On-the-scene report from inauguration smoke-in

Posted on January 21st, 2017 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , .

cannabisLighting up joints right on the National Mall in the middle of Donald Trump's inauguration speech struck me as the perfect way to usher in the new era. As High Times reported, the Inauguration Day smoke-in did indeed get away with it. But the real testament to cannabis' power to bring people together actually came a few hours earlier, when the DC Cannabis Coalition gathered in Dupont Circle, about a mile from the mall, for their mass joint give-away.

The plan was to give out a symbolic 4,200 joints for folks to take to the mall and light up. In fact, they gave out way more than that. Volunteers in red "liberty caps" (riffing off the French Revolution) and (plastic) cannabis leis passed them out in front of a truck-mounted display where more capped volunteers were "imprisoned" behind the bars of a big cage, symbolizing mass incarceration. The display was festooned with American flags with rainbow-colored stripes and cannabis leaves instead of stars. Hawkers sold t-shirts with a cannabis-leaf image and the words, "They Go Low, We Get High."

And the line stretched some three blocks, thousands deep. What made it heart-warmingly surreal is that every kind of human type in town for the spectacle was represented on the line—from Black Bloc anarchists flying the anti-fascist flag to beefy bikers in their gang colors and "Make America Great Again" caps—as well as lots of scruffy hippie types and local DC Black and Latino youth. Some carried signs with slogans such as "TRUMP NORMALIZES RAPE CULTURE." One ambiguously wore a cap that said "Make America Great Again" in Russian. When I asked who he had voted for, he retorted curtly, "My business!"

Organizers were trying to keep the peace, repeating into the sound system: “Unite with cannabis, love one another, drop your judgments!” But the overall message seemed to be giving Trump a chance, at least. The central banner read: "PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP KEEP MARIJUANA LEGAL; show Jeff Sessions who’s the boss. #TRUMP420." That, of course, is a reference to Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's choice for attorney general and a notorious anti-cannabis hardliner. Cannabis Coalition volunteer Natalie de Leon said she wasn't convinced by Sessions' attempt to assuage fears in his confirmation testimony. "He uses the language of a con man,” she said, especially invoking fears that the feds could hold up implementation of the new DC legalization law, as they did the District's medical marijuana law for many years.

Under the legalization law, giving away a joint is perfectly kosher as long as no money is exchanged, and public smoking is just a ticketable offense. A small contingent of police looked on at the massive joint give-away, unconcerned. However, smoking on federal land, like the National Mall, meant risking arrest.

Unfortunately, the organizers were not able to corral the thousands who lined up for a joint into joining the march on the mall. Only a few hundred embarked on the loud and spirited march down to the mall. Police and National Guard troops along the way did not interfere, even as marchers openly lit up. Nonetheless, by the time it got down to the mall, the march had dwindled to some 100. This was the core group that lit up in the middle of one of the access paths cutting across the width of the mall between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument—several hundred feet outside the checkpoint for entry into the spectating areas the mall had been divided into. Police again didn't seem to notice, but the climax of the event was actually pretty isolated from public eyes.

The event showed the potential for cannabis as a tool in coalition-building and dialogue. The coming months are are all too likely to provide opportunities to again put that potential to the test.

Cross-post to High Times

Photo by prensa420


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