California Medical-Marijuana Pioneer Dennis Peron Passes Away

After a long battle with lung cancer and COPD, beloved California marijuana activist Dennis Peron passed away today at 2:30 pm PT at the Veteran’s Hospital in San Francisco. He was 71.

Peron founded the medical-marijuana movement in San Francisco nearly three decades ago. Two years after Prop P (which he drafted) passed in San Francisco legalizing medical cannabis in 1991, Peron opened the Cannabis Buyers Club. By 1996, it had 10,000 members and a large storefront on Market St.

Next on Peron’s agenda was to legalize medical use throughout the state. He and California NORML’s Dale Gieringer wrote the first draft of Prop 215, which would pass with 56% of the vote in 1996, making California first state to recognize cannabis’ medical benefits.

Also See: How California Legalized Medical Marijuana

Peron famously theorized that “all marijuana use is medical.” The vague wording of the new law opened the door for all sorts of conditions, from cancer to insomnia, creating a legal gray area that bordered on complete legalization. Over the past 21 years, pretty much any resident who sought a recommendation for medical use received one from a participating doctor.

Also during that time, 29 other states followed California’s lead in legalizing medical use in some form or another. However, when it came time for full recreational legalization (Prop 64), which passed in a 2016 California voter initiative, Peron opposed it.

“Prop 64 is a misrepresentation of what marijuana is primarily for,” he commented at the time. “This kind of legislation will hurt a lot of people, especially small growers and businesses who are trying to provide to their clients but can’t afford to because of the excess regulations and taxation on their products.”

Dennis Peron was born on Apr. 8, 1946 to an Italian-American family in the Bronx, N.Y. and raised on Long Island, N.Y. After a stint in the Army during the Vietnam War, he moved to San Francisco, which was ideal for him since he a was gay man and the city was known to embrace sexual diversity.

By the mid-’70s, Peron was running a large marijuana operation, called The Big Top, out of his Castro St. apartment. Original landrace strains from Mexico and Colombia overflowed in bowls; customer stopped by and filled up bags of cheap but potent grass. Peron had become San Francisco’s Pied Piper of Pot.

He started getting involved in local politics, working for Harvey Milk, who ran for Supervisor several times until he won in 1977. But deranged Supervisor Dan White assassinated Milk, who was also gay and a New York native, along with Mayor George Moscone, 11 months later. Peron, who’s portrayed by Ted Jan Roberts in the movie Milk, was devastated.

After his successes with medical marijuana, Peron moved north of San Francisco, where he grew his own plants. But ultimately he returned to San Francisco and was diagnosed with cancer. Peron died surrounded by his closest friends, who’d held onto hope over the past few years as he grew frailer that he’d be able to overcome the disease. Surely, medical cannabis helped Peron to the very end.

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