Four of about 20 marijuana legalization demonstrators were arrested outside of the U.S. Capitol Building on Monday while protesting for Congress to legalize cannabis across the country and remove the substance from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s Schedule 1 list, which prohibits possession or use of the drug on any federal property.
U.S. Capitol Police arrested the protesters for smoking marijuana on federal property, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison.
Organized by DCMJ, an organization that is pushing for the full legalization of cannabis use in Washington, D.C., the protest followed the April 20 arrest of eight pot advocates for smoking marijuana outside the Capitol building for smoking marijuana.
The demonstration featured prayers from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Rastafarian faith traditions. The veterans group Weed for Warriors, which supports the legalization of cannabis for the purpose of relieving emotional stress connected to military service, also had representatives present.
DCMJ urged supporters to protest despite potential arrests.
“We expect arrests to take place on Reschedule420 this year, but we know that our cause is just,” DCMJ wrote on its website. “We know that the best way to make America great again is not enforcing the outdated Controlled Substances Act, but providing Americans the liberty to choose cannabis for relaxation, enjoyment, and medicine.”
Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) signed a bill Feb. 26, 2015 making the possession and growth of marijuana legal for those over 21 years of age in the District. However, the purchase and sale of marijuana remains illegal under D.C. law. Smoking or consuming marijuana in public, including federal land, remains illegal.
Duke Dunn, a veteran, photographer and activist, said he has benefited from cannabis and hemp.
“Our farmers could grow it right here in America,” Dunn said. “Help our farmers, help our economy. For farming, it’s a miracle crop all the way around for the people, for the government, the economy, and the land and the air.”
Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a White House press briefing Feb. 27 that President Donald Trump’s administration acknowledges a difference between medicinal and recreational cannabis use.
“There’s a big difference between that and recreational marijuana,” Spicer said in the briefing. “And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”
Using marijuana to improve mood or prevent symptoms of an illness proves its medicinal use, according to a DCMJ press release.
“We can argue that all cannabis use is medical,” DCMJ wrote. “If you use it to relax, that is medical. If you use it to put yourself into a better mood, that is medical. The argument that only some sick people can use cannabis while other adults are not sick enough to deserve it is deeply flawed. Many people use cannabis in order to not get sick.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected the concerns of pro-marijuana activists on the Trump administration’s views when he discussed the drug in his remarks on combatting violent crime to federal, state and local law enforcement March 15.
“I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana. So people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful,” Sessions said.
Dunn said he does not see cannabis as a safety threat on par with heroin. He said he has been using marijuana for 45 years, but he did not become an outspoken supporter until five years ago when he saw a police officer wearing a shirt that said, “Cops want to legalize pot, ask me why.”
Dunn said the police officer’s answer started his activism.
“His answer was the benefit of our children, as well as us. So we don’t get in trouble for doing something less troublesome than alcohol,” Dunn said. “Alcohol kills people. Alcohol causes people to kill people. And alcohol makes you violent.”
Dunn said criminalizing marijuana brings severe consequences. He wore a dog tag to the rally with the number 22 on it to symbolize the average number of veterans who commit suicide a day. He said he believes that number would decrease with the legalization of cannabis.
Dunn said he also believes that minority arrests would decrease.
“It messes and wrecks up families, especially in the black community as well because they’re profiling them and it’s not right,” Dunn said.
Dunn encouraged people to call their representatives and ask them to support bills H.R. 1227 and H.R. 975, which would end the federal marijuana prohibition and respect state marijuana laws respectively.
“Our government is supposed to be a group that is set up to basically work and represent and help and support the people, but it’s turning against the people. I call it a self-serving, corrupt corporate government,” Dunn said.