It was a tokin’ gesture.
Marijuana users are feeling a bit paranoid about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threats to crack down on states (and the District of Columbia) that have legalized marijuana. So on Monday, at “high noon,” activists gathered on the Capitol lawn for what they called a “joint session,” and they appealed to a higher authority. They brought in a “ganjapreneur,” a “hemperor,” a Rastafarian and a dozen activists wearing what looked like Keebler elf hats – and they held a “religious ceremony” for the protection of their sacred herb.
“Dear God,” said Dawn Lee Carty, offering a Christian prayer while holding a bottle of cannabis oil, “we’re asking you to blow your breath up on the Hill, on Mr. Sessions, on this whole legalization and decriminalization thing. … You, God, created this seed.”
“Rev. Billy” Talen from the “Church of Stop Shopping,” wearing a priestly collar and an all-white suit, offered a prayer for nonbelievers: “Thank you, cannabis,” he chanted. “Marijuanalujah!”
Another activist performed a Buddhist chant. Adam Eitinger, leader of the District’s legalization effort, DCMJ, offered a Hebrew marijuana prayer.
Finally came the Rastafarian, holding a Lion of Judah flag. Praying “in the name of his imperial majesty,” he asked for protection “as we partake in our sacrament today.”
The prayers were not answered. Some of the activists lit joints and inhaled – and four were quickly handcuffed and hauled off into waiting vans by 30 Capitol police. Bummer, dudes. One toke on federal land is over the line.
The cannabis conundrum should blow your mind. A Quinnipiac University poll last week found that 60 percent of Americans think marijuana should be made legal, while only 34 percent are opposed. Even larger majorities support medical marijuana and opposed a federal crackdown.
At odds with this overwhelming public opinion is Sessions, who has hinted at a federal crackdown against marijuana, which he called last month “only slightly less awful” than heroin. That puts the Trump administration on a collision course with the eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana and the majority of states allowing medical marijuana.
So what will happen? If it’s like most initiatives so far in the Trump administration, nothing much. This means we’ll probably muddle along with the patchwork system now in place, with the federal government neither legalizing pot nor cracking down – a system that, as the ganjapreneur put it Monday, “kind of makes no sense.”
I know to what she reefers.
I applied for a medical marijuana card in the District – for strictly, ahem, journalistic purposes – to see how the current system works in the absence of federal involvement. I contacted one of the District’s medical marijuana dispensaries, which set me up for an appointment with a doctor. Upon arrival at this practitioner’s office, I had my weight and blood pressure taken in a large closet full of coffee supplies. Then I met the doctor, a Trinidadian educated in Jamaica, who sat across his desk from me. Drawings of Salk, Pasteur and other medical giants graced the walls. A gas station was visible through the window. I told the doctor I have low-back pain, which is true, and then I gave him his fee: $150 in cash only. He stuck the bills in his desk drawer and approved me for a marijuana card.
A friend had a similar appointment and said she had depression. When the doctor noted that her intake form said she already has a prescription for depression, she hastily revised her symptoms: “Menstrual cramps!” She got a card, too.
This arrangement may be superior to a black-market system for pot, but it’s hardly preferable to a nationwide system that strictly regulates and taxes marijuana the way it does the more dangerous drug of alcohol. That will only happen with time, and with another administration.
Many activists arrived late for their “joint session” Monday. They were a cacophony of marijuana shirts and stockings, wigs and hats, flags, dreadlocks and, despite the rain, sunglasses.
After an hour and 20 minutes of speeches about marijuana, even the police looked bored, but they revived when a distinctive smell wafted over the Capitol lawn.
Before he was hauled off, the Rastafarian briefly placed a soggy sacramental joint between his lips as he preached: “For too long, they’ve held down cannabis.”
And apparently we’ll have to chill out while they hold it down a little longer.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.