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Pot guru opposes drug rehab proposition

By Bryan Shih Special to the Daily Planet
Monday November 06, 2000

Dennis Peron’s 20-acre farm north of Napa is a marijuana sanctuary. Pipes, bongs and joints are scattered throughout the property. Pot grown here hangs drying by its branches from the ceilings of 

bedrooms. Its remnants cover the floor of the main house — including the young adults who sleep there — in a light green dust. 

The twenty or so people living and working “The Farm” this season are rarely more than an arm’s length away from their own supplies of the pungent weed. Whether they are trimming, watering, or relaxing on some of the indoor-turned-outdoor furniture, weed is available. 

“You wouldn’t be on this farm unless you smoked pot,” says Peron, the author of 1996’s Proposition 215, which, under the banner of “compassionate use,” legalized marijuana for medicinal use in California. That initiative also allows him to harvest this year’s three-acre crop unmolested. 

Marijuana, he believes, is a medicine, not to be considered in the same category as harmful narcotics like heroin or crack. “I don’t believe in recreational use,” he says. “All use of marijuana has a medicinal component to it.” 

And so his farm has become a refuge of sorts, where the self-diagnosed, in exchange for their labor, can self-medicate. 

This philosophy makes Peron an easy target for Citizens United Against Drug Abuse. The organization, largely comprised of state law enforcement and criminal justice groups, is the strongest opposition to Proposition 36 that promises first and second time, non-violent personal drug users treatment instead of jail. 

But in this election cycle, Peron is on the side of law enforcement officials. 

“We already have a treatment program called incarceration,” he says flatly, smoking what appears to be a normal cigarette. “That’s how you get treatment for addicts.” 

Come again? Yes, the man who has dedicated the last 10 years of his life fighting to legalize marijuana, and stands snipping the leaves off his marijuana plants to encourage bigger buds, prefers jail time rather than treatment for those who use anything stronger than marjiuana. 

“Arresting addicts is a good thing,” he says. “In a way, it’s trying to save them.” 

Perhaps for the first time in his life, the one-time gubernatorial candidate and self-described “liberal Republican” finds himself agreeing with the narcotics officer, district attorney, and prison guard associations that largely comprise the No on 36 campaign. 

These are some of the same groups he battled against over Proposition 215 and his Cannabis Buyers Club in San Francisco. He opened the club in 1992 after watching his lover die of AIDS with no prescription medical relief available, and left it in 1998 after being closed down for the third time. 

He still holds some grudges against “the narcs,” as he calls them. “They’re still against us. They’re against the law I made.” 

Even so, he would consider the possibility of working with them against Proposition 36. “I’d rather not work with the narcs, but if they called…I don’t know.” 

The opposition is floored by news of Peron’s support. “I know Dennis Peron,” says spokesperson Jean Munoz. “That’s the most interesting thing I’ve heard all day,” she says, laughing in surprise but recovering quickly. “He probably understands that with Prop. 36 we’re talking about hard core drugs that are behind violent crimes. Do you have his phone number?” 

The fact is, Peron understands their view on hard core drugs like crack, cocaine and speed very well. He says these drugs, unlike marijuana, cause psychotic behavior and should never be legalized. 

This view also places him squarely in the opposition’s camp, which believes the real motivation behind Prop. 36 is drug legalization. 

“I’ve never been a drug legalizer,” he says. “I’m kind of against that.” 

He also echoes their view that intervention through jail time is often the best way to help addicts. 

“For some it’s a wake up call,” he says. “They can start a new life after that.” 

His fellow supporters on medicinal marijuana shake their heads.  

“Dennis has very valid points based on his experience with Prop. 215,” says Jeff Jones, Executive Director of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club. “But I would hate to see that shortsightedness about some changes we could make” in the current drug court system. 

But Peron is skeptical about all treatment, especially that meted out by California’s drug courts. 

Sitting in his front yard overlooking the small pond that irrigates his land, Peron says that the so-called “forced treatment” programs that Prop. 36 would create simply don’t work. 

“People don’t want to be junkies,” he says. “If it worked, no one would be on heroin, speed or alcohol. 

“It may sound cruel and cold-blooded,” he continues, but, “the only thing you can do in a free society is arrest somebody. Most people would just rather go through their time” than sit through forced treatment. 

Peron’s concept of a free society is the key to understanding the apparent contradiction in his beliefs. As a Republican, he believes in small government, which he thinks Prop. 36 would work against by creating more state-certified treatment centers. And as a drug user, he knows the power of stigmatization. 

“It sounds like they’re trying to do something to help people,” he says, “but it’s really an excuse to throw the book at someone. The treatment hacks just want to drum up business.”