The man who opened the nation's first "pot club" for medical marijuana users will come to town Tuesday to speak in favor of legalizing marijuana.

The man who opened the nation's first "pot club" for medical marijuana users will come to town Tuesday to speak in favor of legalizing marijuana.

Dennis Peron, known as the "father of medical marijuana," supports across-the-board legalization of marijuana culture and distribution. In a telephone interview, he said enforcing existing laws costs the criminal justice system a fortune.

Peron is scheduled to speak from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Meese Auditorium in the Visual Arts Building at Southern Oregon University, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd. The free presentation is sponsored by Ashland Alternative Health, a clinic that helps people obtain a medical marijuana card.

Peron championed California's 1996 medical marijuana ballot measure — the first in the nation.

His position is at one extreme in the range of opinions on marijuana's role in society. Law enforcement officials say the present arrangement, in which some people with a medical condition can legally possess marijuana, makes enforcing existing drug laws difficult.

In Southern Oregon, police have arrested a number of people who were authorized to grow medical marijuana for exceeding the number of plants they were allowed to grow and seized hundreds of pounds of illegal pot in several widely publicized arrests.

Peron said the passage of medical marijuana laws changed the image of pot from something used by "long-hair, hippie crazy" people to a drug of middle-class people.

"It helped make (marijuana use) more benevolent. We changed the tide," said Peron.

He said the thrust of his work now is ballot measures to normalize distribution, so "you can get it at Walgreen's" at affordable prices.

Peron, who is also a gay rights advocate, said he joined the effort to legalize pot when his lover was dying of AIDS and found that marijuana helped him when chemotherapy didn't.

"When he died, I decided to dedicate my life to alleviate the suffering" of users, he said. "I opened the (Cannabis Buyers Club) to serve the dying. It was in the belly of the beast. The cops and the mayor supported me."

Alex Rogers, director of the clinic that's bringing Peron to Southern Oregon, predicted backers of Oregon's proposed ballot measure for a state licensed, nonprofit marijuana supply system would get enough signatures to put the proposal on the November ballot.

Rogers said he opposes state control of marijuana culture because "they don't have the ability to provide a multitude of strains" of the plant, which he said are beneficial to specific ailments. After the dispensary initiative, he said, advocates will work to end all civil and criminal penalties for cannabis possession and use.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.