Almost 50 years ago now, a man returned from war in Vietnam with a duffel bag. Inside the bag was a few pounds of marijuana -- and inside the man, Air Force veteran Dennis Peron, was the force behind marijuana legalization in the United States of America.
A lot's been written and said about Peron, who spent several decades brazenly selling cannabis out of a series of Castro District addresses (when you get a chance, read Fred Gardner's excellent review of Peron's life here). There were other people who gave marijuana to sick people, including wasting-away AIDS victims, during the epidemic's darkest days. And there were other people instrumental in writing -- and passing -- Prop. 215, California's first-in-the-nation medical marijuana law in 1996.
But today is his day. He's 68, and, with legal weed a reality in two American states, his "life's work almost done."
Peron was a dope dealer for most of the 1970s -- when he first ran afoul of the San Francisco Police Department; his side of the story of one bust, in which he took a bullet in the leg, is as much a drug war nightmare as it is a tale of homophobia. By the1980s, he was selling weed with a purpose.
His Cannabis Buyers Club located at Church and Market streets was by repute the first place in America where people with illnesses could go to buy -- and smoke -- marijuana with an air of medical legitimacy.
The anecdotes are too many to list here: Peron watched his lover die of AIDS after he testified at Peron's trial for marijuana sales. The cops kept breaking down his door well into the 21st century, after he suffered a stroke.
It's too simple to call Peron "the father of medical marijuana," the "author of Prop. 215" or anything like that. There was a horde of activists working with him, 10,000 members of the Cannabis Buyers Club, and hundreds of thousands of dollars pitched in by George Soros and other reform-minded rich people who also contributed to Prop. 215's success.
But he sure as hell had a lot to do with it. So wish a happy birthday to Dennis -- and if you're reading this anywhere near a quantity of cannabis bought with the blessing of a state government in the United States, thank him.