Dennis Peron is a spry, handsome gay man who ran a famous medical marijuana club in San Francisco while co-authoring and promoting Proposition 215, America’s first successful medical marijuana law (CC#14, Saint Dennis of San Francisco).
We last visited Peron in the summer of 2000 at his farm in Northern California, where he was manicuring several hundred pounds of buds grown outdoors behind his house by med-
Peron didn’t need to grow much weed in 2001. Instead, he’s been traveling all over the world, smoking herb and enjoying the great outdoors.
In November, Peron journeyed to Southern Utah to enjoy the canyons, hoodoos, rivers and solitude of Zion National Park. He checked in to a Cedar City, Utah hotel room, accompanied by his long-time media advisor John Entwistle, and another friend.
Utah is one of America’s most regressive states; 92% of its population identify themselves as Mormons. Mormonism is an extremely conservative, Puritanical and aggressive religion. Until a few years ago, official Mormon doctrine stated that “black people” could not be members of the Mormon Church because they were “cursed children of Satan.” Mormonism is also virulently anti-marijuana, even though its founding father Brigham Young and his followers grew hemp when they first emigrated to Utah in the 1800’s.
And, as Peron found out in November, Mormonism is very homophobic.
“The hotel staff were giving us weird looks, and we should have picked up on that,” Peron said. “They were watching us, and when we were smoking a joint just before we were going to check out of the room, they called police.”
A police officer knocked on Peron’s door. Acting prudently, Peron stepped out of the hotel room, shut the door behind him, and said, “What can I do for you, Officer?”
“I smell the odor of marijuana,” the cop responded.
“I can’t imagine why,” Peron replied, as marijuana smoke divested itself of his lungs. “We don’t know nothin’ about no marijuana.”
The officer ordered Peron to open the door so he could search Peron’s room. Peron refused. Then, Peron says, the officer declared that he was “freezing the crime scene.”
Peron and his friends were held for 45 minutes. Police brought a drug dog and forced their way into the room. The dog allegedly found several ounces of “a plant material identified as a possible controlled substance.”
“I suppose that this alleged contraband should have found its way into a toilet,” Peron quipped, “but we’re from California, and we just aren’t used to the kind of Nazi people that they have in these other parts of the country. Nor do we think that marijuana is something to be ashamed of.”
The three Californians were arrested and charged with felony possession of marijuana with intent to distribute; if convicted, they could be imprisoned in Utah for five years. Peron says he was “amazed” when the arresting officer told him that “this happens all the time with tourists” and offered to put Peron in contact with an attorney who could “make all this go away for about $5000.”
To cheer Peron up, I told him what happened to me in 1995, when I was traveling around Utah in my silver VW van with four marijuana plants, on assignment for High Times magazine. While I was photographing my green beauties in Capitol Reef National Park (which I nicknamed ‘Capitol Reefer’), a park ranger busted me and turned me over to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department.
During the long ride to jail, I listened intently while a Wayne County sheriff told me that he hated Jews, Hispanics, tourists, pacifists, blacks, and hippies.
“We make it a point to bust people like you,” said the officer, whose porcine face and red neck made him a caricature of a backwoods mongrel. “Whenever we see a VW van, or people with long hair, we pull them over. We almost always find marijuana and mushrooms. You people are stupid, and we are going to eradicate you. We don’t want anybody in Utah but us Mormons.”
I told Peron that when I called High Times from jail ? using my “one phone call” ? they refused to help me, telling me I was merely an “independent contractor” before they rudely hung up.
I went to my arraignment and begged the judge and prosecutor to let me out of Utah alive. They decided that if I would agree to march in shackles under armed guard to the town’s one bank and withdraw several thousand dollars via credit card cash advance that would be “donated” to the county’s improvement fund, I would be free to return to California with only a misdemeanor possession charge on my record.
I gladly gave up the money, which High Times refused to reimburse me for, and drove east very fast until I was safely out of the retrograde Mormon nation. Even though I love the state’s amazing national parks and national monuments, that are now being gutted by the Bush administration’s decision to allow oil drilling, logging, hunting, cattle grazing, mining, and off-road vehicles in fragile protected areas, I am scared to go back to Utah.
(High Times refused to even pay my expenses for the trip. Instead of running the compelling article I had written about my travels with marijuana plants, they let HT staffer Dean Latimer write a parody, without my permission, that mocked what I had gone through with inappropriate dumb humor. Latimer even made the mistake of saying that my photos had been taken in Colorado instead of Utah!)
Utah hasn’t changed for the better since my ill-fated 1995 visit. When voters in the Southern Utah town of Big Water recently approved a resolution that decriminalized marijuana, Kane County sheriffs began systematically harassing Big Water residents.
“I’m worried that this whole country might become as bad as Utah,” Peron commented. “We’ve got Ashcroft going after doctors who help Oregonians utilize Oregon’s euthanasia law. He sends the DEA into California to bust Imler’s club, Mollie Fry, and other people who are legal under 215. Imler found out he was a fool to trust the police. Ashcroft is doing the same thing the feds did when we passed Prop 215 ? he’s attacking doctors and sick people. I can’t believe how bad things have gotten. People say we started a revolution in California when we passed Prop 215. Maybe we should have a nationwide vote on whether we want Nazis running this country. It’s gotten that bad.”
Peron said he “much admired” San Francisco District Attorney Terence Halinan.
“On the fifth anniversary of the passage of 215, Halinan held a press conference and basically told the feds to fuck off,” Peron reported. “A San Francisco official introduced a resolution declaring the city a safe haven for medical marijuana. A former DEA agent who now works in Halinan’s office told the meeting that the feds should stay out of California. If we had more people with this kind of courage, maybe we could save this country.”