As hundreds lined up for free marijuana in Washington on Friday, Kareem Walker could hardly believe the sight.
“They’re passing out weed, man, it’s crazy!” said Walker, 41, of New York, who’d come to the pot giveaway to hawk some T-shirts that bore a catchy phrase in honor of the day: “When they go low, we get high.”
Legalization backers handed out more than 8,000 joints to a festive crowd just hours before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, hoping to convince him to join their cause.
Many stood in the drizzling rain on a sidewalk next to Washington’s Dupont Circle for more than two hours, with organizers pleading for patience.
“If you’re standing in line, don’t worry – you’re going to get so much free weed, it’s going to be awesome!” shouted Adam Eidinger, who led the drive to legalize marijuana in Washington and organized the giveaway.
While organizers originally planned to distribute 4,200 joints, they said they’d nearly doubled their goal.
Eidinger, who heads the pro-legalization group DCMJ, said the event was aimed at sending a message to Trump and to oppose his selection of a longtime legalization opponent, Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, as the next attorney general.
“The main message is we want federal marijuana legalization now,” Eidinger said. “I hope Donald Trump gets the message. When you pick someone like Jeff Sessions, you stir up a community, and right now the marijuana community is on high alert. . . . If they start to do raids, we’ll have a million people in the streets.”
Bikers watched from across the street as they gathered for a rally of their own, called “Let America Hear Us, Roar for Trump.”
Steven Hamling, 52, a retired law enforcement officer and a Trump backer from West Virginia, said the two groups would get along “as long as they stay stoned.” He retired recently after 30 years as a law enforcement officer but said he had no problem with marijuana users: “That’s a personal choice.”
Tony Jones, 28, of Greenville, South Carolina, stood in line with a cap that read “Make America Great Again,” making it clear that he was a Trump supporter. He said he wasn’t concerned about what Sessions would do.
“Trump is more for the states controlling things,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of worry about Jeff Sessions, but Trump’s in control.”
Surveying the large crowd, Jones said he felt plenty welcome in a crowd with many anti-Trump protesters.
“Everybody’s cool,” he said. “People have differences, but in this group it’s about love, you know what I’m saying? It’s about love and everybody coming together for a good cause because this is a movement that really needs to happen, absolutely.”
Damien Nichols, one of 300 who volunteered for the event, called it “a beautiful scene.”
“When you’ve got a president and you’ve got the whole vibe of this country that’s so divisive and so proud and arrogant and angry, you’ve got to spread some love, man,” he said. “The halls of Congress . . . they’re ground to a halt. So you’ve got to start somewhere more fundamental – and that’s with vibes, that’s with energy, that’s with connections with other people.”
Many fired up their joints immediately, drawing honks and cheers from passers-by.
“I got mine. I gotta light it,” said Sal Pantano, 42, of Wilmington, Delaware, one of the first in line. “I’m here to see the inauguration and to pick up my free joints – amen! I hope he legalizes it.”
Brooke Pryor, a young woman standing in line, said she used marijuana to help with her anxiety.
“I found that medication wasn’t really sufficient to alleviate it sometimes,” she said. “And if I can take just a couple puffs of a joint and feel really good and relaxed as I leave my house in the morning, that should be legal.”
Natalie de Leon, 26, of Washington, D.C., wore a cannabis lei as she and others passed out joints in a big cage that served as a pretend jail. Organizers checked IDs to make sure no minors tried to get the freebies.
“We’re out here giving this beautiful medicinal plant to the public,” said de Leon, speaking through the bars of the cage. She said she wanted Trump to back legalization and to change his tone: “His hate rhetoric that he’s allowed to go mainstream is a really big issue for me because hate does no good.”
Marquis Ellison, 24, of Washington, wasted no time lighting up his joint, calling it “a moment in history” and saying he hoped Trump is “smart” and will realize the benefits of legalization.
“If you’re really about making money and all about power, you would legalize weed,” he said. “It benefits states like Colorado and Washington and California – I mean, why not?”
Many who showed up said they wanted the federal government to approve medical marijuana. Twenty-eights have already done so, but legalization backers fear that Sessions may begin enforcing the federal law that bans all pot use. That would also prevent pot sales in the eight states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
During his campaign, Trump said he would leave the question of legalization to individual states, but his choice of Sessions to lead the Justice Department has created fear among pot backers across the country.
Sessions angered legalization supporters last April, when he said pot was dangerous and that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” And in a speech on the Senate floor last year, Sessions criticized President Barack Obama as not tough enough on marijuana, adding that the U.S. could be at the beginning of “another surge in drug use like we saw in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Dawn Lee-Carty, 40, of Washington, said she’d attended the pot giveaway to make the case for her 9-year-old daughter, Zoey, who had epilepsy and had used cannabis oil twice a day to help stop her seizures.
“All the opiates and prescriptions that the doctors gave her were unsuccessful,” Lee-Carty said. “This isn’t a hippie movement. Whoever thought I would be here for a 9-year-old? My fear of Donald Trump is that he won’t allow himself to be educated, especially by picking Jeff Sessions.”