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San Francisco the Birthplace of Cannabis Legalization

Man standing in doorway of Cannabis Cultivators Club
Marijuana Legalization has Roots in San Francisco


Marijuana and California go way back, and San Francisco, as one of the most progressive cities in the USA, it’s no surprise that something of a revolution began in The City. After all, the first-ever public marijuana dispensary was founded back in 1992: the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. (Our apologies to those of you who thought it would be in Colorado.)


In 2016, California passed Proposition 64 and legalized marijuana for recreational use, but the story goes back much further than that — about 50 years, to be precise. In 1966, when the first-ever US head shop opened in the Haight-Ashbury district, San Francisco stepped into the spotlight as a weed-friendly community and home to the hippie counterculture. In the years to follow, the fight for socially accepted and legal access to marijuana raged on.


The year 1972 saw the rise and fall of Proposition 19, which attempted to decriminalize possession and sale of weed. Some years after its failure, the passing of the Moscone Act of 1975 got the job done by reducing possession of one ounce of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor. This was a huge win for the weed community. But, as is true for many activists and their campaigns, many San Franciscans refused to rest until it was completely legal.


As you can imagine, attaining the dream of having legal marijuana available to all required a lot of effort, and it would not have been possible without the numerous movers and shakers during the Summer of Love and onward. Even though a revolution doesn’t happen overnight or at the hands of a single person, there is one character of this story that stands out from the rest: Dennis Peron.


Freshly back on U.S. soil as a Vietnam veteran, Peron quickly set up shop in the Castro district of San Francisco and plunged headfirst into activism, soon becoming a member of the Youth International Party (a radical youth offshoot of 1960s counterculture) as well as an advocate for the benefits of medical marijuana. With his experience of selling marijuana from storefronts in the Castro and having lost his partner in 1990 to AIDS, Peron took it upon himself to lead the crusade in passing Proposition P, the measure that legalized the medical use of marijuana within San Francisco city limits. As if that wasn’t incredible enough, he renewed a popular dispensary from back in the day — the Big Top — with a medical focus at the very same time. Thus was born the first public dispensary in the United States. Do you remember what it was called? That’s right: the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club.


The club grew exponentially in popularity, eventually gaining over 8000 members, but Peron and his other club members knew that it wasn’t enough. Sure, they had done incredible work in advocating the benefits of medical marijuana, but there was (at least) one enormous hoop left to jump through.


The San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club spent many a late-night working on Proposition 215, which legalized the possession and cultivation of marijuana for medical use. After setting voting day for November 5, 1996 and experiencing a few setbacks (including the entirety of the club being arrested months before election day), Proposition 215 or the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 passed. This breakthrough made California the first U.S. state to legalize weed in any sort of capacity, and others soon began to follow suit. You may read this statement as a simple fact, but it truly marked the beginning of a revolution, one that Peron and his fellow activists fought tooth and nail for. As Jordan Heller writes for Intelligencer, “[all these] years later, with dispensaries opening up in every corner of the country, we still look back at Prop 215 as the moment the drug debate changed forever.”


The weed culture of San Francisco is a far cry from what Peron would have imagined. In fact, “he didn’t support Proposition 64 (the California state measure that legalized the recreational use of marijuana in November 2016) because he believes weed has become too commercialized,” according to Chris Roberts in his article for 7×7. But it was thanks to his bravery and perseverance (and that of many others) that adults in San Francisco — and arguably, all over the United States — have the freedom to roll up and light up as they please. Though the fight did not end in 1996, it was the pivotal point for marijuana in San Francisco and later the rest of the country.

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