Time To Move Beyond Street Theater

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel April 11, 2016

    I cringed last weekend when I saw news photos of a protest and demonstration in front of the White House in which the most notable image was a 51-foot inflatable “joint.”

    That’s right. Here we are in 2016 on the verge of finally ending marijuana prohibition, and some activists seem caught in a time warp, using tactics more suitable for the 1960s and 70s. I question not only their tactics, but also their political focus.

    This latest example of street theater came courtesy of DCMJ, the local group in DC who led the successful voter initiative to legalize marijuana in the District of Columbia in 2014. They deserve our appreciation for helping move reform forward in DC, where adults are permitted to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, to grow up to six plants for their personal use, and to give up to an ounce of marijuana to another adult for no remuneration.

    This latest protest, though, was both misguided and counter-productive.

    The Wrong Target

    First, the stated purpose of the protest was to put pressure on President Obama, whom the group claimed had done nothing to legalize marijuana. “The Obama administration has been a big ZERO on cannabis reform,” the organizers of the event alleged in their press release announcing the White House protest.

    Apparently they are unaware of the extraordinary action taken by President Obama to instruct his Department of Justice to step aside and allow the first few states that legalized marijuana to implement those laws without federal interference. That unprecedented action was an enormous gift to the legalization movement and permitted us to demonstrate that marijuana can be successfully legalized and regulated with no significant unintended consequences.

    Under any prior administration, the DOJ would have filed for an injunction in federal court, seeking to use federal law to enjoin the provisions in these new state laws licensing the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana. Most legal observers agree they would have been successful, based on the “supremacy clause” of the US Constitution.

    It is the experience of these first few states that allows us to argue with authority that legalization is a legitimate option to prohibition. Ignoring the significance of this decision by President Obama, in order to justify some street theater, suggests a lack of political sophistication.

    Also, President Obama has commuted the sentences of nearly 200 federal drug prisoners, including a number of people serving life sentences for non-violent marijuana offenses, and promises additional non-violent offenders will be pardoned or otherwise released from prison over the remaining months of his administration. It is difficult to imagine a public protest intended to embarrass the president would be a helpful tactic at this juncture.

    The Wrong Time

    Public protests have at times played a powerful role in our country’s history, most notably in building public opposition to unpopular wars, including especially the Vietnam war. However, those demonstrations involved hundreds of thousands of citizens, and demonstrated mass support for ending the war.

    The latest protest at the White House involved perhaps 100 protesters, and rather than demonstrating mass opposition to President Obama and his marijuana policies, showed a handful of activists more concerned with seeing themselves on the evening news than engaging in the hard work of actually changing public policy. The utilization of the 51-foot inflatable “joint” left the impression this was more about fun in the park and less about serious political change.

    Keep in mind that the City Council in the District of Columbia has been actively discussing the need to license commercial growers and retail sellers of marijuana. They would have done this earlier but for a provision attached by Congress on the District’s budget (Congress retains the right to review and possibly reject actions of our elected City Council).

    Under the terms of a recent court case in DC (Council of the District of Columbia v DeWitt) , it now appears the Council may adopt a legally regulated market for marijuana, if they use only money raised from DC residents, excluding money provided to the District by Congress. The Council members understand they need to tread carefully in this area to avoid a backlash from the more conservative members of Congress, but a clear majority want to move forward.

    C1_8734_r_xWitnessing the juvenile demonstration at the White House could only complicate this delicate dance the DC City Council is trying to take regarding marijuana policy in the District. Instead of (symbolically) blowing smoke in their faces, these local activists could have been meeting with our supporters on the City Council to discuss how best to move forward with the least resistance from Congress.

    Apparently, that would not have been nearly as much fun, nor would it have resulted in their being covered in the local news. All of us who engage in public advocacy for legalization need to be sure we are taking actions that move the legalization movement forward and not confusing media coverage with political progress. All news is not good news, and some news coverage definitely sets us back.

    This latest street theater at the White House was one of those times. Though few of us were involved (none of the national reform organizations), it made us all look less than serious and politically naïve, and it did nothing to move us closer to full legalization in the District, or to encourage President Obama to push marijuana law reform further under federal law.


    This column first appeared on Marijuana.com:


    39 responses to “Time To Move Beyond Street Theater”

    1. Julian says:

      Sent to: http://dcmj.org/contact/

      Hi DCMJ,

      My name is Julian. Im a member of Texas NORML, but I was born in DC and returned briefly to live there for high school. I’m really proud of the petition you passed and progress made with the city council to legalize marijuana in D.C. …Thank you all so much for your efforts.

      I’m concerned however, with your recent protest in front of the White House. With public venues allowing MJ in DC riding so heavily on Congress and the DOJ staying out of the way, I’m afraid you’re barking up the wrong tree.

      Due to a recent Federal court ruling, there is an opportunity to work with the DC city council to provide public venues for marijuana consumption without agitating any unwanted press with a 51ft joint.

      As disappointing as it may be, President Obama is still battling for executive privilege from the Fast & Furious scandal, and I believe he has done all that he can do to keep the DOJ out of the way from local governance over marijuana legalization. Expecting him to deschedule marijuana through this kind of protest is counterproductive to our movement and we need the resources to provide a much more effective weapon; A venue where even a Congressman can sit down with fellow citizens and consume marijuana in a public location in DC.

      Once again, I greatly appreciate your petitioning efforts, and if you have any questions or require assistance feel free to contact NORML right there at their headquarters on K street.

      Best Regards,


    2. Todd says:

      Keith, you are overreacting by thinking “it made us all look less than serious and politically naïve”. Assuming how one group (them) is perceiving the other group (us) based on individual’s opinions and actions is wasting valuable energy, as you know from trying to predict election results, for example, Ohio’s last. Take the Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump. There is no way for the Republicans to look less than serious and look more politically naïve than standing him up, right? But the Republican Party still exists. Use events and publicity to your advantage, I always say.

    3. Aaron Keefe says:

      Starting a vlog about becoming a pot farmer from the ground up literaly. Please and thanks for checking it out.

    4. Suds&Buds says:

      Great piece that touches upon a very live issue. I had many of the same thoughts, and also felt that the promotion of this event was extremely aggressive, it anticipated arrests and gave sop’s for how to handle it (arrests are something that this movement surely doesn’t need right now), it came across as a big F-U to the government, law enforcement, and authority as a whole. All of which was unprecedented given the recent actions taken by the Obama administration.

      This event was planned prior to these actions and the organizers were either unwilling to forfeit their investment (despite how Irrelevant their cause was) and all the free publicity, or they were just completely uninformed (which I have a hard time believing).

      Either way the whole thing was amateur hour to say the least, and I hope the bozos that were covered on the local news, in no way represent where legal cannabis is going in DC.

      Love Peace & Elbow Greese


    5. TheOracle says:

      Kudos to DCMJ for getting cannabis legalized in DC by doing it their way.

      In a state such as Pennsylvania, where the legislature has to legalize because there is no ballot initiative, shedding that old pothead image reminiscent of Cheech and Chong movies helps members of the cannabis community look more mainstream, more like educated and productive citizens, as opposed to a bunch of useless eaters whose only goal is the next high and staying high.

      Has someone put together a list of sophisticated things people can do to protest and demonstrate against cannabis prohibition? Is there a professional ad or marketing outfit that will do things for cannabis reform groups in a sophisticated way on the cheap, e.g. flyers, banners, signs, t-shirts, pens with informative scrolls or messages printed on them, etc.?

      • mexweed says:

        Thanks for bringing up the positive remedy issue concerning this Media problem. There is no more sophisticated image than someone using a flexdrawtube one-hitter which protects against wasting expensive cannabinoids, reduces exposure to carbon monoxide and 4211 Combustion toxins, doesn’t annoy neighbors with unasked air pollution etc. Please everyone go to


        (or any other intelligent Marley portrait!).

        Draw a new line cartoon based on it, except that instead of drawing a joint sticking out of the mouth like the present one, draw a drawtube leading 55 snaky cm to a handheld einzelheater utensil under head of which a half-inch flame heats air going in while we suck. Give yourself time and really go to town drawing the crinkles of the Marley dreadlocks. Practice drawing several times, till you get it right, the position of the hands– one holding the vape toke utensil and the other holding the lowered lighter with thumb on the little black lever keeping the flame going 19 seconds or so.

        Print up hundreds of little stickers which you can put up over old out-dated tattered or ugly posters already on the poles especially near bus stops, no one will mind, the original poster was illegal yours isn’t.

        If you base your art on a public domain image like the above, I would think there’s little chance Privateer Holdings/Marley family can sue you… they won’t know who you are anyway, you’re just some obscure volunteerguy using it to drown out that 51-foot hot burning overdose monoxide paperpuffage Trojan Horse* into nicotine $igarette addiction “Joint” image and save 6,000,000 human lives a year within the first decade (winning NORML a Knowitwell Prize $1.5-mil. along the way).

    6. TheOracle says:

      I’d really like to see Lord Mayor Bill De Blasio do something pro-cannabis in NYC. He should make the announcement BEFORE the UN meets this month about de-scheduling cannabis at the international level so that the pressure is on them, big time. I would also like to see Lord Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia do something pro-cannabis. He wants money for the Philly school system, and his tax on sugary drinks is getting a lot of push-back.

      Oh, if DC would actually use non-federal money and regulate cannabis, that would be better than the good old days of making the drive into The Netherlands to Amsterdam for FREEDOM, and to bring a small amount back home. Currently, like back then, driving back from Colorado to wherever, one still has to contend with police profiling and pulling you over to search the car. You know, en le flic is giving you a hard time, sniffing, best not to do it in the car, not to smell of it, definitely not have anything in plain sight or the usual compartments, not on you, but only a small amount well hidden.

      Come on, DC!

    7. Cyn says:

      Point taken.

    8. Joel: the other Joel says:

      It reminds me of the last year South Carolina flag issue honoring the memorial of those who have fought in the Confederacy. The presents of the K.K.K. and the Neo-Nazis made a mockery of the situation for the media. Which makes me wonder what was their purpose? Street Theater is entertaining but I do not understand why the 51-foot inflatable joint?

    9. Douglas says:

      Thank you Keith. Very well said.

    10. Julian says:

      Is this a move beyond or street theater?;


      I don’t even facebook so I couldn’t tell, but if Massroots is datamining marijuana consumers that specifically don’t want to rate their weed where their families communicate, then it has appreciable value, and perhaps NASDAQ will accept their first cannabis company, despite that advertising for cannabis could be labeled as “aiding and abetting” the trafficking of a schedule 1 substance.

      C’mon Congress, look at what you’re holding back! Jobs and progress! Legalize cannibanking already!