AARON C. DAVIS
THE WASHINGTON POST
WASHINGTON – Attention senior class-trip chaperones, cherry blossom lovers, and anyone else who may wander by the White House on Saturday: Brace yourself for a cloud of marijuana smoke — and, possibly, mass arrests.
Organizers of the successful ballot measure that legalized pot last year in the District say they have had enough with President Obama’s slog toward loosening marijuana laws. To protest, they are planning what they promise will be the first large-scale display of public pot smoking in the nation’s capital, with the intention of getting arrested.
The event promises to be a spectacle.
Construction was underway Wednesday on an inflatable, 51-foot marijuana joint that protesters plan to carry onto Pennsylvania Avenue NW. A D.C. artist was trying to devise a way to place a fan inside to disperse marijuana smoke into the crowd. And if that doesn’t work, a backup option would be to zip up in the balloon those who really want to get high, inside the big balloon he said.
The decision to drag the joint to the White House also is a subtle demand for District of Columbia statehood.
Adam Eidinger, the chief organizer of the event — and no stranger to arrests over marijuana policy — predicts there will be “dozens, if not hundreds, engaged in civil disobedience” of smoking pot Saturday outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
But in Obama’s last year in office, why is Eidinger organizing a protest?
He said the smoke-in is the most aggressive way he could think of to draw attention to the roughly 5 million marijuana-related arrests since Obama took office. He also thinks that Obama must do more in his remaining time to remove marijuana from the country’s list of most-dangerous controlled substances. Without that change, decisions by states to legalize pot could be in jeopardy if a Republican wins the White House, Eidinger said.
“Obama — he smokes, maybe not now, but he did smoke,” Eidinger said. “So for him to oversee an enforcement regime that has arrested five million people for marijuana . . . I’m very motivated because I think it’s a discriminatory practice.”
Although African Americans and whites use marijuana at approximately the same levels, African Americans are arrested for possession at much higher rates.
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency, making it difficult to do clinical research. Federal penalties for possession are on par with those for heroin and ecstasy.
Eidinger supports Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential contest. Sanders wants recreational use of marijuana legalized. But Eidinger wants Obama to begin the process of rescheduling marijuana before he leaves office because he thinks it would provide political cover for the probable Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, to finish the job should she win in November.
“If Obama really wants to help Hillary, he’ll do this — because people like me, who are strong Bernie supporters, we would feel more comfortable supporting the Democratic candidate if this is underway,” Eidinger said.
Not all advocates for marijuana legalization agree with Eidinger’s plan to smoke pot in front of the White House. In fact, none of the biggest national organizations plan to attend Saturday’s event.
“We’re not involved and we don’t think that consuming marijuana on federal property is an appropriate way to promote reform,” said Kaitlyn Boecker, a spokeswoman for the Drug Policy Alliance.
“Smoking marijuana outside the president’s house, around tourists and kids, is probably not a good way to get the president to do what you want,” said Tom Angell, head of the Marijuana Majority, a group promoting greater marijuana acceptance.
But Eidinger will get some support. Pro-marijuana groups from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Rhode Island said they are traveling to Washington for the event.
Some D.C. area activists well known for work with the Black Lives Matter movement and for veterans’ causes plan to speak at the demonstration.
Brandon Wyatt, 31, who served in Iraq for two years and graduated from Howard University’s law school, said he will speak about how the Obama administration has not moved fast enough to encourage research on whether pot can help veterans coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments.
But will he light up outside the White House?
“Honestly, I’m not into breaking laws,” Wyatt said, “but I’ll stand beside those who do protest that way.”
The same goes for Kim Brown, a radio host from Maryland who plans to attend and speak about racial discrimination in marijuana arrests.
“This is important, but I don’t know . . . I’m not up on the Secret Service rolling up on me,” she said. She said smoking would be a “spur-of-the-moment decision.”
Lighting up could be more of a protest than some demonstrators may realize.
The event is planned for the plaza adjacent to the White House, which is policed by the U.S. Secret Service.
Although authorities almost never do, they could prosecute pot smokers under federal law, which lists possession as a crime punishable by up to a year in jail.
On most D.C. streets, possession is legal, although smoking is restricted to a private residence.
A Secret Service spokesman said the agency was not aware of the planned protest. Eidinger has not applied for a permit to hold the event, meaning that agents may work to break it up before the scheduled smoke-in at 4:20 p.m.
“If we’re arrested, I think there will be dozens, if not hundreds, engaged in civil disobedience,” Eidinger said.
But he has left himself one out. Eidinger wrote to Obama this month saying in the letter that he would call off the public smoking if the president agrees to sit down with marijuana advocates.
“As a former cannabis (and current?) user, you know firsthand that cannabis does not belong in the Controlled Substances Act,” Eidinger wrote. He called for Obama to agree to a “Bud Summit, where leaders of the cannabis reform movement are invited to the White House to discuss steps you can take to end the failed War on Drugs you inherited as president.”
The White House press office did not respond to inquiries about Eidinger’s letter.