Arguably The Individual Most Responsible For The Rise Of The Medical Marijuana Movement In California, And Eventually Nationwide, Passed Away This Weekend

The individual most responsible for the medical marijuana movement in CA, and eventually in more than 30 states across this country, was San Francisco gay rights and marijuana advocate Dennis Peron, who died this past weekend from lung cancer at age 71.

Peron was drafted and sent to Vietnam in 1966, where he first discovered marijuana. When his tour of duty ended and he returned home, he also managed to bring two pounds of marijuana with him – starting a career that he later acknowledged would last more than 40-years. In the 1970s, he opened the Big Top, a café in San Francisco where marijuana was openly sold and customers could smoke and socialize. The café was eventually closed by San Francisco police, who arrested Peron on numerous occasions.

Peron was among the earliest marijuana and gay rights advocates to recognize that marijuana could provide relief to HIV-positive and AIDS patients. In 1991 he organized the nation’s first medical marijuana initiative, Proposition P,  approved by 80% of voters of San Francisco. Subsequently, he founded the nation’s first medical marijuana dispensary, the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers’ Club, where patients with HIV and other illnesses could openly buy, use and share marijuana.

The “buyers club” served as many as 11,000 patients before eventually being forced to close by the courts in 1998.

In 1996, with the help of Dale Gieringer and CA NORML, Peron organized the first state initiative to legalize medical marijuana, the Compassionate Use Act (Prop. 215), which went on to be approved by 56% of California voters. The favorable experience with medical marijuana in CA eventually led to the adoption of medical marijuana laws in an additional 29 states and growing.

But Peron’s influence went well beyond the medical use of marijuana. Of the 9 states that have now legalized the recreational use of marijuana by adults, each one has first adopted the medical use of marijuana. Only after the states had grown comfortable with medical use, and had seen first-hand that marijuana was an important medicine that helped tens of thousands of seriously ill Americans, were they willing to move forward to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, regardless of why they smoked.

All of us who smoke marijuana, whether for medical or recreational use, are truly indebted to the courageous early work of Dennis Peron. Without his willingness to stand-up publicly and fight for the medical use of marijuana, despite it’s illegal status at that time, we would not be where we are today.

May he rest in peace

20 thoughts

      1. The spellcheck software on my tablet is super aggressive, and just plain stupid. I hate it. It interferes with the communication process.

        Anyway, the bell tolls for all of us. If I could give back just a tiny fraction of what Dennis Peron has given back, I would be satisfied.

        My joy comes in the communal conversation. “Let us talk,” a writer once wrote, “before the sand fills my eyes.”

        Here’s to Dennis Peron.

  1. oh god….RIP to a pioneer and a legend! An inspiration to us all! RIP, Dennis, and thank you for everything!! We will carry your message and dreams on always, and never give up the fight for what is right! Thank you Dennis! Never to be forgotten!

  2. Keith,
    Thank you for the history lesson and for sharing and honoring the story of such a crucial marijuana advocate I only vaguely heard stories about through marijuana advocacy lore.

    I first saw this post while attending the Texas NORML/ Texans for Marijuana Policy lobby training in San Antonio. My first thought was “What a blessing that Dennis was able to see California legalize full “responsible adult” marijuana smoke before he died.” Then, I was looking at the faces in the filled library conference room in dowtown San Antonio thinking “some of these people will serve on city councils, or perhaps even start a whole new advocacy group.”
    Ok, my third thought was “why can’t I smoke some weed at the Buffalo Wild Wings?” But that third thought isn’t whats important right now…

    Marijuana legalization history is written on the pages of this National NORML Canniversity as to who started it all… and you, my friend, were sparking it up long ago when NORML was just a donated thought in Hugh Hefner’s mind… (and wallet!)

    I’ll be up there on K street around the first or second week of July. I missed a chance smokin a joint with you before but I wont allow that opportunity to pass by me like a lit joint out of rotation again! Hope to see you soon brother! Thanks for all you do!

  3. I salute Dennis Peron! He is someone I truly respect and I consider him to be a great American.

    Also, I salute you Keith Stroup! Thank you for all you have done, and continue to do, for the cause of freedom. Your fight is as close to being a holy one as I can imagine.

    Sorry, but middle finger for Trump, Pence, and Sessions… I find it hard to believe I could ever have any respect for them!

  4. Dennis Peron, once said;
    “ALL (marijuana) USE IS MEDICAL USE.”

    that is absolutely TRUE.

    if you put garlic on your pizza,
    because you like the TASTE of garlic,
    you WILL get the MEDICAL BENEFITS of eating garlic.

    if you eat blueberries,
    because you like the TASTE of blueberries;
    you WILL get the MEDICAL BENEFITS of eating blueberries.

    there is NO DIFFERENCE with marijuana;
    if you use marijuana;
    to get high, and have fun,
    or for religious reasons,

    you WILL get the MEDICAL BENEFITS of using marijuana…

    in my opinion;
    Dennis Peron,
    is in the same category as;
    and JESUS, the CHRIST.

    the WHOLE EARTH,
    because HE,
    was in it.

    there is no need for anyone to say;
    “may he rest in peace”;

    i type this,
    with tears in my eyes…

    1. I agree 100%.

      Unfortunately, Jeff Sessions would consider him to be a bad person and,if it were up to him, would have put Dennis in prison the last years of his life.

      It is no secret why I hate Sessions so much, or Trump for that matter who would have been okay with Sessions locking up Dennis. After all, Trump says he is the “Law and Order” guy; in spite of supporting the Neo-Nazi movement…

  5. Good coverage here from Leafly:

    Reading up on the history it starts to make sense to me now why false testimony was used during Senator Eastland hearings in 1970 to claim “marijuana would make you gay” as a documented attempt to justify before Congress why to pass the Controlled Substances Act. More bigotry on top of racist, ignorant lies. How else do evil people maintain prohibition?

    I was researching marijuana law in college for a statistics class when I stumbled upon the story of Dr. Gabriel Nahas, an Egyptian anesthesiologist who Senator Eastland had testify on why the CSAct should prohibit marijuana. “Because it would make you gay?” I asked my roomates (who I suspected were gay), and said “I smoke weed and I’m not tryin to f#€* any of you!”

    I said it years ago on this blog just like I told my roomates then; “If you went from smoking weed to smoking €o€k you were gay BEFORE you smoked any marijuana.”

    Theres nothing wrong with being honest about who we are. How wonderful that Dennis got to do that, if but for a brief moment, during a free state legal marijuana market he helped create by accepting who and what he was.

      1. Ha… I would say neither hetero, bi or homosexuality needs to be “cured.” As for “curing hetero” somebody has to keep our women satisfied and make those babies.
        If anything needs to be cured its denial of who and what we are. Whether we smoke weed… or smoke other things… we need to live in a society where love, life and liberty are Constitutionally protected rights, even when that means what is good for some is not good for others.

  6. Dennis saw the future. “All use is medical” is what woke up many people. I will remember Dennis for his kind heart and his true dedication to the cause. He is a person that truly changed the world.

  7. Dennis blazed a path out of marijuana prohibition by inspiring Prop 215 6 decades later. He opened Big Top out of his Castro home & Island Restaurant as a business. Cannabis is an ancient physical & spiritual medicine which finally came into its own thanks to Dennis Peron. Marijuana use, rather than smoking, incorporates all, so it is a better term.

  8. While we have Keith’s attention to this blog, I would like to share with anyone who is privileged to read the following affidavit by Keith Stroup filed in the pending case of Washington v Sessions, where 12-year-old Alexis Bortell is preparing for oral arguments this Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14th against the DEA and Attorney General Jeff Sessions:


    Our NORML Founder, legal councel and former executive director Keith Stroup, along with a US Representative, requested that Alexis Bortell come to NORML lobby day during September of last year to excercise her 1st amendment rights to legalize her life-saving marijuana without self-incrimination. While the Apellate Court denied her injunction, they granted far better; to challenge her right to petition and redress of grievances in Federal Court.

    I will be following this case throughout the pending oral arguments and posting them on this National NORML blog. With the legislatively enacted depenalization and cultivation of Vermont marijuana law there is wind in our hemp sails, so to speak.

    Thank you Keith, for your wisdom and guidance during this pivitol case. America owes you a great debt of gratitude. 🙂

  9. R.I.P. Dennis Peron. Mahalo for your years of fighting evil and ignorance. Everyone should spark one up for you, and never forget what you’ve done for all of us.

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