If you’re around Washington, DC, while President-elect Donald Trump is getting sworn in on January 20, you might be able to pick up a surprising gift: free marijuana.
The DC Cannabis Coalition, a legalization advocacy group, plans to hand out joints near Dupont Circle during Inauguration Day. But it’s not just an act of charity; activists said that it’s about sending a message.
“The main message is it’s time to legalize cannabis at the federal level," Adam Eidinger, a local marijuana legalization activist, told USA Today. “We don't want any money exchanged whatsoever. This is really a gift for people who come to Washington, DC.”
The giveaway is legal in DC in part because of Eidinger’s own activism. He campaigned for Initiative 71, which legalized the possession, growing, and gifting — but not sales — of marijuana in DC.
With a reference to 420, Eidinger plans to give out exactly 4,200 gifts. He also called on protesters to toke up four minutes and 20 seconds into Trump’s speech. (If they do that in public, that’s still illegal. Public consumption is still banned under DC’s law.)
The protest is in part targeted at the incoming administration. Trump has said that legalization should be left to the states. But his nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is clearly anti-legalization, previously arguing that “good people don’t smoke marijuana” and that the Obama administration should crack down on states that have legalized pot for recreational purposes.
“We are looking at a guy who as recently as April said that they are going to enforce federal law on marijuana all over the country,” Eidinger told USA Today. “He said marijuana is dangerous.”
The Trump administration could threaten marijuana legalization’s progress so far
Although marijuana has now been legalized in eight states and DC, it remains illegal at the federal level — classified as a schedule 1 drug, the government’s strictest category for an illicit substance. So at the whim of the president, attorney general, or Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), federal law enforcement could raid state-legal marijuana shops and arrest anyone for possessing pot, no matter what state law says.
The Obama administration has explicitly opted not to do this, issuing a set of memos — the Ogden and Cole memos — that told federal law enforcement officials to stop going after medical or recreational marijuana outlets as long as the outlets follow a certain set of guidelines (like not letting state-legal pot fall into minors’ hands).
Trump or Sessions could repeal these memos, letting federal law enforcement crack down on legal marijuana. And the US would once again see mass-scale raids on marijuana sellers, as it did under Bush’s presidency and Obama’s first term.
But Trump and Sessions don’t even have to go that far to crack down on legal pot. They could just ask for tougher enforcement of the guidelines set out under the Ogden and Cole memos, which could lead to more raids. For example, if federal law enforcement under Sessions find out that a marijuana shop accidentally sold pot to one minor, they could use that as grounds for a full-blown raid and shutdown — while law enforcement today might see one bad sale as a one-off incident that doesn’t merit the full action of the DEA.
Another possibility is that Trump and Sessions don’t explicitly call for action against pot businesses, but they look the other way as federal law enforcement agencies like the DEA independently crack down on states’ marijuana legalization laws. To this end, the appointment of a “tough on crime” hard-liner like Sessions may embolden the DEA and other federal agencies to lash out, even without an explicit order to do so.
“The DEA was never on board with 99 percent of what the Obama administration wanted to do,” Michael Collins of the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance recently told me. “So it’s not like they’re necessarily waiting for a green light to do this.” (Obama himself recently acknowledged this, telling Rolling Stone that “the DEA, whose job it is historically to enforce drug laws, is not always going to be on the cutting edge about these issues.”)
It’s unclear whether Trump will allow this. Again, Trump has said that legalization should be left to the states to decide. Raids on state-legal marijuana shops could also inspire a furious backlash, particularly since all jurisdictions with legal pot approved it through voter initiatives. And most US adults support legalizing marijuana, according to surveys from the Pew Research Center — making a campaign against legal pot politically risky.
Given that the administration has other contentious ambitions, from immigration to Obamacare, a fight over legal pot may be pushed aside for other priorities. But until that proves to be the case, legalization activists are taking up all sorts of tactics to push their message and maintain the progress they’ve made — including the ability to give away free pot.