Celebrating The Life Of Dennis Peron
On January 27, 2018, the cannabis community lost Dennis Peron, one of its most influential members. The United States is currently experiencing widespread acceptance of weed, but it’s unlikely that we would be where we are now without the dedication of cannabis activist Dennis Peron. As a medicinal weed advocate, he did not expressly agree with the recreational legalization of cannabis, but it’s important to honor the legacy of someone who so drastically changed the scope of marijuana in America.
Dennis Peron was born in the Bronx borough of New York City on April 8, 1945. This positioned him at a point in history that changed many Americans: he served in the Vietnam War, where many soldiers were first exposed to cannabis. After smuggling two pounds of weed back to the United States, he settled in San Francisco and fully embraced the counterculture lifestyle.
The Castro District became home to Dennis Peron, and from there, he made his mark by selling copious amounts of weed from his supermarket and bed and breakfast. This led to numerous arrests—the most famous incident concerning 200 pounds of ganja and a six-month prison sentence.
But it wasn’t all a cloud of smoke for Dennis Peron. He campaigned to elect Harvey Milk, San Francisco’s first openly gay politician, to the Board of Supervisors in 1977. Not long after, the HIV/AIDS epidemic struck the gay community, of which Dennis Peron was a proud member. The AIDS-crisis led to the untimely passing of his partner, Jonathan West, in 1990. And it was from this tragedy that the first steps to legalize weed in California were taken.
Dennis Peron witnessed firsthand the effects of harsh pharmaceuticals in his partner’s battle against HIV/AIDS, and he used the powerful medicinal properties of cannabis to alleviate this suffering. Dennis Peron went on the record with the Los Angeles Times in 1996, saying: “In my pain, I decided to leave Jonathan a legacy of love. I made it my moral pursuit to let everyone know about Jonathan’s life, his death, and his use of marijuana and how it gave him dignity in his final days.”
It is this legacy of love that led to Dennis Peron drafting Prop P, a 1991 ballot initiative in San Francisco that added cannabis to the list of medicines approved to treat serious illnesses including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS. It overwhelmingly passed with 80 percent approval, and Prop P laid the groundwork for another major victory in California.
Dennis Peron co-authored the first draft of Prop 215, the statewide measure that legalized medicinal cannabis in California in 1996. This groundbreaking moment in marijuana history, born from the tragedy of losing a loved one, has snowballed into the nationwide movement that includes 29 states (and growing) where weed is legal in a medical capacity.
The death of Dennis Peron came during the first month of fully legalized recreational cannabis in California. Although he was not completely on board with the recreational aspects of weed, its existence would not be possible without the groundbreaking work he undertook in the 1990s.
So if you’re living in a state where weed has been legalized in any way, you can thank Dennis Peron: compassionate caregiver, outspoken activist, and pioneering visionary of cannabis and all its glory.