The Indispensable Leader Of The Marijuana Movement

by Fred Gardner

CALIFORNIA: Last weekend at the Emerald Cup, a sprawling hempfest held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Dennis Peron got a lifetime achievement award and I got to present it. The marijuana legalization movement would not have achieved its great breakthrough in 1996 had it not been for Dennis, the founder and maitre’d of the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club.

Proposition 215, the ballot initiative by which California voters legalized the herb for medical use that November, was for sure a collective effort; but Dennis’s biography and personal fearlessness made him the indispensable leader. He had been challenging the marijuana laws by direct action since 1969, when he came back from Vietnam with two pounds in his Air Force duffle bag, and by legal and political means since 1970, when he was first busted by the SFPD narcs.

Dennis simply refused to accept that anybody —no cop, no district attorney, no judge— could tell him he didn’t have a right to smoke marijuana. “And the right to smoke it means the right to get it,” he would explain, “which means people have to have the right to grow it and sell it.”