Medical marijuana users and providers and their supporters yesterday served notice to the Bush administration, the Justice Department and the DEA that the federal government's war on medical marijuana in the states will not uncontested. While reports are still filtering in as of this writing (Thursday evening), DEA offices and other federal buildings were expected to be the scene of protests, direct actions and civil disobedience in some 55 cities across the country. Arrests have been reported in San Francisco and Washington, DC, so far.
The demonstrations, organized by Americans for Safe Access (http://www.safeaccessnow.org), a campaign of the Cannabis Action Network, told the DEA to "Cease and Desist" from persecuting medical marijuana patients and providers in those states where voters have opted for medical use. Provoked by a series of DEA raids on California medical marijuana growers and dispensaries and eying a federal permanent injunction against cannabis clubs due as early as this weekend, ASA coalesced as a loose coalition ready to react when more raids occur but also to proactively take the fight to the streets, to the DEA, and to the Justice Department itself. Thursday was the day for the first ASA national day of action.
"Nine states and 73 percent of the American public believe that medical marijuana should be safe and legal, yet the DEA is now working harder than ever to turn these patients into criminals," said ASA executive director Steph Sherer.
In Washington, ASA resorted to misdirection, publicly focusing on a 5:00pm demonstration at DEA national headquarters across the Potomac River in Arlington, VA, while a small group organized a stealth demo at the Justice Department. A few minutes before 11:00am, the massive building's main entrance at 9th and Pennsylvania Avenue was blocked by protesters, who swooped in and chained themselves to the doors.
As supporters and news cameras watched, ten people, including Adam Eidinger, DC Statehood-Green Party Shadow Representative candidate; Mark Brandl, Libertarian Party national student coordinator; Ron Crickenberger, Libertarian Party political director and candidate for Congress in northern Virginia; David Guard, associate director of DRCNet; Shawn Heller, national director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP); Bruce Mirken, media director of the Marijuana Policy Project; Leslie Nemeth, University of Maryland SSDP, and another SSDP activist; Darrell Rogers, SSDP outreach coordinator; and Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy, explained why they were resorting to civil disobedience before police first warned, then arrested them, dragging the limp-bodied protesters to waiting paddy wagons.
"We've tried every reasonable approach and failed," said the Libertarian Party's Crickenberger as he stood in the doorway. "Now is the time to stand united. This is the beginning of the fight. We will not go away," he vowed, as supporters cheered and waved placards reading "A Patient Not A Criminal" and "Medical Marijuana Saves Lives: Safe Access Now!"
At 11:02 police issued the first warning that persons refusing to leave the doorway would be arrested. As more police gathered, including a team in full SWAT attire, a second warning was issued. At 11:24 the arrests began, despite exhortations from Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform head Charles Thomas to police. "Exercise your moral authority," urged Thomas. "Don't arrest these people. Walk away now. Don't wait to ask for forgiveness."
But the police were unmoved. By 11:35 the arrests were completed, the paddy wagons rolling away and the main doors to Justice unblocked. The victory, however, was pyhrric, as the rattled police promptly swung shut the 20-foot-tall steel doors that shutter the entrance, again blocking the entry.
Those arrested were detained between four and eight hours, but all were free by mid-evening. They were in high spirits when DRCNet spoke with some of them at a local restaurant.
"Our goal was to get media coverage, and we got some," said Eidinger. "The medical marijuana issue is in all the newsrooms, thanks to the mass demonstrations in California, 300 people sitting in in San Francisco, hundreds more in other actions across the state. But the most militant action was right here in the belly of the beast," he said. "Ashcroft is a key figure in this policy, and there is no reason he should not be held accountable."
There will be more to come, Eidinger promised. "We'll be doing more protests in months to come," he said. "One demonstration is never enough, but sustained pressure and growing numbers of people taking to the streets will ultimately lead us to victory."
"We hiked things up a notch for the feds," said Brandl. "When I think about people like Peter McWilliams [noted author and medical marijuana activist who died in 2000 after a federal judge refused him access to his medicine], I'm more than willing to face arrest to push this issue forward. This is a moral thing, this is a personal thing for me."
For SSDP's Rogers, being arrested was a chance to bring attention to a key issue. "This is an issue of great importance, an issue of compassion for sick people, and people are being thrown in jail for it," said Rogers. "Yeah, it was worth it."
Early reports from ASA on Thursday evening highlighted actions in Austin and San Antonio, TX, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Springfield, MA, but most of the action was naturally centered on California. Planners anticipated events in at least 13 California locales, from Sonoma County to Huntington Beach, San Francisco to San Diego. But at press time, few details were available. Stay tuned next week, when DRCNet will examine the day's activities and the reaction in more detail.
Visit http://www.safeaccessnow.org/newswire_detail.php?id=22 for reports on protests nationwide. Visit http://flow.mediavac.com/ramgen/sinkers/2002/dojJun0602.rm and http://www.bigwood.biz/MPP-060602/ for video and photographs of the DC direct action.