Pubdate: Thu, 31 Mar 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Author: Aaron C. Davis


Supporters of Legalization Risk Arrest for Lighting Up Outside the White House

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, 51foot 
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 back-up option would be to zip up in the balloon 
those who really want to get high, he said.

The decision to drag the joint to the White House also is a subtle 
demand for D.C. 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 5 
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 Administration, 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 the presidency 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 goodway to get the president todo 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."

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.

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 saying that 
he would call off the public smoking if the president agrees to sit 
down with 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.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom