Four marijuana legalization activists were arrested near the U.S. Capitol on Monday after smoking the drug in public, just a few days after eight members of the same group were arrested while offering free joints to congressional staff.
The activists were arrested by U.S. Capitol Police during a second annual “Reschedule 420” rally urging federal cannabis legalization. Police moved in immediately after what was described as a religious ceremony.
Activists offered Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Rastafarian and non-religious invocations, in their opinion extending First Amendment protection to cannabis consumption.
“These are clouds of peace and clouds of love. Give thanks,” an activist who uses the name Ras Fia said before leading the activists in lighting up.
Natalie de Leon, who offered a lengthy Buddhist prayer before the arrests, protested that marijuana was her sacrament as her hands were placed behind her back.
Adam Eidinger, who said a Jewish prayer, was also arrested. “Free D.C.!” fellow activists shouted as Eidinger, a co-founder of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, was led away.
Rachel Donlan, a Massachusetts activist, told U.S. News, “I’m a medical patient,” as she was steered by officers to a police van. Donlan said earlier in the day that she has a rare, painful medical condition that she treats with marijuana.
De Leon, Donlan and Eidinger were among the eight arrested and booked on federal charges Thursday.
Prosecutors dropped charges against de Leon, Donlan and four others arrested Thursday, but accuse Eidinger of possessing 78 joints weighing nearly 2.07 ounces, slightly over the local possession limit. (He says rolling papers and filters wrongfully tipped the scale.)
The U.S. attorney’s office, which in the nation’s capital prosecutes both federal and local cases, is proceeding with local misdemeanor cases against Eidinger and another man, William Angolia, who allegedly had about 2.4 ounces of marijuana in his car.
Unlike the Thursday event, arrests were expected on Monday, as the rally was held on federal land.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Capitol Police says the four activists were charged with the federal crime of possessing marijuana.
It’s unclear what charges the U.S. attorney’s office may pursue. A spokesman for the office was not immediately able to comment.
It also is unclear if other activists will face charges. Several officers held cameras, documenting the event, and at least one activist who was not immediately arrested spelled out his name before raising a fist with what appeared to be cannabis.
The pair of provocative events near the U.S. Capitol is intended to spur lawmakers to relax cannabis laws in the face of a possible crackdown by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has empaneled a committee of unknown membership to review federal pot policies.
But the approach of giving away joints and smoking in public divided cannabis reformers, some of whom prefer a more professional form of lobbying.
“I don’t think it is the best way forward,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a longtime cannabis reform advocate, last week. “We’re going to have many advocates and business people on Capitol Hill making the case in a calm, thoughtful, rational basis.”
The local activists counter that standard lobbying hasn’t worked and that headline-grabbing events and civil disobedience are needed in the face of an existential threat.
A congressional spending measure that protects state medical marijuana programs from federal prosecutors and anti-drug agents expires April 28, with some uncertainty about whether it will be reincorporated into a large spending package. The local activists want the measure renewed and a spending restriction blocking recreational sales in D.C. to be withdrawn when a budget deal is hashed out.
A CBS News poll released last week found 61 percent of Americans favor marijuana legalization, a policy adopted by eight states and the nation’s capital. The Obama administration allowed states to regulate sales, despite the fact possession remains a federal crime, spawning a multibillion-dollar state-legal industry.
The arrests on Monday contrast sharply with the larger “Reschedule 420” event outside the White House last year, when local Metropolitan Police Department officers ticketed just two people for public consumption.
Many speakers Monday said it was wrong to arrest people for using marijuana as they please.
“We have people doing life in prison for a plant that hurts no one. Obama did not release all of them,” said Shell Levoli of POW420. “It is something America should not stand for, it’s something we should be ashamed of.”