Dennis Peron, the cannabis activist who led the movement to legalize medical marijuana in California, died on Saturday in a San Francisco hospital. He was 72.
A prominent figure in San Francisco’s gay community, Peron was credited as a pioneer in recognizing the health benefits of pot during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
“A man that changed the world,” was how his brother Jeffrey Peron remembered him on Facebook. “It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my brother Dennis Peron.”
Peron, a friend of slain gay rights activist Harvey Milk, helped push through a San Francisco ordinance that allowed the use of medical marijuana. That was seen as a precursor to the statewide legalization of medical pot in 1996 with the passage of California Proposition 215.
Today, medical marijuana is legal in most U.S. states and Washington, D.C.
Peron suffered lung cancer and lost his partner, Jonathan West, to AIDS in 1990.
Born in New York, he was drafted in the late 1960s to serve in Vietnam, where he first encountered cannabis, according to media reports his brother posted on Facebook.
“The people there catered to the GIs. We were a market for them,” Peron said of his time in Vietnam, according to marijuana journal Leafly.
Peron returned to the U.S. with two pounds of cannabis in his gear. “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.”
At the height of the U.S. war on drugs in the early 1990s, he founded the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, the nation’s first public marijuana dispensary.
He was arrested several times and was once shot in the leg by a police officer, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The club served 9,000 clients before it was closed by a judge.
“Not many people would have had the courage at the time that he took up the mantle,” Terrance Alan, a member of the city’s Cannabis Commission, told the newspaper.