In November 2001, the father of California’s medical marijuana scene took a road trip to Utah to see the state’s fabled canyon country.
Dennis Peron ? sponsor of California’s Proposition 215 med-pot law and long-time activist ? brought a couple of friends and a few ounces of medical marijuana. They booked into a hotel room in Cedar City and settled down after a long drive across California and Nevada.
All was well until a cop pounded on the door. Peron stepped outside the room and locked the door behind him. The cop claimed a maid had smelled marijuana and demanded entry to Peron’s room. Peron refused. More cops came; they forced their way into the room.
Peron and his companions were arrested and charged with having marijuana for sale, which is a felony, and for possession of rolling papers. The 56-year-old Vietnam veteran and his co-defendants traveled back to Utah several times, and were initially represented in court by Public Defender Dale Sessions, who tried to disqualify the search and the marijuana seized because police had no search warrant.
Peron also argued in court that he had a right to carry medical marijuana, or any medicine, with him across state lines. Judge J Philip Eves ruled against him in that regard.
“My medicine is legal in California. Utah has a law that says people can bring medicines into Utah that are legal in other states but not in Utah,” he says. “The judge says he respects that law, but that I had too much pot with me. How much is too much? I can carry any other kind of medicine across state lines, but not medical marijuana? No way is that right.”
Peron says the arrest and court proceedings were “bizarre and troubling.”
“They had us all sharing one public defender,” he explains. “We can’t get the public defender to do what we ask him to do, like making appeals of rulings or explaining to us what is going on. It’s like that whenever you have a public defender. We don’t believe we have adequate counsel. So we took this to the appeals level.”
Peron and co-defendants John Entwistle and Kasey Konder co-wrote their own pre-trial appeal, which contains a litany of complaints about the public defender, the search and court proceedings.
“The whole situation is a set-up,” he says, describing the small Utah town where the charges have been laid against him. “The city funds itself by arresting tourists. Everybody is in on it ? the bail bondsman, the lawyers, the cops. It’s a big business. And the Mormons who run the state ? they are homophobic and prejudiced against outsiders, especially gay Californians. I don’t see how we’d get a fair trial there.”
Being unsure about getting a fair trial, especially when facing several years in prison, creates various dilemmas.
Some people had advised Peron to flee the country, or plea bargain. Although he was facing a minimum of five years in prison, he refused to do either.
Instead, he’s helped start the medical marijuana movement in Utah by forming a group called Utahns for Compassionate Use. Last year, he got a booth at the Utah State Fair and garnered 1,000 pro-pot signatures on a petition that he delivered to the state’s governor.
“It would be ironic, after all the pot I’ve smoked, given away, and sold in the last 30 years, if I go to prison for a couple of ounces,” Peron said in early April. “Yeah, people told me to run away, but that just doesn’t feel right. There’s never been an easy way to create change in this country; people have had to get beaten up or thrown in jail. I don’t want to be in prison, but I have been there before, and I am not gonna apologize for bringing pot to Utah. If they put me in prison, that’s their choice ? maybe it will bring us closer to freedom and a better world.”
A ruling by Judge Eves in late April made it likely Peron will not have to go to prison. The judge agreed that the police had violated the Fourth Amendment of the constitution, by just barging into Peron’s hotel room after they claimed to have smelled pot smoke, instead of first getting a search warrant. The judge ruled that all evidence seized was therefore inadmissible.
“They’ve got no evidence, so the charges must be dismissed,” a jubilant Peron said. “Thank God the constitution still means something, even in the state of Utah.”
? For more on Dennis Peron: www.marijuana.org