U.S. Capitol Police arrested seven pro-marijuana activists who were distributing free joints on a sidewalk across from the Capitol building Thursday — the unofficial 4/20 holiday for pot smokers the world over.
Possession of small amounts of marijuana is legal under D.C. law, but is a punishable offense under federal law.
Activists with the marijuana-advocacy group DCMJ conducted their pot-giveaway protest outside the Capitol to raise awareness about federal and local laws blocking the taxation and regulation of marijuana in the District. They argued that because they were on city property, not federal land, they were subject to D.C. law on possession.
But Capitol Police reiterated that federal law prohibits the possession and distribution of marijuana. Officers arrested seven activists, charging three with possession with intent to distribute and four with possession. The activists were taken to Capitol Police headquarters for processing, officers said.
“The irony is today was not civil disobedience. Today was lawful behavior,” DCMJ co-founder Adam Eidinger said as he was being taken away by police. “Happy 4/20,” Mr. Eidinger said.
DCMJ had planned a civil disobedience protest for Monday, when activists had said they would smoke joints on the steps of the Capitol, which is clearly on federal property. Mr. Eidinger had told The Washington Post that he expected to be arrested at Monday’s event, having paid his rent early and arranged for childcare for his daughter.
The pot activists decried the arrests as being politically motivated and intended to suppress their right to free speech and freedom of assembly. They said the activists who were arrested were “Initiative-71 compliant,” distributing marijuana on a public D.C. sidewalk in accordance with city laws.
‘The U.S. Capitol Police didn’t have to invoke federal law on D.C. land,” said DCMJ co-founder Nikolas Schiller.
“By arresting some of the organizers, we believe the arrests were purely politically motivated,” Mr. Schiller said, adding that he hopes the arrests will spur more people to action on Monday.
The District and eight states — Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington — have legalized recreational marijuana. Twenty-nine states and the District have legalized medical marijuana.
The Trump administration has said it intends to enforce federal laws on drugs, but hasn’t said specifically how it will deal with states that have legalized marijuana.
A Gallup poll last fall found that 60 percent of adults support legalizing marijuana, and two-thirds of respondents in a Yahoo/Marist poll said they believe pot is safer than opioids.
On Wednesday, West Virginia became the 29th state to approve medical marijuana, with activists praising the move as a positive step in the state’s battle against opioid addiction.
“There is increasing evidence that medical cannabis can help opioid users manage pain more efficiently,” said Beth Collins, of Americans for Safe Access, a medical-marijuana advocacy group. “Given this information, it’s safe to say that West Virginia’s legalization of medical cannabis could reduce the amount of opioid overdose deaths in the state.”
And across the country, pot activists, enthusiasts, and smokers marked the 4/20 holiday with organized events, group smoke up’s and general revelry.
The details are a bit hazy on how 4/20 became synonymous with marijuana: The Associated Press linked the first reference of the numbers to a group of Northern California stoners in the 1970s who met up to toke up 4:20 p.m.
D.C. activities will continue into the weekend with the National Cannabis Festival set to take place on Saturday at the RFK Stadium. The event will feature a concert headlined by hip-hop artist Talib Kweli, feature educational sessions about pot and legalization advocacy, and vendors selling gear for growing and smoking weed, but not the product itself.