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D.C. pot activist-in-chief Adam Eidinger didn’t get arrested Wednesday—-but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
The chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which was instrumental in putting Initiative 71 on November’s ballot and bringing it to victory, staged a sit-in at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid‘s Capitol Hill office Wednesday to try to get the senator to take a provision out of the massive “cromnibus” spending bill that would kill D.C.’s Initiative 71, or marijuana legalization.
Leaders from DC Vote, a group seeking full representation in Congress for D.C.; shadow Senator Michael Brown; and community members were also there. Reid said Tuesday that while he was against the rider that meddled with District affairs, there was not much he could do about it. Still, Eidinger and the others think Reid should use his power to take a stand against the measure. One of the majority leader’s aides told me that he had fielded hundreds of calls Wednesday from people who want Reid to gut that provision.
But around 2:30 p.m., when it became clear that a meeting with Reid would be hard to score, Eidinger decided he was going to get himself arrested as a way to bring further attention to the issue, and in the hopes of encouraging other D.C. residents to practice civil disobedience as well. Eidinger says he has been arrested on Capitol Hill six times, making him somewhat of a pro in knowing how to get himself removed from the building in handcuffs.
So Eidinger sat with his legs crossed in the front of the main door to Reid’s office, blocking anyone from getting in. He talked loudly to the young aides working the front desk, threatening to get arrested and go on hunger strike and saying things like, “You deserve to have your office shut down because you are shutting down democracy.” James Jones, the communications director of DC Vote, eventually joined Eidinger. (Jones used the bathroom and called his wife before committing to getting arrested.)
The two blocked a UPS deliveryman, a random man in a suit, and a group of women from the anti-gun violence group Newtown Action Alliance from getting into the office. One of the women from the Newtown Action Alliance called Eidinger a “douchebag.”
The protest and potential hunger strike, however, were short lived. Within 15 minutes or so, Reid’s senior policy adviser, George Holman, met with five of them in a closed-door meeting. Holman, according to Jones and Eidinger, said he voted for Initiative 71 himself, but that the provision was a “done deal” and there was nothing the senator could do about it. Holman reportedly didn’t say there was a chance that Reid would try to stop the provision from going through, but he also didn’t say there wasn’t a chance. The only real good news for pot activists—-though not good news for the rest of the country since we face a federal government shutdown if this bill doesn’t pass—-is that Holman said he wasn’t sure if the spending bill could even pass the House.
But Eidinger was satisfied enough with the meeting and left the building soon after, eventually participating in protest on the issue later that afternoon. Kimberly Perry, the executive director of DC Vote, stayed until the office closed at 5 p.m. and then waited outside the office until the building closed at 8 p.m. She didn’t get to to talk to Reid, but was reportedly back there at 7 a.m. this morning to try again.
The 100 or so pot activists started protesting Wednesday by first joining in with the Code Pink demonstrators who were having a vigil in front of the Justice Department for the victims of police brutality. They then marched to Union Station and the Heritage Foundation, holding cannabis and D.C. flags while shouting, among others chants, “We are the 70 percent”—-a reference to the 70 percent of D.C. voters who were in favor of Initiative 71.
Eidinger said there were no arrests—-something he still isn’t quite sure whether is good or bad for his movement.
“I thought it was going to be easy to get arrested, but the police are not really arresting people,” Eidinger said this morning. “Which is fine. I was kind of relieved the way it played out.”
Mayor Vince Gray didn’t go as far as advocating for civil disobedience in the wake of this Congressional action, but he did say D.C. residents should make their stances on this heard.
“I’m sure you know that as the mayor of the District of Columbia I’m not going to get up here and advocate for unlawful behavior,” Gray said at a press conference Wednesday. “I think people ought to exercise their constitutional rights.”
Protests are expected to continue throughout the week.
Photo by Perry Stein