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Try as he might, Ron Kiczenski can’t seem to get himself arrested, handcuffed, jailed, arraigned, prosecuted, and tried on federal drug trafficking charges. But Kiczenski is unusually determined, so with a little luck and some cooperation from a thus far standoffish White House, the 29-year-old Californian may still end up facing a mandatory 10-years-to-life in Allenwood or Lompoc.
Kiczenski’s run of bad luck began last April, when he mailed a quarter-pound of marijuana to President Clinton. Included in the package was a stack of information touting the supposed economic and environmental benefits of the hemp plant, including its potential use as a foodstuff and as a non-polluting fuel for internal combustion engines. In his letter to Clinton—typed on 50-percent hemp paper imported from China—Kiczenski insisted that cannabis sativa was nothing less than a curative for the nation’s sick economy, and he declared that he was willing to risk imprisonment if it meant a better world for his children.
“I assumed I’d be arrested and there would be a federal trial, and all that information would be put before a jury,” says Kiczenski. A show trial, he felt, would give him a platform from which to agitate for the legalization of marijuana and the creation of a hemp-based industry.
There was a slight problem: The White House acknowledged Kiczenski’s gift with a standard form letter, and not, as he had hoped, by dispatching a federal agent armed with an arrest warrant. Kiczenski made repeated calls to the executive mansion in hopes of alerting someone to the oversight, but without luck. Eventually, Kiczenski reached an aide who, he says, told him the following: “We have the package at the White House, and if we feel it merits a response, then you’ll get something in the mail. OK? There’s no use to keep calling and bothering everybody, though.” (The White House has refused to respond to press inquiries about the pot’s whereabouts.) Before hanging up, the White House staffer suggested that Kiczenski contact his local police department.
Instead, Kiczenski offered a confession to the Secret Service, the Department of Justice, and the Postal Service. These efforts weren’t fruitful either, although Mary Lee Warren, the chief of Justice’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, was polite enough to dash off a short note.
“I have forwarded the information which you provided to the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Robert Bonner, for appropriate action,” Warren wrote. “Thank you for bringing this information to our attention.”
But the DEA also refused to take action, forcing Kiczenski to try a new tack: In early July, he founded Hemp Across America to help bring attention to him and his cause. And it worked: By month’s end, his organization had chapters in 30 states and a pile of media clippings. What he didn’t have was an arrest record.
So in late August, Kiczenski sent another package to the White House, this one containing a half-pound of dope and a pair of 100-percent hemp jogging shorts for the president. To document his crime, he videotaped the packaging and mailing of his contraband. Then, with evidentiary tape in hand, he headed for Washington and, he hoped, his day in court.
On Sept. 2, Kiczenski showed up at the White House guardhouse to announce that he had flown cross-country to turn himself in. The officers thanked him for coming, then wished him well. A week later, with six supporters and a reporter in tow, Kiczenski tried again. “I’m here to surrender,” he told the guards. “Would you please enforce the law?”
Instead, they sent him to Justice, which in turn told him to cross Constitution Avenue and try the FBI. Kiczenski complied. “I have evidence of a felony,” he told the G-men. “I’m turning myself in.”
FBI officials thanked him for his confession, he says, then directed him to the bureau’s Washington field office. But before leaving the main FBI Building, Kiczenski thought his luck had changed: A gray-haired agent led him into a room for a stern lecture, then befriended the would-be criminal. “He called DEA and postal inspectors,” saysKiczenski. “He shook my hand and assured me he’d do everything he could to get a proper investigation going.”
But the wheels of justice turn slowly, and Kiczenski is regrettably still a free man. On Tuesday, he made the rounds one last time, reenacting his odyssey for a syndicated news-magazine show called American Journal. While the cameras rolled, Kiczenski offered himself up to the president for arrest. Once again, he left the White House gate disappointed.
“Some people would call this a stunt,” he admits. “But it’s not. I’m challenging unjust laws.”
“If I had to die tomorrow to make this country a place my kids could inherit, it’s worth it to me,” he adds. “I’m at war here now. I’m a soldier.”
After his last-ditch efforts to be handcuffed here were unsuccessful, Kiczenski returned to his California home. But the battle will soon be rejoined: Before long, Kiczenski says, every member of Clinton’s Cabinet can expect to find a package of illegal weed in his or her mailbox.
That, he figures, should finally get him fingerprinted. And it can’t happen a day too soon.
“I’ve got a life to get on with,” he says, confident that a jury of his peers will ultimately exonerate him. “This isn’t my career.”
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.