Dennis Peron was instrumental in drafting the ballot language for Prop. 215, which was passed by voters and made California the first state to legalize medical marijuana.
San Francisco- Dennis Peron, an advocate and key player in getting medical marijuana legalized in California, died Saturday of lung cancer at the V.A. Health Center in San Francisco. He was 72.
While known for writing and promoting Prop. 215, the ballot initiative that was passed by voters and legalized medical marijuana in California, Peron was also known within the gay community for publicizing the benefits of marijuana use for AIDS patients in the 1980s. Before medical marijuana was legal statewide, Peron helped get an ordinance passed that allowed for the use of the drug in San Francisco.
Peron was “A man that changed the world,” according to a post by his brother Jeffery Peron on Facebook. “It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my brother Dennis Peron.”
“Not many people would have had the courage at the time that he took up the mantle,” Terrance Alan, a member of the city’s Cannabis Commission, told the newspaper.
Peron was born in The Bronx, NY and grew up on Long Island. He served in the United States Air Force in the 1960s during the Vietnam War. Peron was first exposed to marijuana during his time in the military. After he returned from the war, Peron moved to San Francisco where he became friends with Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist who would go on to become San Francisco’s first openly gay member of the city’s Board of Supervisors.
After seeing how marijuana benefited AIDS patients in the late 1970s, Peron started selling marijuana. Peron’s partner, Jonathan West, died of AIDS in 1990. In 1991 Peron organized and helped pass San Francisco’s Proposition P, an initiative that legalized medical marijuana in the city. He would then move on to getting Prop. 215 passed in 1996.
His activism “was about love,” Cara Cordoni, a close friend of Peron during the last few years, told mg.
Whether it was AIDS, poverty, or the need for medical marijuana, Peron seemed drawn to social causes where lives were at risk.
“Dennis got involved in changing the laws because people were dying,” Cordoni said of his efforts on multiple causes.
Peron was known for being a fearless activist. He was arrested multiple times and was once shot in the leg by a police officer, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
But Peron expressed opposition to recreational legalization. He claimed that all marijuana use was medicinal and that a distinction was not necessary. Peron was also reluctant to embrace an industry where profits would be valued over safety and compassion.
According to Cordoni, Peron said “if you can’t afford to give weed away then you can’t afford to sell it. They need to be hand in hand.”
Last year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors issued a certificate of honor to Peron. Supervisor Jeff Sheehy referred to him as “the father of medical cannabis.”