Seven arrested as US marijuana enthusiasts celebrate what they call their 4/20 holiday

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 7:04am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 7:47am

Seven people were arrested on marijuana charges near the US Capitol on Thursday as they participated in a pot giveaway aimed at pressuring Congress to legalise the drug.

Three were arrested on charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and four were charged with possession, said Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for the US Capitol Police.

She said the seven had been arrested after police witnessed them distributing marijuana to passers-by at the intersection of First and Constitution.

“Under federal law, it is unlawful to possess marijuana,” Malecki said.

The pot giveaway was organized by DCMJ, a pro-legalisation group based in Washington.

Nikolas Schiller, co-founder of the group, said the pot giveaway was for Capitol Hill staffers and the media. He said the seven arrested had been on DC land, not federal land.

“We firmly believe that these politically motivated arrests were directly ordered by the US Capitol Police chief in an attempt to suppress Americans’ right to free speech and peaceful demonstration — an unlawful violation of our most basic civil liberties,” Schiller said.

The arrests came on April 20, or 4/20, the unofficial national holiday for backers of marijuana legalisation.

From Capitol Hill to Hippie Hill, marijuana enthusiasts observed their 4/20 holiday with public smoke-outs, parties and, yes, great deals on weed.

Pot fans in Los Angeles went for a cannabis-fuelled hike, and in Portland, Maine, a local author spent the afternoon giving away more than 200 grammes of marijuana to a long line of fans.

The annual celebration of cannabis culture gave activists an opportunity to reflect on how far they’ve come — recreational use of marijuana is now legal in eight states and the nation’s capital — and on the national political tone, with Trump administration officials reprising talking points from the heyday of the war on drugs.

“We’re looking at an attorney general who wants to bring America back into the 1980s in terms of drug policy,” said Vivian McPeak, a founder of Hempfest in Seattle. “I’m sceptical they can put the cannabis genie back into the bottle.”

President Donald Trump hasn’t clarified what his approach to marijuana will be, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes the drug’s legalisation and this month ordered a review of the government’s marijuana policy, which has included a largely hands-off approach in legal marijuana states.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently called marijuana “a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs” — a view long held by drug warriors despite scant evidence of its validity.

This year’s 4/20 party follows successful legalisation campaigns in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, which joined Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington as states that allow recreational marijuana. More than half of all states now allow medical marijuana.

In California, which voted to legalise marijuana last fall, tens of thousands of people were expected at events ranging from marijuana cooking classes to the annual bacchanal on Hippie Hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Pot shops in some legal marijuana states were offering discounts. In Alaska, though, regulators put a damper on promotions, warning retail shops about an “alarming amount of social media advertisements for 4/20 celebrations” that violate state rules against certain activities, such as games or competitions, that encourage pot sales.

James Barrett, a co-owner of the Rainforest Farms retail store in downtown Juneau said his company pulled its sponsorship of a cannabis celebration to avoid running afoul of the rules.

A shop in Seattle was hosting a block party, and a nearby sex-toy business was offering a class about how marijuana can improve intimate relations.

Legalisation opponents weren’t going quietly. Smart Approaches to Marijuana said drug policy experts and elected leaders convened in Atlanta for a summit featuring Barry McCaffrey, the former drug czar under President Bill Clinton, and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.

“Smart drug policy starts with science and research, not ideology or profit,” McCaffrey said in a news release from the organisation. Smart Approaches to Marijuana “embodies this belief by advocating for common-sense laws that protect American families and communities from the social and health consequences of marijuana legalisation.”

Sixty per cent of adults support legalising marijuana, according to a Gallup poll last fall, and two-thirds of respondents in a Yahoo/Marist poll released this week said marijuana is safer than opioids — even when those painkillers are prescribed by doctors.