Dennis Peron is a hero in the cannabis community. He opened the Cannabis Buyers Club (the first dispensary in the US), coauthored Prop 215 and has dedicated forty years of his life to helping others. Here in California, his impact can be seen in person. He still advocates and helps those in need, every single day. Having recently received a lifetime achievement award from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, DOPE Magazine decided to similarly honor the amazing things Peron has done, not just for the pro-cannabis movement, but for the LGBTQ+ community as well. His dedication to healing and helping, becoming family for thousands of AIDS patients who no longer had support, as well as his personal sacrifices have all led to a better world for those in need of medicine. And, according to Peron, anyone who smokes cannabis is using it to medicate mind, body or soul.
, BrDuring the Vietnam War, Peron saw unfathomable pain and suffering. When he returned to the states, he decided to bring back a desire for peace and compassion for those going through hard times…and about two pounds of cannabis. During the 1970s and ‘80s, Peron sold cannabis out of his living room, with the phrase “I’m a friend of Dennis” becoming a sort of password for entrance. Peron could more effectively challenge authority, feeling he had nothing to lose—a gay man with no spouse, no children, no house. They couldn’t bully or blackmail him. He was arrested over a dozen times, and was even shot in the thigh by an officer during a raid. The officer was later quoted as saying that he wished he had killed Peron, so that there would be “one less f*ggot” in San Francisco. Yet even throughout the terror and persecution, Peron continued to supply cannabis to those in need.
Peron didn’t just challenge the laws by breaking them—he made his own. He drafted and collected the needed signatures for Prop W, which made the possession of an ounce or less of cannabis in San Francisco legal. He worked alongside Harvey Milk in both his 1973 and ‘74 campaigns, and eventually tipped the vote for Milk in his historic 1977 victory by encouraging all those hippies in the Haight to register to vote. Peron’s greatest achievements would come years later, however, during and after the wake of terrible tragedy.
In the eighties and nineties, the AIDS epidemic took the lives of many. It wasn’t understood. It was stigmatized. And it was a complete devastation to the gay community. Cannabis provides great relief to AIDS patients, soothing everything from pain to nausea, but it wasn’t consistently and safely accessible at the time. One of the afflicted young men was Jonathan, Peron’s partner. He was dying, and Peron took care of him full-time, no longer selling cannabis. In 1990, their flat was raided, and Peron was taken into custody for possession of four ounces of what was actually Jonathan’s cannabis. Peron recalls sitting in a holding cell that night, wishing that Jonathan had somewhere he could go to smoke cannabis and be amongst friends. It was then that the idea of The Cannabis Buyers Club was formed.
After Jonathan’s passing in 1990, Peron wrote Proposition P as a eulogy to him, dedicating it to “all the thousands of Jonathan’s out there.” He also opened the United States’ first dispensary: The Cannabis Buyers Club. This marked the beginning of a huge shift in the public understanding of both medical cannabis use and the homosexual community. Proposition P passed with 80 percent of the vote. It’s a short measure at only 134 words, but it was the snowball that began an avalanche.
The Cannabis Buyers Club became a second home to thousands of individuals, at least half of which were infected with HIV/AIDS. All that was required for entrance was a doctor’s note (only stating the nature of illness, not recommending cannabis), and if the patient couldn’t afford their own cannabis, it was supplied free of cost. The club saved thousands from dying alone, without family or medicinal relief. The social rejection AIDS patients regularly faced had no home at The Cannabis Buyers Club.
Peron saw the desperate need for medical access, and authored Proposition 215 along with other activists. The infamous Brownie Mary, known for distributing medicated brownies to AIDS patients free of charge alongside Peron, and who also assisted in establishing and running the Cannabis Buyers Club, was an invaluable asset to the passing of Prop 215. With the dedication and compassion of these individuals, as well as the support of patients, Proposition 215 was passed in 1996, leading to safe access to medical cannabis across California.
These days, Peron spends his time at his four-story home in San Francisco, affectionately referred to as “The Castro Castle.” He’s never stopped working for his cause. Up until recently, his home was even open as a cannabis bed and breakfast, a hearkening back to the time of the original Cannabis Buyers Club. His bright blue eyes still sparkle with kindness and intelligence, and as he sits on the porch of his home, smoking a joint with me in the sun, he smiles, and I understand exactly why so many were, and still remain, a friend of Dennis’.