On January 27th this year, one of the country’s leading marijuana activists passed away from respiratory problems. Dennis Peron was a powerful force behind marijuana reform and he is the reason that we have medical marijuana in this country today. Although his fight for legalization began in San Francisco, it spread throughout California and now the 29 states across the country that have legalized the plant for medical use. His efforts have ultimately brought hope and light to the millions of people across the country suffering with debilitating illnesses such as AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, chronic pain and the other devastating conditions that can be treated with the use of medical marijuana.
Peron’s Early Years and Introduction to Cannabis
Peron was born in Bronx, New York in 1946. He was drafted by the U.S. military in 1966 during the Vietnam War. Peron joined the Air Force and, during his service, he tried marijuana for the first time. This changed the course of his life. On his return to the U.S., he smuggled 2 pounds of marijuana back home with him. He set up a life for himself in San Francisco, a place where, as a gay man, he found acceptance and stability and began a lifetime of marijuana activism.
Peron’s Commitment to Medical Marijuana
Peron started selling marijuana as a means of supporting himself but his journey took some unexpected turns. His presence in San Francisco during the beginning of the AIDS crisis alerted him to the powerful effects that marijuana had on treating AIDS and the devastating side effects of both the illness itself and the medication patients had to use to treat it. The most significant instance of this came when Peron was arrested in 1990 for marijuana possession. Police raided his home and found 4 ounces of marijuana that belonged to his old lover, Jonathan West, who was dying from AIDS. The marijuana was being used to treat West’s symptoms and the disease. When Peron was on trial for the crime 6 months later, West testified that the marijuana was his and the charges against Peron were dropped. 2 weeks later, West died, sparking Peron’s commitment to legalize the use of marijuana growth, sale and use for medicinal purposes.
The Passage of Proposition P
In 1991, Peron’s bill, Proposition P, requesting that San Francisco allow for the prescription of marijuana to treat a variety of conditions, passed with overwhelming support. Peron helped to write the initiative, Proposition 215, which ultimately became the first successful state wide bill to legalize medical marijuana.
Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of the pro-legalization organization California Norml, told the New York Times that “no person is more responsible for the legalization of medical marijuana than Dennis. He was in the right place, at the right time as a gay rights leader at the time of the AIDS epidemic; he had the right experience as a pot dealer, the gumption to go ahead and do it and the trust of the people of San Francisco, who respected his efforts.”
Peron’s legacy continues to exist in the lives of the millions who experience the many benefits of medical marijuana, now and always.