By Nick Neville
For BU News Service
Washington — Donald Trump has assumed office as the 45th president of the United States, and D.C.-based marijuana advocacy group DCMJ wasted no time in attempting to get the new leader of the free world’s attention.
The group attracted thousands to Washington’s Dupont Circle on the morning of the inauguration to raise awareness and advocate for the legalization of marijuana at the federal level.
“I have no indication that Trump is serious about marijuana legalization until he sits down with the marijuana legalization community,” said Adam Eidinger, co-founder of DCMJ.
DCMJ began handing out joints at around 8 a.m. Friday as part of the event, referred to as #Trump420 on the organization’s website. Though 4,200 free joints were originally planned to be distributed, that number more than doubled.
Eidinger and fellow DCMJ co-founder Nikolas Schiller proposed Initiative 71 in 2014, which led to the legalization of marijuana in Washington the following year. Though it is illegal to smoke on federal property and to sell cannabis, DCMJ and its hundreds of volunteers did not violate the law by distributing marijuana for free. Persons 21 or older may smoke marijuana on private property and possess two ounces or less of it, and IDs were checked before joints were distributed.
With seven states passing marijuana initiatives in November, those who protested today hope that changes on the state level may lead to a federal shift. However, President Trump’s choice for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, may have other ideas. He stated during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 10 that he believes “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
“He’s right – not just good, but great people smoke marijuana,” Eidinger said. “The Sessions pick was a declaration of war on the marijuana community, and we’re terrorized right now by his pick.”
The anti-Sessions theme was visible throughout the event. Protesters shouted, “We want smoke sessions, not Jeff Sessions,” and a poster near the joint distribution area read: “Jeff Sessions is backward on marijuana.”
President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have also expressed skepticism about cannabis reform, but Eidinger and others hope their demonstration turned some heads.
The group noted, though, that #Trump420 was not politically motivated, but all about reform. In fact, the protest was truly a bipartisan display, as Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters alike were present.
The line for free joints extended for more than three blocks in what was an unexpectedly high turnout. At around 10:50 a.m., Eidinger encouraged everyone to walk to the National Mall and light their joints during Trump’s inaugural address, four minutes and 20 seconds into Trump’s presidency. He did, however, warn protesters that they were risking arrest.
Armed with a large boombox, dozens of signs and lots of cannabis, the group marched down the length of 19th Street toward the ceremonies. With police clearing the way, Schiller on the microphone and thousands smoking and singing, the group arrived at the National Mall roughly 20 minutes before Trump placed his hand on the Bible.
Once the group settled between the World War II Memorial and the Washington Monument on 17th Street, Schiller suggested that they stay behind security checkpoints. There, hundreds huddled around the boombox, which was broadcasting a live radio feed of the ceremonies, and awaited the beginning of Trump’s presidency.
With rain starting to fall, Schiller timed Trump’s inaugural address. Just as the president proclaimed, “You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before,” the crowd lit their joints and smoke clouds wafted through the Mall.
There were no arrests. While the impact that this demonstration will have on legislation remains to be seen, protesters expressed varying degrees of hope regarding reform.
“I’m not confident in America, really,” said Evan Paliotta, a New York resident wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. “There are so many issues. We didn’t start the fire, you know, but it’s all been building up to this. I don’t think there’s really anything any one individual can do. We don’t know how to live with one another, and weed helps people live with one another.”
Dawn Lee-Carty, a D.C. local, came away with a different feeling. She attended the event in order to advocate for the use of medical marijuana as an opioid substitute. Its use helped her 9-year-old daughter Zoey, who suffers from epilepsy, become 91 percent seizure-free within three months.
“We just need to let people know that we’re here and, even if the administration decides not to bend, I’m not going anywhere,” Lee-Carty said. “I’m gonna be here for the kids, I’m gonna be the voice for the families, and I’m gonna be here for Zoey to advocate.”
On a day when newly-appointed President Trump proclaimed “everyone is listening to you now,” DCMJ members hope their message was heard loud and clear.