Organizers of a protest to de-schedule cannabis at the White House on Friday, May 20– who were going to smoke marijuana and challenge arrest by law enforcement–had to seriously consider recent bad news/good news events before going ahead with their act of civil disobedience.
First, on Tuesday, May 17, a man claiming to have anthrax on him parked his car in the D.C.’s mall area about a mile from the White House. Cops quickly subdued him, put the mall in lockdown, then called in robots to search his truck. No anthrax was found. The man was judged as delusional.
Two days later, both the House and Senate approved measures to block the Department of Veteran Affairs from enforcing its rule that prohibits its doctors from even discussing the treatment for post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) using medical marijuana. It was a huge win for PTSD proponents.
The next day, on the 20th, around 2 p.m., a man approached a guard’s booth near the White House waving a gun. When he didn’t drop the gun, the guard shot and critically injured him. The White House was put in lockdown while everything was sorted out.
Three hours later, during the lockdown, the cannabis de-schedule protest began.
This day, May 20, was chosen because it was the birthday of Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a racist and xenophobic man who created the anti-marijuana law in 1937 which outlined the supposed evils of the plant and kicked off the reefer madness craze.
Anslinger influenced how marijuana was treated by lawmakers all the way through the Kennedy administration, keeping up the anti-marijuana drumbeat for 30 years with five different presidents.
About 100 protestors, led by cannabis activist and a key figure in D.C.’s legalization work, Adam Eidinger, along with vets suffering from PTSD, got as close to the front of the White House as the lock-down would allow. There, crowded on a sidewalk about 100 yards from where they had hoped to gather, they lit up joints and spoke about the need for better access to medical marijuana around the country through de-scheduling and legalizing marijuana.
“Sometimes when you plan for civil disobedience, you might just have to call it off because there are so many things out of your control,” Eidinger says. “And there are a lot of things out of our control today and we just have to roll with it,” he says. “We have to speak out. Life goes on. Democracy goes on.”
One speaker was decorated Army combat soldier, attorney and cannabis activist Brandon Wyatt, speaking on behalf of the Weed For Warriors Project. The sole purpose of the Project, founded in 2014, is to advocate to the Veteran Affairs Administration on behalf of all veterans.
Wyatt joined the Army when he was 17, went to Iraq the following year and returned to the States in 2004 badly injured. “I did not speak for three months during my final term of service,” he told the crowd. “My PTSD was so oppressive that I could not process the ability to talk. I am now an attorney. So from being a soldier who could not talk, I am now speaking for other veterans who cannot talk,” he said. “I know men who killed themselves because of PTSD. I know people who set themselves on fire. In Philadelphia, there was a man who jumped off a parking garage. Why am I seeing people I served with die? Why are we coming home and seeing a president not being a true leader on this matter?”
Another speaker was Pennsylvania attorney Gabriel Chorno, who did five tours in Iraq, deployed as a civilian provincial construction worker for the Army and embedded with a combat battalion. “I had a tie and no weapon, and that made me a target for snipers,” he told Dope. “I am here today because 16 soldiers put themselves between me and a bullet every day.” Chorno returned to the States after getting injured from an IED and being diagnosed with PTSD. “I came home and the Army threw me away like they throw away other vets,” he says. “Then I got incarcerated for trying to treat myself with cannabis.”
After speeches, a dozen or so protestors laid down on the sidewalk in a demonstration of a “die-in” for 22 minutes, representing the 22 veterans that commit suicide every day in this country because of problems with opioids and other treatments for PTSD, plus the lack of access to marijuana.
Wyatt told Dope that the protest meant everything to him. “This is a continuation of not leaving our soldiers on the battlefield,” he told Dope. “What we had yesterday is that the government passed an extraordinary measure. But what it did was split veterans. 25 states who don’t have medical marijuana programs can treat veterans differently than 25 states who do. And those veterans have the same injuries. So to tell me that I can’t go from one state to another to medicate myself is wrong,” he says. “We didn’t fight for state to state. We fought for the whole country.”
Putting a final note of surrealism on this protest as the die-in concluded, a protestor suddenly collapsed, hit his face on the sidewalk and went into convulsions. Secret Service police, Capitol police and D.C. Metro police, who had been hanging out at the fringe of the protest, quickly rushed in and an ambulance was called, effectively ending the protest (the supporter was OK).