SF honors Peron for medical cannabis work

By Sari Staver for The Bay Area Reporter

"Dennis is one of my heroes, he has been a guiding light in the medical marijuana movement and many of us have counted on him to lead the way." - Brent Saupe, who worked with Dennis Peron as an ASA volunteer



More than 100 friends of Dennis Peron's came to San Francisco City Hall Tuesday afternoon to thank the ailing gay activist credited with founding the medical marijuana movement.

Peron, 70, who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, was honored by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors at a brief ceremony led by District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy.

Sheehy, the only LGBT person on the board, said, "On the 20th anniversary of Proposition 215 coming into effect, I am honored to recognize Dennis Peron, the father of medical cannabis, a movement that swept the country, saving countless lives.

"Dennis learned through direct experience in caring for his lover dying of AIDS, Jonathan West, that cannabis provided relief and extended the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS," Sheehy, who is HIV-positive, added. "The LGBT community under the leadership of Peron and others helped convince Californians and the nation that the medical use of cannabis should be legalized. His five-story buyers club on Market Street served as a community center for thousands of people with HIV/AIDS until it was shut down by [former] Attorney General [Dan] Lungren. From his friendship with and support of Harvey Milk through his advocacy for legalizing medicine used for centuries, Dennis has been one of the city's great activists."

Dozens of people praised Peron for his leadership in providing medical marijuana in the early years of the HIV epidemic.

Jane Lloyd, who owns the Viking, a Castro barbershop, told the Bay Area Reporter that she's known Peron for 30 years.

"Dennis is incredibly generous and warm," she said. "During the dark days of the AIDS crisis, he always gave me cannabis to share with my friends and customers suffering from wasting syndrome, or heck, just to raise their spirits."

Brent Saupe, a straight ally, has known Peron for several decades. Both were volunteers with Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group.

"Dennis is one of my heroes," said Saupe. "He has been a guiding light in the medical marijuana movement and many of us have counted on him to lead the way."

Steve Scott and Thomas Wabo, a married couple who have been friends with Peron for decades, also attended the ceremony.

"Dennis saved my life back in 1985," Scott said. "He has done so much for so many of us."

Since Prop 215 passed in California in 1996, 27 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis. Last year, California voters approved an initiative to legalize adult use of recreational marijuana, joining several other states.

In 2006, on the 10th anniversary of Prop 215, Peron told the B.A.R. that he wrote Proposition 215 as a eulogy for his deceased partner, West, and for patients suffering from life-threatening diseases who use marijuana for medical purposes.

"A lot of people are getting medical marijuana and are not going to jail. I wrote it so sick people wouldn't have to be hassled, go to jail, and have to hire lawyers when they're ill," Peron said at the time.

Peron, who grew up on Long Island, served in the Air Force in Vietnam and moved to San Francisco, where he sold cannabis. He co-founded the Cannabis Buyers Club and co-authored Prop 215.

His marijuana business was busted by authorities in 1978 and 1990. In 1996, Lungren, the state attorney general, ordered another bust of Peron's club.

Prop 215 was passed soon thereafter, which allowed the club to reopen.

In 1998, Peron ran in the Republican primary for California governor against his rival Lungren, who won the primary and lost the election to Gray Davis.

Community members will have another chance to thank Peron at a celebration Friday, February 17 at 2 p.m. at Cafe Flore, 2298 Market Street.

"Come celebrate a true revolutionary force in the cannabis movement, a person without whom our lives would not look at all like they do today," said Terrance Alan, the new owner of the restaurant and the chair of San Francisco's Cannabis State Legalization Task Force. "Thank you, Dennis, for saving my ass when I got arrested for growing pot in the 1980s."