Dennis Peron, the medical marijuana activist who helped legalize medical cannabis in California, died this past weekend in a San Francisco hospital. Peron, who has been coined “the father of medical marijuana,” was one of the very first individuals to argue the benefits of marijuana for AIDS patients.
A Look at the Early Days of AIDS in San Francisco
AIDS swept through San Francisco in the 80s and early 90s, quickly becoming one of the most terrifying epidemics ever seen. There was little information on the virus then, with the New York Times running a 1981 story titled “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.”
Survivors of the time have shared their accounts of this historical time in history on Reddit.
According to one user, “By the early 80s, I had what I would consider a really large circle of friends and acquaintances and once the epidemic really started to hit, it was not uncommon to find out three, four or more people you knew had died each month. We set up informal and formal support groups to look after our friends who took sick. Feeding them when they would eat. Changing them. Washing them. Acting as go-between with families who “were concerned” about their sons, nephews, brothers, etc., but wouldn’t lend a hand to help because AIDS was, you know, icky.
“After they passed, there were memorial services to plan with no real time to grieve because when one passed, you were needed somewhere else to begin the process all over again.
“I kept a memory book/photo album of everyone I knew that died of AIDS. It’s quite large to say the least. Who were these guys? These were the people I had planned to grow old with. They were the family I had created and wanted to spend the rest of my life with as long as humanly possible but by the time I was in my late 40s, every one of them was gone except for two dear friends of mine.”
According to another, “If you were living in the Castro in San Francisco, everyone in the neighborhood was gay…So it wasn’t just your friends that were dying, it was your whole neighborhood. One day your mailman would be replaced, the next day that flower shop was gone… You wouldn’t be invited to the funeral, so it was just like people were disappearing.”
“It was madness. It was terribly cruel,” said another. “It was inexplicable and unexplained, for a very long time. Research was underfunded, and in many cases large institutions and public figures rooted for it to be happening. People died suddenly of unexplainable things. Toe fungus! Tongue thrush! Rashes. Eyes welling up with blood. Horrible shit.”
Dennis Person, Medical Marijuana, and the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club
Dennis Peron was one of the first people to argue the benefits of medical marijuana for people with AIDS as the disease began to overtake the city. According to Drug Policy Alliance Director Ethan Nadelmann, “Before the AIDS crisis, things had been very quiet for the medical marijuana movement.”
There was however, an “underground movement of AIDS patients passing the word about the drug’s medicinal benefits,” according to a 1990 article published in the Washington Post.
Peron was part of this underground movement, although he wasn’t dying of AIDS. His lover Jonathan West was. Marijuana helped with the nausea and appetite loss West experienced as a side effect of the dozens of pills he was prescribed to keep him alive.
Two weeks before West passed away, Peron’s house was raided. He was a known activist and cannabis dealer in San Francisco, after all. Police busted in on the house with a warrant after someone had tipped them off that Peron was dealing. Police found 4 ounces of pot, took it, and charged Peron with intent to distribute.
In his memoir, Peron wrote, “Now, I’ve sold marijuana in my life-lots of it. But I was not selling it that night.”
The weed belonged to West.
A Legacy of Love…
“In my pain,” said Peron, “I decided to leave Jonathan a legacy of love. I made it my moral pursuit to let everyone know about Jonathan’s life, his death, his use of marijuana, and how it gave him dignity in his final days.”
From 1994-1998, Peron openly ran a medical marijuana business in San Francisco known as San Francisco’s Cannabis Buyers Club. It was modeled after other buyer’s clubs of the time, which gave AIDS patients access to non-FDA approved drugs.
According to Peron, “I came to San Francisco to find love and to change the world. I found love, only to lose him through AIDS. We changed the world.”
Indeed you did, Dennis Peron. Thank you for your contribution, helping change cannabis laws in this country, and for fighting the good fight. We’re sure you’ll rest in peace.