The Man Who Brought Medical Marijuana to the Masses

June 1, 2021

If it weren’t for the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, medical marijuana might never have been legalized. It started with one man being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, and through a series of coincidences, luck, and hard work by AIDS activists, we’ve landed here—a world where cannabis is almost entirely legal.

When Dennis Peron Met Marijuana

Dennis Peron started smoking marijuana at the relatively young age of 17, but it wasn’t one of his major passions. After being shipped off to Vietnam, he discovered the joys of good marijuana, and knew he could never go back to smoking the strains that were available in his hometown. Upon his discharge from the military, he smuggled two whole pounds of good weed back home and began his career as a cannabis salesman.

Dennis Peron California Medical Marijuana For Everyone | People's California

Dennis Peron with legalization advocate Paul Scott – Image Courtesy of Paul Scott

Peron stuck to simply selling cannabis until his partner, Jonathan West, fell ill. It took time to figure out what was wrong, but the answer soon came: AIDS. At the time, such a diagnosis was considered a death sentence.

Dennis Peron’s HIV/AIDS Activism and Fight for Medical Marijuana

With no options provided that could help his partner die with dignity and have some comfort, they began to experiment. Peron discovered the comfort that cannabis could provide actually alleviated many of his partner’s symptoms, and he worked hard to keep him supplied with the highest-quality marijuana he could.

In 1990, Dennis Peron’s home was raided and he was arrested for possessing marijuana with intent to sell. He was not convicted—West testified that it was his own weed, not Peron’s, and the charges were dropped.

Dennis Peron California Cannabis Advocate | People's California

Dennis Peron with legalization advocate Paul Scott and unidentified friends – Image Courtesy of Paul Scott

Two weeks after the arrest, Jonathan succumbed to AIDS. The loss was difficult, but Dennis Peron had a new mission: making medical marijuana available to the masses. He started the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club in 1992 and began to work on statewide medical marijuana legalization with the help of his new partner and “Brownie Mary” Rathburn, a cannabis legend in her own right.

Despite opposition from those who didn’t understand the importance of medical marijuana, Peron and Rathburn persevered. They fought for the passage of Proposition P together and co-authored Proposition 215, which is ultimately what legalized medical marijuana in California. That bill turned out to be the beginning of a “slippery slope” that led to Proposition 64 and the legalization of recreational marijuana use, and here we are today—with everyone now able to have equal access to safe cannabis.

Thank You, Dennis Peron, for Medical Marijuana

In the state of California, sick people trying to find relief with cannabis are no longer persecuted. Here, even those who choose to use marijuana for general wellness or just for fun are able to purchase it at will. Dennis Peron passed away in 2018—long enough to see the success of his efforts. He influenced many other fighters for freedom, and organizations like The Last Prisoner Project are still here, following in his footsteps.

This Pride Month, we’re lighting up a pre-roll for Dennis Peron and everyone else who isn’t here to enjoy their right to use cannabis, but who made it possible for us all. Join us in remembering the people who changed the world when they decided to dedicate their lives to legalization.

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