Dennis Peron lived to see California transition from a medical state to a recreational state this year but sadly passed away soon after on January 27th, 2018. Dennis Peron is remembered for being one of the early cannabis pioneers who helped with the passage of Proposition 215 in California back in 1996.

“No person is more responsible for the legalization of medical marijuana than Dennis,” Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of the pro-legalization organization California Norml, said in a telephone interview. “He was in the right place, at the right time as a gay rights leader at the time of the AIDS epidemic; he had the right experience as a pot dealer, the gumption to go ahead and do it and the trust of the people of San Francisco, who respected his efforts (NY Times).”

I learned about Dennis Peron as recent as last year through mutual connections in the industry. As a member of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community myself, I am fond of learning who else in the cannabis community shares similarities to me, and how their journey has impacted the future of the cannabis industry. Dennis’ story is one of those historical tales that shouldn’t be forgotten! To learn more about his story, please watch this short documentary on YouTube.

Growing Up

Dennis Peron was born on April 8, 1945, in The Bronx in New York City and he grew up in Long Island. He served in the United States Air Force in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive and after the war moved to the Castro District, San Francisco, where he became a member of a group of politically active hippies (Yippie).

Why is Dennis Peron remembered?

In 1990, Dennis was arrested on cannabis charges, and with help from his partner, Jonathan West, West testified in court stating all the cannabis found at their residence belonged to him. At the time West was a man living with HIV/AIDs meaning a death sentence at the time thus charges were dropped on Peron. Following two weeks later, Mr. West died, and Mr. Peron found his cause: to change the laws that criminalized the possession of cannabis for medical use. He and other activists wrote a ballot initiative, Proposition P, which asked the city of San Francisco to recommend that California add cannabis to its list of approved medicines to treat various illnesses — including AIDS, glaucoma, cancer and multiple sclerosis — and not penalize doctors who prescribed it. This passage later led to the passing of Proposition 215 in California, which granted access to the entire state for medical use of cannabis.

What happens next?

Now that Dennis’ story is out for the world to see, I encourage curious individuals to do their own research and become aware of how the cannabis plant has affected communities in our society. Dennis Peron’s story motivated me to research how the LGBTQ community was involved with the cannabis movement in California, which led to the creation of this article. I’ve learned many sad truths that the LGBTQ community has forgotten and I will do my best to bring to light the forgotten details of our connection to the cannabis movement.  

What lessons can be shared from the LGBTQ community to the cannabis community?

One of the dark times for my community happened during the rise of the HIV/AIDS crisis (HIV.Gov) in the 1980’s. This time frame is considered a dark period for the United States of America as it is known as a time where fellow Americans failed to acknowledge the government’s inhumane treatment of other U.S. citizens within its borders, and allowed prejudices and discrimination to dictate how we as a nation would respond to the crisis affecting a marginalized community.

  1. Both communities face a host of preconceived notions and prejudices regarding membership to each group
  2. Both communities face the issue of being visible in public spaces
  3. Both communities still face difficulty identifying as a member of each in public and private spaces
  4. Both communities are becoming more recognized in mass media, and public opinion is swaying in favor

I drew similarities from both communities in my above statement to provide insight into how I tied these two groups together. I wish to inspire people to share the knowledge gained from other communities who have faced similar injustices in the face of justice.

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