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Marijuana Civil Disobedience: Why It Matters

Update 4/21: Because of this rally on April 2, 2016 the organizers at DCMJ have won a meeting with a senior White House policy staffer. Read more

On Saturday April 2, several hundred protesters gathered on Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington, D.C. in front of the White House. At approximately 4:20 pm, many in the crowd lit pipes and joints filled with cannabis.

The fragrant smoke rose up on the sunny, spring afternoon, lapping at the sides of the Executive Office. A huge inflatable 51-foot joint, was held aloft.

I was there for PhillyNORML and saw Freedom Leaf contributor Valencia Mohammed speak at the event.

The demonstration, organized by DCMJ, called for an end to federal marijuana prohibition. Activists came from all over the region: Chris Foye and MASSCANN/NORML members drove down from Boston; Dana Beal and his Cures Not Wars cohorts arrived from New York; NJWeedman journeyed from Trenton; Kevin Cranford came from Maryland NORML, Cyn Ferguson from Delaware NORML;Mike Whiter and N.A. Poe came from Philadelphia. In one place, many of the most vocal and passionate cannabis advocates on the East Coast assembled.

DCMJ, led by Adam Eidinger, is no Johnny-come-lately. They got 70% of District voters to cast ballots in favor of legalization in 2014. They know how to win with lobbying efforts, elections, and with protests.

President Obama has the power to change marijuana’s schedule in the Controlled Substances Act. He can reschedule or de-schedule it. States are changing cannabis laws, but the federal government hasn’t budged an inch. That’s why people were there to demonstrate.

Large gatherings of pot smokers in Colorado each year on 4/20 signaled the public groundswell of support for legalization. Major events that include public smoking, like Seattle Hempfest and the Boston Freedom Rally, have served as the main vehicles for political reform.

Some reformers distanced themselves from the recent D.C. protest, expressing their discontent in an article at ibtimes.com.

“I feel what they’re doing is unhelpful,” Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority stated, “and potentially dangerous to our continued success in D.C.”

Taylor West, Deputy Director of the NCIA, went a step further, noting that “from a business perspective, this is exactly the opposite of what we have made strides to communicate to people in D.C.”

Yet the professional advocates should not crinkle their noses at their street protesting partners in political change. We are all in this together.

I am a suit-wearing guy too. Yet I also recognize that the spirit of this cause is something deeper than an industry or taxes.

This is a real fight for social justice and civil rights.

More than half a million Americans still get arrested every year for simple possession. Politicians certainly haven’t kept up prohibition this long because of a few smoky events.

Marijuana is now legal to posses and grow in Washington D.C., but if citizens cross onto some of the ubiquitous federal land pockmarking the city, they can face arrest. Perhaps nowhere else in the nation does the strange variety and severity of cannabis laws collide than right in our Capitol.

D.C. was an appropriate place and the White House was a fitting venue for the message we brought.

Protesting is a spectator-participation sport. Not every person can go out and hold a sign or commit civil disobedience. Yet millions will watch and applaud from afar, living vicariously through those on the front lines.

Protesting publicly, seeking redress and raising awareness are essential parts of politics. So is suited-up lobbying. It takes a combination of tactics to win. Call it the entourage effect of marijuana reform.

Wear a suit. Get out in the street. Vote. It will take everything.