Vietnam War veteran and medical marijuana activist Dennis Peron was instrumental in the passing of California’s marijuana laws - the first in the nation - back in the mid 90’s. Peron passed away on Saturday in San Francisco at 71 years old from lung cancer.
Peron’s brother Jeffrey wrote on Facebook, “A man that changed the world. It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my brother Dennis Peron.”
Peron was behind a San Francisco ordinance allowing the use of medical marijuana. The ordinance helped to win the passage of Prop. 215, which legalized medical use across the state in 1996.
Also a gay rights activist, Peron was the first to champion the benefits of medicinal marijuana for AIDS patients. Peron’s partner, Jonathan West, died of AIDS in 1990. Peron was also a close personal friend of the murdered gay rights activist Harvey Milk.
Peron and his husband, John Entwistle, ran a bed-and-breakfast called “Castro Castle” in San Francisco’s gay neighborhood, where he spent his final days.
According to a report by Bruce Barcott at Leafly, Peron credits his time in the Vietnam War with giving him the clarity and resolve to come back home and end the war on pot. After a tour of duty with the US Air Force in the Vietnam War in 1996, according to a past interview with Barcott, Peron said of the experience, ”I came back and kissed the ground. I was so happy—partly because I had two pounds with me. That started a career that would span 40 years.”
Peron was in San Francisco briefly prior to heading to Vietnam in 1967. “It was the Summer of Love,” he later recalled. “Perfect timing. Like everyone else, I ate acid and tripped out. The hippies, those people accepted me. I said, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to come back to San Francisco and live my life here.”
According to Barcott, “Peron became one of the city’s flourishing cannabis sellers. San Francisco police busted him any number of times over the years, but Peron usually beat the charge with the help of Tony Serra, the civil rights attorney known for defending the Bay Area’s most famous and infamous citizens.”
In the year after Jonathan West’s death, Peron took up the cause of legalizing medical marijuana, raising enough signatures to launch Proposition P which legalized the medical use of cannabis in San Francisco in 1991 - five years before the statewide measure Prop 215 was launched. Voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition P with an astounding 80% vote of approval.
“Peron lived long enough to see his activism vindicated on two fronts,” says Barcott. “When same-sex marriage became legal in California, he married his longtime partner John Entwistle, himself an outspoken activist on both national cannabis issues and local San Francisco neighborhood politics.