A Johny-Come-Lately Who Witnessed the Legend
Written by Matthew Kumin
I first met Dennis Peron at Tony Serra’s office, sometime in 1996 or 1997. I was working on
section 1983 (civil rights) litigation at the time, some cases with Randy Daar, one of Tony’s
partners, and had developed a side area, helping local, small businesses with incorporations,
and other mundane business matters. That business work wasn’t a passion but it paid the bills
in the beginning when I was building a civil rights practice with a brand new baby at home and a wife who was taking care of her.
Randy recommended I go to a celebration of the passage of the Compassionate Use Act in
Santa Cruz the weekend after the successful vote. I decided to go and was happy to meet some
of the luminaries of the medical cannabis movement like Jeff Jones and Valeria Corral. It was
an education for me as I started to learn what these folks had been doing for years. It was all
new to me.
I remember around the same time I had a meeting with Randy at his office on Pier 5 and Dennis was there with Tony discussing some legal matter. I can’t remember which legal issue he was dealing with but we were introduced and Dennis learned I was doing some business law. He
started asking me business-related questions and assumed, correctly, that a civil rights lawyer
like me was going to help him for free. Dennis liked lawyers around him who worked for free.
I honestly thought it was all pretty funny and amusing, (Dennis was definitely very funny!),
because, at that time, I was not a cannabis lawyer and was not involved in the cannabis
legalization fight at all. I thought you smoked pot to get high. I had no idea there was
something called medical use.
I think Dennis was asking me about insurance and employee issues and I gave him the best
advice I could, taking into account that what he was doing was definitely over the line. A club
selling cannabis to its members in San Francisco based on a law that gave cannabis patients a
defense to criminal charges? It wasn’t an issue in my wheelhouse but I was happy to shed
whatever little light I could for him.
But, it became clear to me soon after the 1996 vote that this issue was not only NOT going to
go away, but there was going to be an explosion. The activists, led by Dennis and others, were
simply not going to stop advocating and distributing cannabis to patients. When the State
Legislature opened the door for patients to work together to grow and distribute cannabis n
2003, that’s when the show really opened up.
The simple truth is that Dennis and his allies were passionate, made a lasting impression on me,
and were inspiring. I started to look more closely at the myriad legal and political issues
medical cannabis raised and I started to do more and more to assist patients around the state.
I guess, looking back, I was one of Dennis’s recruits. Thanks Dennis. It’s been a great fight and
we’ll all carry it on until we finally win. Don’t worry!