At least seven advocates for legalized marijuana were arrested Thursday on Capitol Hill at an event where free joints were distributed to congressional staffers.
The 4/20 event, billed as the “1st Annual Joint Session,” was at First Street and Constitution Avenue NE, across the street from the U.S. Capitol and down the block from the Supreme Court. Activists said it was the closest they could get to the Capitol while staying off federal land. Under D.C. law, small amounts of marijuana can be given away in areas under the jurisdiction of local authorities.
To the dismay of some in a crowd of a few dozen people, the giveaway wasn’t for everyone: Only members of Congress, congressional staff, Capitol Hill support staff and credentialed journalists older than 21 were invited to take two free joints.
James Wallace, a staff member for the Architect of the Capitol, was among the first of 100 people who organizers said showed up, displayed their ID and got the freebies.
“It’s good for me for stress purposes,” said Wallace, 37. “It calms me down.”
Minutes later, U.S. Capitol Police seized the joints and arrested two activists who were distributing them.
Adam Eidinger, head of DCMJ, the activist group formerly known as the D.C. Cannabis Campaign that organized the giveaway, said he was surprised by the arrests.
“We did not expect that,” he said. “This is D.C. land. . . . those people were well within their rights.”
Eidinger and others with DCMJ used another supply of marijuana to continue the joint giveaway.
At least two congressional interns who didn’t wish to be identified received their free weed before Eidinger and three other DCMJ members were arrested.
“I was performing within my legal rights in the District of Columbia,” activist Elizabeth Croydon shouted as she was taken into custody. “I am not a criminal!”
In a statement, U.S. Capitol Police said officers arrested seven people “after witnessing them distributing marijuana in public view.” Three people were charged with intent to distribute, and four were charged with possession, authorities said.
“Under federal law, it is unlawful to possess marijuana,” the statement said.
The arrests fed confusion about how U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who said in February “we don’t need to be legalizing marijuana” — would enforce marijuana laws. The District permits possession of up to two ounces on city-controlled property, while some states have legalized the drug, but federal restrictions remain.
In a statement, DCMJ co-founder Nikolas Schiller called the arrests “an unlawful violation of our most basic civil liberties.”
The giveaway was meant as a less-confrontational prelude to Monday, when activists plan to illegally smoke marijuana on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.