. He failed to see any distinctions between medical and recreational marijuana, as he believed that every user of the drug consumes it as medicine. In 2010, he opposed California Proposition 19. Proposition 19 would have lifted the prohibition laws on recreational marijuana in California, 8 years ago. Peron also opposed California Proposition 64 in 2016.
Although Peron had lung cancer, he lived long enough to see his political activism justified in two ways: (1) same-sex marriage was legalized in California, and (2) adult use of cannabis was legalized in California. He married his long-time partner, John Entwistle who was also in the same advocacy business with him. About 30 states in the U.S. currently, have legalized marijuana in one form or another. The cannabis business has been projected to contribute immensely to the U.S. economy. Peron was indeed the champion of marijuana in the U.S. In that age, very few people would have the courage to pioneer such causes, talk less of seeing them through.