The death of iconic medical marijuana activist Dennis Peron has received an outpouring of equal parts sadness and celebration for a lost legend of marijuana law reform.
The Vietnam War veteran, San Francisco resident and major figure in both the medical cannabis and gay rights movement died on Saturday at the age of 72 after a battle with lung cancer, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
Peron was one of the first to recognize how cannabis benefited the health of those battling the AIDS epidemic of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Later scientific studies would confirm cannabis fights AIDS wasting by spurring appetite. Cannabinoids also slow the replication of immunovirus.
After losing his partner Jonathan West to the virus in 1990, Peron became instrumental in pushing for a San Francisco ordinance to allow medical marijuana use.
He would eventually establish the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club one year later, which is now considered to be the first American medical marijuana dispensary.
Those actions would become the impetus for Proposition 215, California’s medical marijuana initiative co-written by Peron that was approved by voters in 1996.
“I came to San Francisco to find love and to change the world,” Peron said while being honored by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors last year. “I found love, only to lose him through AIDS. We changed the world.”
Proclaiming himself as a “gay kid from Long Island who joined the Air Force to get away from home” in his memoir, Peron credits the horrors he experienced during wartime for giving him the courage to come out of the closet and help others.
“They put me on the morgue for 30 days and I’m 20 years-old. I’ve never seen a dead person,” said Peron in a 2013 interview with GreenState’s David Downs. “That month I saw 25,000 dead people. I came out of my closet and found out who I was.”
The military deployment would also help launch Peron’s love for cannabis, as he was introduced to the plant while serving the Air Force in Vietnam.
“The people there catered to the GIs. We were a market for them,” Peron told Leafly’s Bruce Barcott in a 2014 interview.
He would end up taking some marijuana home to serve San Francisco’s then black market.
“I came back and kissed the ground. I was so happy—partly because I had two pounds with me. That started a career that would span 40 years,” Peron added.
“The city and the country has lost a cannabis leader who lived life on the edge,” Terrance Alan, a member of the city’s Cannabis Commission, told the Chronicle, “He lived his whole life on the edge, and that’s what allowed us to lead in cannabis.”