The battle over federal and local marijuana laws played out Thursday on the streets of Washington, D.C.
U.S. Capitol police arrested four pot-legalization advocates on federal charges of possessing and distributing marijuana. The group was handing out free joints to interested congressional staffers, federal employees and curious tourists on a city-owned sidewalk across the street from the U.S. Capitol.
Possessing up to 2 ounces of pot is legal in the District of Columbia as long as it’s not on federal property. City law also allows distribution of marijuana up to an ounce as long as money isn't exchanged.
Organizer Adam Eidinger said the protesters are calling on Congress to vote on an amendment that would prohibit the federal government from interfering with state and local laws legalizing the drug. He said he was surprised by the arrests.
“We're going to have to regroup right now and decide what to do, but this was not expected,” Eidinger said after four of his volunteers were led away in handcuffs. “This is a lawful place to give away cannabis because it’s D.C. land."
The Trump administration has a different view on the legalization of marijuana. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly reiterated this week that possessing marijuana is against federal law.
“Until law is changed by the United States Congress, we in DHS along with the rest of the federal government, are sworn to uphold all the laws that are on the books,” Kelly said.
One of the volunteers led away by police was RachelRamone Donlan. Before her arrest, the Boston native said she was protesting because she’s worried about the Trump administration's vow to fight pot legalization.
“I’m concerned about what the federal government's going do,” Donlan said. “I’m worried about Massachusetts and the states’ rights.”
The organizers do not expect this to be the last showdown with the federal government. Advocates plan to light up joints on the steps of the U.S. Capitol next week.