The mass of protesters gathered outside the White House couldn’t quite wait for 4:20 Saturday afternoon, the pre-planned time they had designated to light their marijuana-packed joints and pipes in protest of the federal laws that prohibit the drug’s consumption.
Just past 4:17, plumes of smoke arose from the crowd of more than 100 people, which was surrounded by officers from the U.S. Park Police, Metropolitan Police and the Secret Service. Still, because the activists remained on the street — owned by the District, which has legalized pot possession — and off the sidewalks — owned by the federal government, which has not — no one was arrested. Just two people were given citations and $25 fines for public consumption. A man who knew the pair said they were confronted by police only after a member of their group accidentally blew smoke in an officer’s face.
The protest’s centerpiece was a giant balloon created to look like a marijuana joint. Initially the protesters carried the 51-foot tube to the corner of 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, but Secret Service agents refused to let them bring the object to the White House while it remained inflated. The activists deflated it, brought it over on a cart and, shortly after 4 p.m., inflated it again, defying law enforcement’s orders.
The officers remained calm, however, and quickly maneuvered those carrying the balloon north through Lafayette Square and onto the sidewalk along H Street NW.
Adam Eidinger, the protest’s organizer, has said that President Obama must work harder to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances, which includes heroin and ecstasy.
Eidinger described the smoke-in as the most aggressive way he could of think of to draw attention to the roughly 5 million marijuana-related arrests since Obama took office, though it seemed clear Saturday that he and the other activists were careful to not smoke on federal land, where their chances of growing the number of marijuana-related arrests would have been much higher.