RIP Dennis Peron

Pioneering activist fought to give AIDS patients access to cannabis

As the death of Bay Area medical cannabis legend Dennis Peron started circulating earlier this week, it was hard to not sit with the powerful irony of the moment.

Peron, who died of lung cancer last week at age 72, is universally credited for giving rise to Proposition 215, the landmark California initiative that started it all insofar as sane and humane cannabis policies are concerned.

Peron’s death on Jan. 27 earned him a position of high martyrdom in the annals of American cannabis policy and general decency. And given the recent push by United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions to undo any and all progress that’s been made on the cannabis front, Peron’s death is all the more poignant for its timing.

Peron was a gay man from Long Island, N.Y., who served his country in Vietnam and who died last week at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. The rub on Peron, a former Yippie, is that while he opposed Proposition 64 in 2016, he did so out of a conviction that all marijuana use is ultimately medical.

Peron’s friendship with the late San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk—a fellow Long Islander—and his relentless and illegal cannabis advocacy on behalf of AIDS patients during the horrible height of the plague, only adds to the legend, the stature and the heft of his life’s work. According to the Wikipedia biography on him, Peron lost his partner to the disease.

Peron ran for California governor on the Republican ticket in 1998, against his nemesis, former Attorney General Dan Lungren, who as the wiki bio recounts, had moved to shut down cannabis storefronts Peron operated for AIDS patients in the Castro.

Democrat Gray Davis won that election and was followed in the office by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004. Sebastopol cannabis lawyer Omar Figueroa posted a letter on Facebook Tuesday that the former governor sent Peron in 2004, thanking him for sending postcards “commemorating the fight for the legalization of marijuana.”

The Ahhnold letter reminds us that there are a lot of compassionate conservatives out there, and we need to start smoking them out. And in a kinder, gentler America that embraces cannabis, Dennis Peron would, like the martyred Milk before him, find himself honored on a United States postage stamp. Maybe there’s still time for that.

Tom Gogola is news editor of the ‘Bohemian.’

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