With the glowing white domes of the US Capitol behind them, and federal police agents hovering nearby, marijuana advocates in Washington, DC braved global warming’s early summer to join with pot advocates in 80 cities across the world who also held May 6th rallies.
The event, which began on the back lawn outside the massive Congressional building which has been home to impeachment hearings and sixty years of ludicrous legislative action perpetuating the war against marijuana, featured impassioned speeches from college professors, gay rights activists, East Coast pot growers, top attorneys from NORML’s legal defense network, High Times journalist and book author Steve Wishnia, and Cannabis Culture’s own Pete Brady.
DC had hosted another Capitol pot rally the previous weekend, but that event was overshadowed by a massive gay rights rally. Leaders of the gay march, which drew 750,000 participants, refused to allow marijuana advocates to officially participate in their activities, even though pot advocates reminded them that medical marijuana had saved lives and relieved suffering for thousands of gay men.
The May 6th event, on the other hand, was the only political protest being held that day at the Capital. Thousands of tourists from all over the world, their accents like music in the humid air above the Potomac River, watched the pot rally as they waited in line to tour the halls of power.
Miriam White, a veteran bi-coastal activist, cannabis shaman, and author, who also works as an executive assistant for NORML’s DC office, organized the rally. She ran the show with precision and grace, dressed in an attention-grabbing bondage outfit.
“My bondage gear symbolizes the bondage of all marijuana users,” White said. “It also reflects the bondage of the District of Columbia. DC citizens have fewer rights than citizens of the 50 states. They voted approval of medical marijuana in 1998, but Congressman Bob Barr and other Congressional right-wingers prevented them from counting the votes and have so far prevented DC from officially implementing the voters’ will. We’re here to protest the lack of democracy in the capitol of the country which claims to be the cradle of democracy.”
White praised Capitol police officers. She’d been unable to get the required permits for the rally, but was pleasantly surprised when officers allowed her to stage the rally in a shaded “non-permit area.” Later, she asked officers if she could stage a march around the Capitol.
“They didn’t have to OK it, but they let us do it and even provided an escort,” she said.
The police treated White respectfully, but were not as friendly to other pot people at the rally.
On at least two occasions, officers threatened to “bring in the dogs.”
“We’re trained to know the odor of marijuana, and we smell it here,” an officer told Brady. “We don’t want to have to arrest anybody, but if the dogs alert on somebody, they’re going to jail.”
The same officer later told Brady that a bundle of sage burning next to a middle-aged woman was marijuana, and became nervous and hostile when High Times reporter Steven Wishnia approached the officer to ask questions.
NORML’s Director of Litigation, Tom Dean, told officers that several NORML attorneys were present; outnumbered, the officers retreated into a nearby parking lot, one of them reading Cannabis Culture magazine as he walked away.
The DC crowd was multi-ethnic and multi-generational, ranging from little children to elderly tokers who use marijuana for arthritis. A surprising number of people asked Cannabis Culture representatives to communicate messages of gratitude to CC publisher and seed merchant Marc Emery.
Ian Miller, who lives in nearby West Virginia, was typical of many who spoke about Emery.
“I was growing from stash seeds,” he said, “and I couldn’t count on anything about my crops. [Emery’s] seeds have gotten me into stabilized strains. I grow outdoors; the all-female seeds have really been a big help. I gotta thank him for having the balls to keep doing it.”
In mid-afternoon, White led marchers southeast around the Capitol. Escorted by motorcycle cops as they chanted “Free DC, Free the Weed,” hundreds of pot people assembled in front of the Capitol’s fountain, waving signs and shouting defiance of the drug war.
Later that evening, many of the marchers partied at a DC nightclub, The Lion’s Den, where Wishnia signed copies of his hallucinatory new book, “Exit 25 Utopia,” and videographer Chadman (whose pot documentaries and luscious budshots will soon be appearing exclusively on CC’s pot-tv network) recorded people smoking DC blunts.
It felt good to see people enjoying a little freedom in the capitol of Babylon.