Dennis Peron, the “Father of Medical Marijuana,” died on January 27, 2018. Having suffered for years with lung cancer, he was seventy-two years old at the time of his death at a San Francisco hospital.
Born in the Bronx, New York, in 1945, Peron joined the U.S. Air Force in 1966 and saw active duty in Vietnam, where he also first tried marijuana. He brought two pounds of pot home with him and moved to San Francisco in 1967, the Summer of Love—“I decided I’d be a hippie faggot,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle—and began a career that lasted four decades, earning a living by selling pot from storefronts in the Castro District. He often got into legal trouble for doing so, including one brief prison term when he was caught with 200 pounds of marijuana. But he persisted.
When Dennis’s partner Jonathan West acquired HIV in the early 1980s, Peron was among the first to understand the value of using marijuana to stimulate AIDS patients’ appetites and to help them keep food down. The marijuana helped Jonathan combat the wasting away from no appetite. After West succumbed to the disease, Peron dedicated his life to making medical marijuana a reality for other AIDS patients. He became a tireless advocate for legalizing medical cannabis.
In 1990, Peron spearheaded the passage of Proposition P, which permitted the medical use of marijuana in the City and County of San Francisco. He opened the Cannabis Buyers Club, which served over 9,000 patients with HIV/AIDS, cancers, and other medical infirmities. Then, in 1996, after the federal government raided and shut down the Buyers Club, he authored the statewide Proposition 215. Peron put together a coalition that included doctors, nurses, clergy, and politicians, leading to passage of Prop. 215 with fifty-six percent of the vote. Later in life, Peron owned and operated a twenty-acre cannabis farm near Clear Lake, California with his husband John Entwistle. The couple returned to San Francisco when Dennis was diagnosed with lung cancer. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors recognized Peron with a certificate of honor in 2017.
Dennis’s longtime friend, and customer, Cleve Jones [A&U, January 2016] told A&U, “The whole idea, the very concept that marijuana could be used for medical purposes was entirely Dennis’s singular vision. He was the first to realize, when our brothers were dying around us from wasting away, that the pot could help them keep their appetites up and, later, to keep their medicines down. He brought a lot of relief to thousands of people.”
Peron lived long enough to see his activism of nearly four decades vindicated. In November 2016, California voters legalized the adult recreational use of cannabis, and the first retail cannabis stores opened on January 1, 2018. More importantly, as of December 2016, medical use of marijuana is legal in 29 states.
“That,” said Cleve,” is Dennis’s legacy, and what an extraordinary legacy it is.”
—Reporting by Hank Trout
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Hank Trout, Editor at Large, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a thirty-seven-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.