Smoking marijuana in public in the District is still illegal, whether you are on D.C. or federally-owned property. Possessing small amounts of marijuana is legal on District land, but still very much illegal while on federal property, even if that slab of federal land is located within city bounds.
So to celebrate 4/20 on Monday afternoon — marijuana’s unofficial national holiday — D.C. marijuana activists decided to possess and smoke marijuana on the National Mall, a doubly illegal offense.
“It’s just a big middle finger to hypocrisy,” said Bud Gray, a 27-year-old Virginia resident who smoked on the Mall at 4:20 p.m. Monday afternoon while wearing a green cannabis shirt. “We’re not afraid.”
The group-smoking session occurred at the same place where a vigil protesting the city’s lack of autonomy — and yes, Congress’ meddling in D.C.’s marijuana legalization law —has been set up all week. The around-the-clock vigil started on April 15, or Tax Day, as a way to bring attention to the fact that D.C. residents pay federal taxes but do not have voting representation in Congress. The vigil, which was organized by the DC Cannabis Campaign and centered around a 42-foot “liberty pole,” concluded Monday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, the D.C. chapter of NORML — National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — marched throughout the city raising awareness about the limitations of the current marijuana law, which, thanks to a Republican-introduced rider attached to a federal spending bill, allows people to possess marijuana in D.C., but not to sell or buy it.
Alex Jeffrey, the president of the chapter, says he and volunteers rolled a half a pound worth of marijuana joints and handed them out to anyone who wanted one during the march. (They checked for ID to make sure that everyone who took a joint was 21 or older, the legal age to possess marijuana.) He says people were instructed not to smoke the marijuana on the streets.
“Today we armed ourselves with under 2 ounces,” says Jeffrey, referring to the amount of marijuana a person is legally allowed to posses under D.C. law. “We didn’t smoke in public until we got on federal land … The D.C. Council is not our enemy.”
But once they got on the Mall around 2:30 p.m., dozens of people lighted their joints. And at 4:20 p.m., activists and members of the DC Cannabis Campaign, which spearheaded efforts to legalize marijuana in the city, smoked again.
Despite the conspicuously illegal acts, no one was arrested or reprimanded by U.S. Park Police.
“United States Park Police report that no smoking took place when they were present, and that they received no complaints about any such activity,” National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst wrote in an email.
And that’s good news for people like Jeffrey.
“There was quite a bit of marijuana being smoked,” Jeffrey said. ‘I got very high.”