This weekend, the District’s marijuana advocates gathered at the White House in protest while smoking marijuana on federal property. Protest organizers boasted that Saturday’s public mass-smoking demonstration was an act of civil disobedience.
D.C. Cannabis Campaign Chairman Adam Eidinger led the protestors. The campaign drafted Initiative 71, which legalized personal growth, possession and consumption of marijuana for those over 21 in Washington. However, it is still illegal to sell pot, smoke it in public or to have it visibly displayed on one’s person.
Passed by 64.87 percent of voters last November, Initiative 71 went into effect Feb. 26, 2015. Prior to the passage of Initiative 71, the District decriminalized marijuana in July 2014.
The Georgetown Code of Student Conduct forbids the possession, use, transfer or sale of controlled substances. Marijuana is banned on campus because cannabis possession and use is considered criminal under federal law and the university receives federal funding.
The police and Secret Service made no arrests for marijuana smoking during the protest and marches, even during the scheduled “smoke-out” at 4:20 p.m. — alluding to National Pot Day on April 20 — despite the fact that smoking on federal land is considered a felony.
According to The Washington Post, no arrests were made because the protesters stayed on Pennsylvania Avenue, which is part of D.C., where pot possession is legal. Had they strayed to the sidewalks in front of the White House, it may have been a different story.
The protestors made their planned demonstration known in the Georgetown area April 1 by driving past the university gates in a Jeep trailering a cage with a sign reading,“JAIL IS NOT A DRUG POLICY.”
Louis Drexel Porteous, a volunteer lobbyist and organizer for D.C. Norml, a pro-marijuana policy group, sat inside the cage.
Drexel Porteous said his goal is to have the federal government legalize pot as soon as possible.
“The job is to end the federal prohibition of marijuana, now,” Drexel Porteous said.
The brief demonstrations at Georgetown’s gates attracted minimal fanfare, even among the crowds of accepted and visiting students. One of the protestors spoke of the need for medical marijuana in aiding Iraq war veterans. The protestors also had a 50-foot inflatable joint created by artists Chris Ridler and Ceaser Maxit.
In an interview with The Hoya at Saturday’s protest, Drexel Porteous explained that the Jeep cage at Georgetown was a way to get the word out to all local colleges, but was unable to recall which universities exactly he had appeared at besides Georgetown.
“We wanted to hit all the universities,” Drexel Porteous said. “They put me in a cage and I go, ‘Ngguhh,’ and that’s my job.”
According to Drexel Porteous, the cage was meant to draw attention to marijuana-related arrests and incarceration.
“It’s the stupidest thing in the world — putting people in a prison for a plant that’s never harmed anybody and has a million users,” Drexel Porteous said.
George Washington University freshman William Frankl said he attended the protest because of his firm support for marijuana legalization, referencing the success of marijuana laws in his home state of California, where he has a prescription card for marijuana. However, Frankl said he would not personally smoke as an act of civil disobedience.
“I’m not willing to go quite as far as getting arrested,” Frankl said. “It’s a worthy cause, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t want a record.”
A Georgetown student in attendance at the protest, Nick (COL ’16) — who requested to be referred to only by his first name — expressed concern with the war on drugs and its effects on mass incarceration.
“I don’t really smoke pot but I am very concerned about mass incarceration, what I feel is an authoritarian drug policy, an unjust drug policy,” Nick said. “And I’d like to show my support for the rescheduling of this drug in particular.”
Nick pointed to a connection between issues of race and the drug war.
“There’s at least one obvious connection, which is the disproportional targeting of African Americans by the legal system generally. I mean, that’s quite obviously tied to marijuana,” Nick said.
In addition to the desire for immediate action regarding the federal legalization of marijuana, the protestors want Obama to personally meet with major pro-marijuana policy groups before the end of his term.
According to The Washington Post, some major marijuana policy advocates have opted not to support the protest or its tactic of public marijuana consumption around children and tourists, including groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Majority.
Eidinger has been the driving force for progress on the relaxation of marijuana laws in the District. The Cannabis Campaign was originally called DCMJ, a title reclaimed since its success with the passage of Initiative 71.
The effects of the protesters’ presence were instantaneous. Movement on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. flowed toward the appearance of the aforementioned giant inflatable lit joint reading “LEGALIZE. OBAMA, DESCHDEULE CANNABIS NOW!”
The joint was easily visible from down the street near the Renwick Gallery. As the protest gathered at the entrance to Pennsylvania Avenue around 2 p.m., the police and Secret Service blocked the inflatable joint from getting to the gates. After negotiations, protesters agreed to deflate the joint as long as they could continue into the area.
Drexel Porteous complained that the police and Secret Service considered the inflatable joint a security concern simply because of its provocative symbolism, even though the inflatable Keystone XL Pipeline from previous environmental protests at the White House was allowed to be held up.
Once at the center of the crowd, directly in front of the White House, Eidinger began to present a series of speakers, which he promised would be diverse in age, race, gender and political orientation. The speakers included activists, doctors and veterans.
The speakers mostly focused on extolling the medical benefits of marijuana, the racial inequities underlying the war on drugs, the abuse risk of opiate medicines, the economic costs of prohibition and polemics on ending mass incarceration.
Throughout the protest, Eidinger repeated a warning also found on DCMJ’s website, which advised people not to smoke before the scheduled time of 4:20 p.m. for fear the police could more easily arrest a single straggler than a whole group.
Despite this warning, the stench of marijuana was ubiquitous. Joints were visibly lingering behind many protesters’ ears and suspiciously bagged baked goods were being devoured by people in hunched yet indiscreet poses.
Even with these provocations, the police and Secret Service seemed resigned to disapproving stares and watchful eyes. At one point, a police K-9 was paraded through the scene, but the dog never alerted its handler.
At 4:14 p.m., Eidinger took the microphone. He said he would end the rest of the protest if the president agreed to meet with a major legalization organization.
Eidinger stressed that he felt pushed to this illegal tactic out of frustration from a lack a response to previous calls from DCMJ and other organizations to act on marijuana legalization.
“We’re politely and respectfully sending letters to the president and not getting responses,” Eidinger said. “Mr. President, we beg you, we implore you, do something before you leave office and we will get your back, we will watch your back. You can’t ignore us anymore.”
At 4:20 p.m., Eidinger, along with most of the protesters, began to smoke. Following some celebratory dancing, singing, smoking and congratulations, Eidinger met The Hoya for an interview.
Eidinger had to shout over the excited mass of about 200 pot-puffing protesters and the music. Joint in hand, his second since 4:20 p.m., Eidinger discussed his tactics, implored student activists to fight for the cause of legalization and commented on the on-goings of his fellow protestors.
“Woah, what’s happening? I think they have a bong over there,” Eidinger said.
Eidinger said the coordination of the event took 30 days of organizing.
“It’s about setting the goal. What’s the goal? We want to highlight the five million arrests … and put pressure on the president to impress us before election day,” Eidinger said. “Because if he doesn’t impress us, I’m sure many of the people here today aren’t going to be voting for his chosen successor.”
Eidinger also expressed his belief that Obama supports legalization and emphasized the harmlessness of marijuana.
“I think he [Obama] supports legalization. And what we’re saying is this is civil disobedience, now. You have forced us to basically use our most powerful weapon which is just to use the plant itself, and show how harmless it is,” Eidinger said. “I’ve smoked like a joint already, here in front of the White House and I’m giving this very coherent interview.”
Eidinger also addressed his lack of fear of police retribution.
“We’re just not afraid to go to jail anymore,” Eidinger said. “I came fully prepared to be arrested and I’m still fully prepared for being arrested. They’re letting us have this party.”
As a last remark, Eidinger doled out some words of advice for students and the younger generation.
“What I want to say is, you guys have to figure out a way to hand off the activism energy year-to-year, because every four years it seems like there is nobody organized,” Eidinger said. “Students are the future; young people are the future. Older people had their chance. It’s your chance. Take to the streets; you’ll get everything you want.”