04/02/2016 08:34 pm ET Updated Apr 04, 2016

Cannabis Activists Get High In Front Of The White House In Dramatic Drug Law Protest

A "green energy" revolution?
Daniel Marans/The Huffington Post
A protester marches on K Street in Washington, D.C. on April 2, 2016, after smoking marijuana in front of the White House.

WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of people who support marijuana legalization got high in front of the White House on Saturday in a demonstration aimed at getting cannabis removed from the federal government’s most serious category of illegal drugs.

The mass protest, led by DCMJ, a D.C.-based marijuana group whose activists could be spotted wearing distinctive red Phrygian caps, called for President Barack Obama to take marijuana off the list of Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The federal government classification given to the “most dangerous drugs” lumps marijuana in with more serious drugs like heroin, bath salts and LSD, allowing it to be prosecuted aggressively.  

At around 4:20 p.m. Eastern time, which was chosen because of the number 420’s association with weed, the protesters lit their joints, fired up their bowls and pulled on their vaporizers in unison with little disruption from the Secret Service or the local police. They even inflated a 51-foot plastic inflatable joint with the message “Obama, deschedule cannabis now" that was made by artists especially for the occasion.

Adam Eidinger, a founder of DCMJ and leader of the 2014 campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in the District of Columbia, said that law enforcement initially refused to let the massive inflatable joint into Lafayette Square Park, but they were able to circumvent them by smuggling it in deflated and inflating it in the park.

“Just like good stoners everywhere, we snuck in a 51-foot joint, past the Secret Service,” Eidinger joked.

Smoking in public remains illegal in the district, despite a November 2014 vote to legalize it. It is illegal on federal land, including Lafayette Square Park and the pedestrian street in front of it, under any circumstances. Eidinger had expected arrests to be made -- even publicly expressing his readiness to be arrested for the cause.

But he had not heard of any arrests, he said, though some police citations were issued. The Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department could not immediately be reached to confirm the number of arrests or citations.

It was clear, however, that the D.C. cops largely turned a blind eye to public marijuana consumption. Several motorcycle-bound officers provided an escort for the group to march on K Street NW following the protest, during which many demonstrators smoked openly. Peter Tosh’s “Legalize It” cannabis anthem blared from speakers as the parade went forward.

The march concluded at the corner of K Street NW and Vermont Avenue, where protest organizers had attacked a mock jail cell to the trailer post of an SUV in protest of the incarceration of marijuana smokers. A sign above the cage-turned-cell said “Jail Is Not A Drug Policy” in big red letters.

Daniel Marans/The Huffington Post
Cannabis activists gather around a mock jail cell.

Obama has the constitutional authority to remove marijuana from Schedule I without the need for congressional approval. Switching it to Schedule III, for example, would allow marijuana businesses in states where the drug is legal to deduct business expenses, and restore access to student loans and public housing for convicted users, among other benefits, according to Ilya Shapiro, a legal scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Among the presidential candidates, only Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic contender, has said he would remove marijuana from Schedule I as president. Sanders also introduced a bill in Congress in November that would legalize it completely.

Eidinger said that if Hillary Clinton wants to ensure high turnout from Sanders’ supporters in the general election, endorsing the reclassification of marijuana would be a good way to do it.

“As a Bernie supporter, I do want to see a united Democratic Party, but you gotta give us something -- this is like in the top three or four issues of Bernie supporters,” Eidinger said, before excusing himself momentarily for a gulp of water.

“I’m a little cotton-mouthed, oh my God,” he said.

Sanders was clearly the preferred candidate of rally attendees, many of whom sported “Bernie” pins and shirts.

Other activists described their involvement in down-ballot races. Zack Pesavento, 29, a veteran of the D.C. legalization campaign, is president of 420 USA Super PAC, a Super PAC dedicated to electing pro-legalization members of Congress. The group has plans to help unseat Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), one of the fiercest opponents in Congress of Washington, D.C.'s attempts to legalize the substance.

Daniel Marans/The Huffington Post

Sandra, a D.C.-based marijuana grower who was there with her husband, Josh, a certified arborist, said marijuana had been a godsend for her arthritis, sciatica and depression. They had left their two young boys with the kids' grandparents.

“The only harm that [legalization] would cause would be to the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies,” she said. “There are so many medications I don’t have to take because I smoke marijuana.”

Sandra said she appreciates concerns people have about how marijuana has grown more concentrated over the years -- but to her, it only made the case for legalization more obvious.

“We need laws for it so we can regulate... so that people don’t have bad experiences,” she said.

This post has been updated to note that the red caps worn by protesters were Phrygian caps, which were used as a symbol of liberty in the French Revolution. 


Most Influential People Who've Used Marijuana

1 50: Snoop Lion
Koen van Weel/AFP/Getty Images
2 49: Rick Steves
3 47: Rihanna
4 46: Hugh Hefner
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Playboy
5 45: Miley Cyrus
AP Photo/MTV, John Shearer
6 44: Bryan Cranston
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
7 43: Robert Downey Jr
Joel Ryan/Invision/AP, file
8 42: Madonna
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
9 41: Johnny Depp
10 40: Phil Jackson
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
11 39: Sarah Palin
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File
12 38: Justin Bieber
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
13 37: Maya Angelou
AP Photo/Nell Redmond, file
14 36: Lincoln Chafee
AP Photo/Michelle R. Smith
15 35: Matt Damon
AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)
16 34: Conan O'Brien
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
17 33: Susan Sarandon
Larry Busacca/Getty Images
18 32: Andrew Sullivan
Peter Kramer/Getty Images for TFF)
19 31: John Hickenlooper
David Cannon/Getty Images
20 30: Seth MacFarlane
AP Photo/Matt Sayles
21 29: Martha Stewart
Getty Images
22 28: Angelina Jolie
23 27: Morgan Freeman
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI
24 26: David Letterman
AP Photo/CBS, John Paul Filo
25 25: Jennifer Aniston
Arthur Mola/Invision/AP
26 24: Michael Phelps
Al Bello/Getty Images
27 23: Tom Brokaw
Kris Connor/Getty Images
28 22: Ted Turner
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
29 21: Brad Pitt
Todd Williamson/Invision for Fox Searchlight/AP Images
30 20: Lady Gaga
D Dipasupil/Getty Images for The Daily Front Row
31 19: Michael Bloomberg
Andy Kropa/Invision/AP
32 18: George Clooney
AP Photo/David Azia
33 17: Rush Limbaugh
AP Photo/Chris Carlson, file
34 16: LeBron James
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File
35 15: Sanjay Gupta
Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File
36 14: Rand Paul
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
37 13: Andrew Cuomo
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images
38 12: George W. Bush
AP Photo/LM Otero
39 11: Bill Gates
AP Photo / Jonathan Brady
40 10: Bill Maher
AP Photo/HBO, Janet Van Ham
41 9: George Soros
ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
42 8: John Kerry
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
43 7: Jay Z
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File
44 6: Jon Stewart
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File
45 5: Stephen Colbert
AP Photo/Comedy Central, Scott Gries
46 4: Clarence Thomas
AP Photo/Tribune Review, Sidney Davis
47 3: Bill Clinton
48 2: Oprah Winfrey
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File
49 1: Barack Obama
Alex Wong/Getty Images