Meet Dennis Peron, The Father Of Medical Marijuana

By WeedMaps' Erin Hiatt, provided exclusively to Benzinga Cannabis.

If you can consume legal cannabis, there is a small group of dedicated and passionate cannabis activists to thank, one of whom is Dennis Peron. Widely credited as the “Father of Medical Marijuana” in California, he was an activist who worked tirelessly for access to medical use cannabis, beginning with the San Francisco gay community at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and '90s. His partner, Jonathan West, died of AIDS in 1990. 

Peron kept charismatic company, befriending politicians and activists like Harvey Milk, the first openly gay — and subsequently assassinated — politician in California, and Mary Jane Rathbun, aka Brownie Mary, who became well-known for baking and giving pot brownies to San Francisco's AIDS patients. He later married another activist in the medical marijuana movement, John Entwistle.

Peron was born in the Bronx and grew up in Long Island, New York. After a stint in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, Peron returned to the U.S. with two pounds of smuggled weed. Soon thereafter, he moved to San Francisco's Castro District and joined Abbie Hoffman's Youth International Party (Yippies), and in 1991, he organized the passage of San Francisco's Proposition P, a resolution that allowed San Francisco residents to consume medical cannabis without being criminalized.

Cannabis, violence, and the road to legalization

In 1994, Peron co-founded, along with Brownie Mary and several others, San Francisco's Cannabis Buyers Club, the first public medical cannabis dispensary in the U.S. But the Cannabis Buyers Club was nothing like the clean, curated and state-legal dispensaries consumers know today. Essentially selling illegal cannabis out in the open, the collective was under constant threat of harassment, arrest — which happened many times — and even violence (Peron was shot in the leg by a San Francisco police officer). 

Perhaps Peron's most well-known contribution to the current cannabis landscape is his work on California's Proposition 215, thought to have blazed a direct path to the passage of Prop 64 in 2016 that legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older in the Golden State. 

However, he did not support Prop 64 or Prop 19 before it, either literally or figuratively. Peron believed that there was no such thing as “recreational” cannabis and that all people who consume cannabis are doing it for medicinal purposes, whether they know it or not. 

"There is no recreational marijuana. They made it up. What they're trying to do is separate us by saying there's people having fun and there's people medicating," Peron told Merry Jane in 2016. "But people who use marijuana don't get 'high,' they get normal. The government is trying to say that people are getting high. They're trying to demonize these people because they're having fun.

He was also strongly opposed to taxing cannabis, saying in the “Time for Hemp” podcast in 2010, “In California and other states, medicine is not taxed. Now all of a sudden our medicine has to be taxed. And I don't get this tax … And I know it sounds good to say, 'let's just tax our way out of this thing. But you can't. This is a moral crusade.”

In his later years, Peron ran a cannabis farm in northern California and received formal recognition from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for his activism. In 2018, at the age of 72, Peron passed away from lung cancer. He is survived by his husband, John Entwistle, another important activist in the gay rights and cannabis legalization movements. Peron has left behind an important and groundbreaking legacy.

Featured image by Eddie Hernandez Photos/Shutterstock

Posted In: Dennis PeronmarijuanaCannabisMarkets

Ad Disclosure: The rate information is obtained by Bankrate from the listed institutions. Bankrate cannot guaranty the accuracy or availability of any rates shown above. Institutions may have different rates on their own websites than those posted on Bankrate.com. The listings that appear on this page are from companies from which this website receives compensation, which may impact how, where, and in what order products appear. This table does not include all companies or all available products.

All rates are subject to change without notice and may vary depending on location. These quotes are from banks, thrifts, and credit unions, some of whom have paid for a link to their own Web site where you can find additional information. Those with a paid link are our Advertisers. Those without a paid link are listings we obtain to improve the consumer shopping experience and are not Advertisers. To receive the Bankrate.com rate from an Advertiser, please identify yourself as a Bankrate customer. Bank and thrift deposits are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Credit union deposits are insured by the National Credit Union Administration.

Consumer Satisfaction: Bankrate attempts to verify the accuracy and availability of its Advertisers' terms through its quality assurance process and requires Advertisers to agree to our Terms and Conditions and to adhere to our Quality Control Program. If you believe that you have received an inaccurate quote or are otherwise not satisfied with the services provided to you by the institution you choose, please click here.

Rate collection and criteria: Click here for more information on rate collection and criteria.