When the 43-year-old homeless woman who goes by the name Tequila Nehgroci went to sleep Thursday night in the doorway of the PNC Bank at Dupont Circle, she did not expect that she would wake up Friday morning surrounded by a large crowd and a scrum of TV news crews from around the world.
She emerged from her cocoon, shed her gray blankets, then gathered her scant belongings and carried them across the street to the park.
You don’t want to stay for the free marijuana, I asked.
“I hate weed,” she said.
A lot of people who feel differently started lining up at 6 a.m. Friday for free joints handed out by DCMJ, a group that works for cannabis rights in the District.
Pot smokers might be spacey after they smoke, but before they’d smoked, the operation was a model of planning and efficiency. The group’s co-founder Adam Eidinger estimated his volunteers had rolled 8,400 joints and a smooth mechanism was in place for distributing them.
A truck had positioned a trailer holding a replica jail cell on Massachusetts Avenue NW, the better to illustrate, organizers said, overly harsh penalties for pot-related crimes. It looked like a big shark cage, and would soon be the pulpit from which the free joints would be bestowed.
“I’m an avid marijuana supporter,” said T.J. Robinson, a 33-year-old electrician from Fayetteville, N.C., and one of the first in line. “I’ve been growing pot since I was 13.”
He’d driven with his girlfriend, Amber Hamilton, 24, from Hanover, Pa. The pot giveaway was meant to put President Trump on notice that he should relax drug laws, but neither of them voted in the last election. T.J. explained that all politicians are basically crooks.
The atmosphere was expectant, heightened with curiosity over whether authorities would actually allow roughly eight pounds of marijuana to be distributed in plain view, much of it to be sparked immediately.
Dance music thumped from speakers. Two girls dressed as unicorns sold hot chocolate for $1 a cup. A women worked the line selling Bernie Sanders rolling papers. A man hawked red “Make America High Again” ball caps, five bucks a pop.
A man with a sign that read “Do you know Him?” preached something Jesus-y through a megaphone, but the message was lost on the crowd, who chanted back, “God made pot! God made pot!”
At 8 the first joints were handed out — two per person. (“One to smoke and one to share,” said organizer Adam.) The pot-seekers trundled forward obediently and soon the queue free weed stretched past the Embassy Row Hotel, past the Embassy of India and the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, past the Cosmos Club, where head bellman Malcolm Jennings and valet Ervin Pettaway stood and watched bemusedly.
It seemed to Malcolm that the police couldn’t possibly intervene. “They’d need so many police cars,” he said.
The line ended on Florida Avenue, three blocks from where it began. Nick Hartigan, a 32-year-old with a doctorate in the history of art walked down the line, explaining that recipients would have their ID checked twice to make sure they were over 21.
Are you doing line control, I asked.
“I’m doing line encouragement,” he said. “Just trying to keep the energy up.”
At that moment a trash truck from Tenleytown Trash rounded the corner and drove past, the man hanging from the back flashing a big smile and the driver leaning on the horn: Honk honk.
Whoo whoo the crowd roared in response.
The energy was up.
Back at the front of the line, on the triangle of pavement between Massachusetts Avenue and P Street NW, five police officers observed the scene. An earthy smell — of dorm rooms and Grateful Dead concerts — wafted over.
“I’m getting hungry,” one officer said. “Anybody else feeling this?”
Taylor Williams, 23, and Lanice Kibler, 28, stood near 20th Street, still marveling that they had been handed free weed. Taylor, who works in asset protection, said she’d heard about the giveaway on Snapchat and decided to drive in from Temple Hills, Md.
“I didn’t know if it was real,” she said. “I thought, let’s give that a try. I don’t even get up this early for work.”
She and Lanice, who works in a drugstore, were saving their joints to smoke later. Taylor had already consumed part of a cannabis cookie someone had handed her. It was shaped like the letters “DMV,” for the District, Maryland and Virginia. She’d eaten the first two letters.
“Virginia, who cares?” she said. “They’re the ones who voted for Trump anyway.” (They didn’t; Hillary Clinton won the state with 49.8 percent of the vote to Trump’s 44.4 percent.)
Pot, said Taylor — and everyone else in a three-block radius — should be legal. No one ever died from a pot overdose, Taylor said, or murdered someone after smoking pot.
Some of the pot lovers struck a pose after they were handed their joints: elbow cocked, doobie held just so. You’ve come a long way, baby.
“Exit to the right! Exit to the right!” a man barked, eager to keep the line moving.
Was it hard, I asked him, to herd these pot enthusiasts?
Not really, he said. “It’s logistics. We’re good at that here in D.C.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.