Backdropped by American flags emblazoned with rainbow coloring and cannabis leaves, Ras Fia stood before the the U.S. Capitol holding a marijuana joint.
“I come in peace,” said Fia, the CEO and founder of Cannabis Alliance Networking Group. “Cannabis is peace; cannabis is love. We are here to spread peace; we are here to spread love. These are clouds of peace and clouds of love.”
Fia, the dome of the Capitol looming over him, lit the weed cigarette and inhaled. Seconds later, U.S. Capitol Police, waiting for this moment, waded into the group of about two dozen, arresting Fia and three others who had joined him.
Protesters had gathered on the Southeast side of the Capitol on Monday for a “#Reschedule 420 smoke-in” organized by DCMJ, a DC-based marijuana advocacy group. The goal was to advocate for cannabis legalization and to protest the arrest of eight marijuana legalization advocates last Thursday, April 20, the unofficial holiday for weed enthusiasts and advocates for legalization.
All charges from Thursday’s arrests were dropped except those against Adam Eidinger, co-founder of DCMJ, and DC Cannabis Co-Op Club founder William Angolia.
During DCMJ’s “Congressional #JointSession” last Thursday — a free marijuana giveaway to raise support for weed legalization — officials arrested and charged Eidinger with possession of 78 joints amounting to 2.06 ounces of marijuana and Angolia with 2.405 ounces in the form of plants and joints, according to charging documents.
It is legal to possess 2 ounces or less of marijuana under D.C. law, but it must be smoked on private property. Angolia and Eidinger, who also was one of the four arrested Monday, pleaded not guilty, with court dates set for May.
Before the arrests, a handful of speakers took turns addressing the media assembled before them, each providing their personal experiences with cannabis and why they think it should be legal.
Dawn-Lee Carty, a resident of Washington, D.C., said her daughter had been born with epilepsy and began suffering seizures at just 6 months old. No medical treatments diminished her convulsions, Carty said, except marijuana.
“This wasn’t an easy decision for me,” Carty said. “It wasn’t anything I thought would be the cool way out or the hippie way out; it was my last chance to save my daughter’s life. Since she’s been medicating with cannabis, (my daughter) is now 91 percent seizure free.”
Natalie DeLeon, 26, spoke of her time in the Army Reserves for five years and the pain she felt when she “had to go back in the closet” due to “don’t ask don’t tell,” a law overturned in 2011 that barred LGBT members of the military from serving openly.
“Because of that, I tried to overdose on opioids,” said DeLeon, who was arrested last Thursday and Monday. “I had bad insomnia and depression, and I lost who I was. . . . I was afraid to touch prescription drugs at that time, and I found someone to give me cannabis. It was the first time, after I built a tolerance to really feel the medicinal benefits, that I found myself.”
Advocates, as well as supporting legislation to legalize marijuana nationwide, also gathered to denounce the so-called “Andy Harris rider,” included by Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., in the 2014 omnibus spending bill passed by Congress. The legislative rider bars the District of Columbia from using any funds to legalize marijuana.
“Andy Harris continues the tradition of those not living in the city overriding the rights of those in the city,” said Ricardo Harvin, a 58-year-old Navy veteran from Washington. “It is un-American.”
Recreational marijuana is legal in eight states and D.C., with 29 states offering some form of medical marijuana. A growing majority of Americans — 61 percent, according to an April CBS poll — support legalizing cannabis.
Minutes after the arrests of her fellow advocates, Michelle Ievoli, from Delaware, said she felt “saddened by the arrests, but not surprised.” But she maintained that the arrests wouldn’t dissuade her from advocating for marijuana legalization.
“Unfortunately, the changes that need to happen in America don’t come easily,” she said. “All of our freedoms are hard fought, and someone has to fight for them. That’s what America is all about.”