On Saturday, January 27th California lost one of the greatest pioneers of medical cannabis. Dennis Peron who founded the Cannabis Buyers Club in the early 1990s, the nation’s first public medical marijuana dispensary died in a San Francisco Hospital. A long time activist, Peron was responsible for the San Francisco city ordinance that paved the way for California’s 1996 passage of Prop 215, which legalized medical marijuana across the state.

Discovering Cannabis in Vietnam where he served in the Air Force, he moved to San Francisco in the 1970s, where he befriended Supervisor Harvey Milk and also started selling cannabis in the city’s Castro neighborhood. He started his fight for medical cannabis during the early 1990s height of the AIDS crisis, arguing for the benefits of cannabis to those suffering from the disease.

In 1991, he founded the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club with Mary Rathbun, and distributed marijuana to over 9000 patients, the majority of which were suffering from the effects of HIV and AIDS. During the 7 years that the dispensary operated, he was arrested four times, and once even shot in the leg by an SFPD officer. In 1996 te Legalize Cannabis Party of Minnesota fielded Peron as their candidate for President of the United States where he recieved 5400 votes.

Despite such situations, Peron never backed down from his advocacy for cannabis’ healing properties, and was one of the authors of California’s Prop 215, which legalized the use of medical marijuana. During the lead-up to the election, Dan Lundgren, Attorney General of California, ordered a raid on his dispensary, which was able to open months later after the passage of 215. In 1998 Peron would run in the Republican Primary for California Governor against Lundgren who would lose to Gray Davis. The same year, the SFCBC was finally shut down by a San Francisco Superior Court Judge.

After the shutdown of the dispensary, Peron moved to a 20 acre farm in Lake County where he grew and distributed cannabis plants for patients for many years. After being diagnosed with Lung Cancer, he moved back to the Castro Castle, a bed and breakfast he owned with his husband. In 2017, he was given a Certificate of Honor from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, recognizing his work in creating the medical marijuana movement. Jeff Sheehy, a city supervisor called him “The father of medical Cannabis.”

On January 27, 2018 at the age of 72 Dennis Peron died of lung cancer at the Veterans Administration health Center in San Francisco. However the legacy of his work and the impacts of medical cannabis continue to be felt by patients around the world.