A cannabis protest at the White House yesterday called on President Joe Biden to do more to free all non-violent cannabis prisoners.
Cannabis activists gathered outside the White House and Executive Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue to protest the lack of progress.
Protestors chanted, “Everybody out! Records expunged!” several times. “Free them all!”
Despite President Joe Biden’s recent actions ordering federal prisoners for cannabis possession released and cannabis rescheduled, many were frustrated at the slow pace and lack of progress.
The cannabis protest was organized by the Last Prisoner Project, Freedomgrow.org Student for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and DC & Maryland Marijuana Justice (DCMJ/MDMJ).
“There’s zero people locked up for federal possession,” a lawyer said. “We need our brothers and sisters out of jail. We need the distribution cases pardoned.”
“The President is giving out pardons to nobody. Nobody’s federally arrested and in jail for possession. We need everybody out. It’s a political play, and we also know that. Cannabis is sexy and enticing,” local DC advocate and entrepreneur DC Scroger said.
“We just want him to finish the job,” said longtime cannabis activist Dana Beal.
Biden noted that State Governors have the power to issue pardons to free many prisoners. Progressive state Governors in states that have already legalized cannabis have already taken such action, like the administration of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. Others, like the Governor of Louisiana, John Bell Edwards (D), say red tape prevents them from issuing mass pardons. Many Republican Governors against legalization declared they would ignore Biden’s call.
Fighting for Freedom
Longtime cannabis entrepreneur and advocate Steve DeAngelo criticized Biden’s actions as a stunt to improve the party’s midterms elections efforts after previous promises of action after his inauguration last year were unfulfilled.
“Just wait till after the midterms. Then after the midterms, it’s the general election that’s the excuse. We’re tired. We want change now before the midterms,” he said.
DeAngelo wanted to hold Biden accountable and get prisoners freed.
“We’re in an era now where elections are decided by very small margins. We’re in an era now where there’s millions and millions and millions of cannabis voters. Our movement is mature enough and well-organized enough to educate our voters. And we will punish politicians who break their promise to us,” he said.
“The diversity of America is coming together to demand simple basic justice for our friends, for our families, for our neighbors, for our fathers, for our mothers, for our sons, for our daughters. Everybody needs to come home now, DeAngelo explained. “I believe in this plant. I don’t think anybody should be in prison for cannabis.”
“We have to pay these people in the currency that they accept. And that currency is votes. What you see happening here is a very scary thing for the establishment cause now we all talking,” said leading New Jersey cannabis advocate and businessman Leo Bridgewater.
He was unhappy at the small scale of Biden’s action after such a significant delay from the time he took office.
“You’re going have someone locked up for even a little bit of weed, but then you’re going to have someone move into my neighborhood and don’t look like me and let ‘em move a whole lot of weight? And they’re you’re going to lock me out of it? Nah, hell no,” Bridgewater said.
Cannabis Protest Tactics
A giant inflatable joint was blown up and read “Quit Biden Our Time” as a play on words criticizing delays. The giant joint was inflated and carried on Pennsylvania Avenue. People holding the job wore fake prisoner jumpsuits.
“I’m speaking today for people who can’t speak here today. I’m trying to raise their voices. They thought they were getting out. All across America, Americans think the President pardoned and is freeing 6500 people actually in jail,” one of them said.
He said the pardons only affected those out of jail.
The activist group Freedom Grow had pictures of the many cannabis prisoners they wanted to be freed. They support many cannabis prisoners in part by sending them money to buy snacks in prison at the commissary.
One of Freedom Grow’s biggest prisoner causes is freeing Jonathan Wall, a 27-year-old being held in Maryland who faces ten years imprisonment for cannabis charges.
“Stop Telling lies. I represent the hip-hop community. I represent culture. Cannabis and culture go hand in hand. We have been talking about healing our community. No plant brings our community together more than this plant. This is the healing of the nation. It should be celebrated by all. You can’t fool all the people all of the time, and we won’t be fooled today. President Biden, keep your promise. All these state legislators, keep your promise,” a protestor said. “The right side of history is justice for all these political and cannabis prisoners.”
Cannabis Activism in the Streets
“We’re here to stand up for justice and freedom for things they should not be in jail for. We’re here to protect one another. Now we know better,” said one student activist.
“Biden’s tough-on-crime policies in the 90s resulted in extreme sentences being handed down for non-violent drug crimes,” said SSDP Executive Director Jason Ortiz. “Biden promised to release these prisoners to address his role in creating mass incarceration.”
“It’s sickening that thousands of people of color are sitting in prisons while countless white men are making millions of dollars off doing the same thing,” SSDP Board Chair Kat Ebert said.
(Interviews and pictures by Mario Ramos and Chelsea Buttner)