Dressing up as a cop on Halloween and handing out pot to people - that is Dennis Peron, 62, gay-rights activist, friend of Harvey Milk, but mainly the man who dramatically changed the world of marijuana.
Peron has lived in the Castro for the last 20 years. His house on 17th Street has the face of Buddha painted on the doors, Tibetan flags hanging on the roof and a marijuana leaf painted above the entrance. Besides being his long time home, his house serves as a Bed and Breakfast. The Cozy Castro Cottage is definitely not a smoke-free zone, the aroma of marijuana contributes to its character and atmosphere.
In the backyard there is a large “underwater” garden with a functioning miniature version of the Golden Gate Bridge hanging above. The backyard is rich in paintings and murals that depict Peron’s life and the people from his past. At night, black lights turn the backyard into a psychedelic garden full of colors and shapes.
“Dennis is a legend in San Francisco,” said Bevan Dufty, supervisor for the Castro.
Peron is proud of his accomplishments, especially the ones in the marijuana field.
“I coined the term ‘Medical Marijuana’ and I single-handedly changed the face of marijuana from sixties ‘Radical Long Hair’ to the gentle, loving people that we really are,” he said.
“We are indebted to him for all his hard work; he was very brave to start doing this even though there were no laws to protect him or help him out,” said Betty Beft from the Medical Marijuana Dispensary in SF.
Peron opened Cannabis Buyers' Club in 1995 in San Francisco and later renamed it the Cannabis Cultivators Club. He was forced to discontinue the use of marijuana and ordered to close his club by the California Supreme Court.
It was in 1996 that California Proposition 215 which Peron coauthored and considers his biggest life accomplishment, successfully passed legalizing the sale of marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor’s prescription.
“Dennis saw many of his friends die of AIDS and that’s part of why he worked for medical marijuana. It was the only thing that helped AIDS patients to get out of bed,” said Brian Peron, Dennis’ brother.
“I know many people who live much happier and healthier lives because of medical cannabis,” said Dufty.
Peron was a close friend and supporter of Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in 1978, after serving eleven months on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.
“We have never really come back from his death,” Peron said, “We put so much energy into one man and when he was gone, all that energy dissipated. We learned a lesson not to put all of our eggs into one basket. Life is very fragile and you might be gone any minute.”
“Harvey was a unique person who stood up to the bigots and the liars. With humor he defeated a lot of his enemies and made life a little more bearable. I regret I did not talk to him before he died. I also regret I was not more like him,” Peron said
Peron speaks about his life with openness and great honesty.
“The only thing I lie about is sex. I lie to get it, and then I lie about it afterwards - otherwise I don’t lie about anything.”
In spite of having a “No On 8” sign in the window of his house, and voting “no” on it, Peron said he is not a supporter of this proposition and considers it “the Looser Proposition”.
“It’s a battle we did not choose, and they are using it against us. [The gay battle] is not about marriage, it’s about single people’s lives,” said Peron.
Peron, who fought for gay rights in the Seventies, is very disappointed in what the gay community has become. He calls it “the market nich that buys shit.”
The problem of marriage and love makes Peron very agitated, upset, and has the power to remove the almost omnipresent smile from his face.
“I hate gay marriage, at least I didn’t have to live that lie. I didn’t have to pretend that I loved someone for 25 years. Love is renewable on a daily basis as far as I am concerned,” Peron said.
According to Peron, most of the world is single: “It’s always going to be the good married people and the old slutty guys like me.”
Peron’s boyfriend of seven years, Jonathan, his “true love,” died in 1990 of AIDS.
“In life if you have one true love, you are lucky. The small head says “love,” the big head says “no.”
"Love is an illusion sometimes,” Peron said.
“I am an open book. I am honest. I am Buddhist.”