Last fall, the current nominee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, said “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” That made the cannabis community nervous, especially in the District of Columbia. In December, I received a newsletter from DCMJ, a group founded in 2013 that fights for equal rights for cannabis users and growers. The letter announced DCMJ would be organizing and leading a demonstration to pass out legal joints and to smoke during Trump’s speech on Inauguration Day, unless the incoming administration was open to discussing federal marijuana reform. “We wanna know, are you going to be cracking down on cannabis or continue in a path to legalization? Or are you going to just leave it for the next administration?” asked Adam Eidinger, a co-founder of DCMJ.
I was a bit nervous when I read the newsletter, which stated that smoking on the mall would be a federal crime. I wasn’t willing to risk arrest. I have been arrested for pot before—twice, actually—and I was hesitant to put myself in danger of losing my freedoms again. I did want to participate in all the legal activities, to volunteer to ID folks, or to donate some joints of my own supply to pass out. To be free to gather in public, to give away marijuana was an act of protest I was willing to join. And maybe I felt sort of like fellow marcher Andy Cerrutti, who told me at the demonstration: “People wonder what impact it makes to go down and scream at Trump. Well, the impact is on me, personally, to express my voice—and then I can go on with doing what I have to do tomorrow.”
My involvement with DCMJ goes back further than this demonstration. I attended planning meetings, local outreach meetings at churches and district hearings back around 2009 when the District was preparing laws to allow for medical use. After I was arrested, I just wanted to be around people like me, who weren’t fearing the plant and who wanted to seek the benefits of cannabis.
DCMJ hosts, on average, two planning meetings a month. The group believes that gathering people at demonstrations, voicing concern and leaving a great impression of marijuana smokers are all necessary tactics to change the perception that weed smokers are “bad people.” In 2016, DCMJ hosted a large cannabis seed giveaway, to start folks off on their home grows after Initiative 71 passed, allowing adults over 21 to use and grow up to six plants at home. The giveaway got the attention of the Obama Administration, which led Adam Eidinger and DCMJ co-founder Nikolas Schiller into a meeting at the White House.
Fifty-one people showed up to the planning meeting a couple of days before the #Trump420 demonstration, and over 300 people signed up to volunteer at the demonstration to check IDs, assist with crowd control and to pass out legal joints. On January 20, I arrived in DuPont Circle at 7:30 a.m., ready with my jar of joints to meet with demonstration coordinators. Folks were already lined up down Massachusetts Avenue, eagerly waiting for the joint giveaway. Volunteers passed around free doughnuts and coffee.
At 8 a.m., the music started rocking and the joint giveaway began, serving folks with disabilities first. I stood inside a prop jail cell with other volunteers, and passed out joints through the cell bars. The prop jail was first used in 2012 by David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, who locked himself inside the cell with 12 hemp plants in front of the White House in an act of civil disobedience. Following the action, President Obama passed the 2014 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp production for research. The jail cell symbolically stands now to show that cannabis users and growers should not be treated as criminals.
As the hour went on, we passed out over 2,000 joints, and the line was still stretched down several blocks. The crowd was peaceful, pleasant and lighting up in joy. Metropolitan Police hung out across the street, allowing us to peacefully organize. Good vibes, music and ganja filled the air. Drivers passing by honked and cheered.
By 10 a.m., we were nearly out of stock, but gift bags of joints kept rolling in from the cannabis community, so the giveaway continued. DC has been really great at fostering a healthy cannabis community and getting all kinds of folks involved. I saw men, women, old, young, black, white, Trump supporters, tourists, all enjoying the free marijuana. I think the total number of joints given away was around 9,000!
Eidinger spoke to the crowd of supporters as folks received their joints, saying, “Jeff Sessions is right, good people don’t smoke marijuana, GREAT people do.” He reminded everyone that this was not an anti-Trump demonstration, not a protest, but a moment to show the world what great weed smokers look like: “More than 1% of the US population has lost their right to vote due to marijuana, that’s just crazy, so when they say that marijuana is not a political issue, more people are losing their right to vote more than anything else.”
Eidinger continued, “We are not criminals. Right now there’s two million people sitting in jail—many of them are there for simple possession of marijuana. Let those people out. We are not done yet. When you march, remember it’s a serious issue, it’s a life and death issue, it’s for every single family that has experienced a marijuana conviction”.
At 11 a.m., Schiller led a band of merry tokers down 19th street to the National Mall. I was expecting to run into crowds of Trumpers on the way, but the streets were absolutely cleared and empty with exception to the Park Rangers and National Guard. I was a bit nervous approaching the military vehicles because some in our group were already smoking weed. The plan was to smoke at 4 minutes and 20 seconds into Trump’s speech. But, hey, everyone was excited. The National Guard didn’t seem to mind—they advised us to “be safe out there” and waved us on down the road. Marching on, music blasting, Schiller led the marchers and rallied them over the microphone: “You might have your bags checked, some might not get in and that’s OK, we are here, we are live, and we are tired of waiting for cannabis to be legal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia!”
Instead of risking being searched heading onto the mall, we chose to stand on city streets just near the entrance. Switching from music to radio, we were able to cast the speech over our PA, and the countdown to 4:20 began. We heard the choir sing and then the swearing in of Donald J., as Schiller pointed out, “It is very apropos that it just started to rain. The sky is crying.”
We all huddled together in the rain to participate in civil disobedience. A purpose to show ourselves, and the world, that we, the great people, are the cannabis majority. At 4 minutes and 20 seconds into the inauguration, we sparked up. “We’re pretty sure our clouds wafted through the mall,” says Schiller. Everyone took a moment to enjoy, and have a few victory hugs. Shortly afterwards we collectively decided “Let’s get the fuck outta here,” and we marched back to DuPont Circle. Along the way I was approached by a teenage Trump supporter who tried to give me a bracelet for his movement which said “Getting ready for the wall to go up.” That fucked with my high a little bit. How can someone so young be preaching such hatred? Not today Satan, not fucking with my high today. The moment passed. I marched on up 19th street rejoicing in the day’s peaceful activities.
As we circled back to our starting point on DuPont, there were still some supporters cheering us on as we arrived. A lot of folks had chosen to stay behind, away from risking arrest on the mall. Schiller closed out the demonstration with some final thoughts: “This is an American issue. We hope Trump realizes that he can create millions of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue for states if he legalizes throughout America. Let’s not let this movement end today. Until cannabis is legalized, we have a fight to fight. One way to ‘make America great again’ is to let Americans grow what George Washington grew—he grew cannabis in Virginia about 5 miles [pointing southwest] that way!”
#Trump420 was a success. DC is the best city for protest. We are waiting for the new administration to speak on their position of cannabis. Until then, we will be here, watching and smoking.
For more information and to get involved go to DCMJ.org. Follow Katelyn Partlow at @CannabisCabaret.
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