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Marijuana Giveaway Near US Capitol Somehow Goes Awry

"We contend the arrests were politically motivated," a spokesperson says.

Photograph by Andrew Propp.

Nine cannabis activists were arrested while giving out joints on Capitol Hill Thursday. Nikolas Schiller, co-founder of marijuana advocacy group DCMJ, says he believes his group was in compliance with District laws. Approximately 1,000 of the joints the group hoped to hand out to members of Congress, their staffs, and journalists were taken by US Capitol Police. DCMJ is the group behind Initiative 71, a 2015 law which legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use in DC. Federal law still prohibits the possession or use of any amount.

Seven of those arrested were members of DCMJ, including the other co-founder Adam Eidinger, and two were part of a local cannabis co-op who were helping out with the giveaway. DCMJ organized this first annual #JointSession event in honor of “4/20,” a holiday celebrated by cannabis enthusiasts, to push for reform in marijuana policy.

Schiller says the activists did not anticipate the hassle. Each person had less than two ounces of marijuana on them and they were giving it away on a sliver of what they thought was non-federal land at the corner of 1st Street and Constitution Avenue, NE. They used this Washington Post map to try to stay on the right side of the law, but the Capitol Police can technically make arrests anywhere in the District. Marijuana remains illegal in the 29 percent of the District that is federal land.

Giving away up to an ounce of marijuana is legal under DC law, and approximately 100 people had taken joints before the arrests began around 12:18. Activists continued to give away joints as police made more arrests.

“Under federal law, it is unlawful to possess marijuana. As of 2:30 p.m., one adult male and two adult female arrestees were charged with 21 USC 841(a) (possession with intent to distribute). Four adult females were charged with 21 USC 844(a) (possession). They were taken to USCP Headquarters for processing,” the US Capitol Police statement on the incident reads.

The activists brought 1,227 joints–a symbolic nod to HR1227, a proposed bill that would remove marijuana’s federal controlled substance designation. Schiller says he doesn’t yet know what everyone has been charged with.

“We contend the arrests were politically motivated,” says Schiller. “They were carried out to disrupt the civil disobedience action we have planned for Monday.” That would be the “smoke in” planned for April 24 on the Capitol steps, for which they anticipate being arrested. As soon as his fellow activists are released tonight or tomorrow, Schiller says they’ll go enjoy this weekend’s marijuana festival and prepare.

“Today the US Capitol Police arrested seven DCMJ volunteers, including Adam Eidinger, who were engaging in lawful behavior,” says Schiller. “We call on all activists who support cannabis reform to join us on the steps on the East side of the US Capitol at high noon on Monday.”

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Julie Strupp is an editorial fellow. Before Washingtonian, she did francophone video, radio, and photography projects addressing gender-based violence in Togo, West Africa with Peace Corps. She worked at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and AllAfrica and has contributed to Mic, Center for Public Integrity, DCist, and more. Now a proud Petworth-dweller, she’s also a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate who loves judo, biking, art, and keeping the powerful accountable.