Pot activists vow protest after Biden omits thousands of prisoners from mass pardon
WASHINGTON — Marijuana activists joined by well-known rappers plan to engage in “civil disobedience” outside the White House and Democratic National Committee offices Monday to push President Biden to honor his campaign pledge to free “everyone” in prison for marijuana after he issued limited clemency this month.
The activists say Biden’s Oct. 6 mass pardon of about 6,500 people charged federally with pot possession was “misleading” because it didn’t free any of the roughly 2,700 people already in federal prison for marijuana dealing.
“There’s quite a bit of outrage, actually, in the cannabis community about what just went down,” said Adam Eidinger, one of DC’s most prominent marijuana activists and a coordinator of the protests.
“The whole country seems to think that Biden did something great,” Eidinger told The Post. “But to us, it’s a smokescreen to doing something real. And the real thing is to release people in prison.
“This doesn’t have to be a protest. This could be a celebration. But if you’re not going to release people from prison, we have a real problem with what you’re doing. It’s very misleading and confusing and doesn’t actually help the people we want to help.”
The national group Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and DC Marijuana Justice, whose members led the capital’s successful 2014 pot legalization ballot initiative, are leading the protests. Rappers M-1 of Dead Prez and Redman, along with SSDP members from across the country are expected to participate.
An advertisement says that arrests are “likely” without spelling out the exact plans. Activists will gather outside the White House at the Andrew Jackson statue in Lafayette Park around 10 a.m. and regroup outside the DNC around 4:20 p.m.
The term “civil disobedience” often is a euphemism for smoking marijuana in public, but protesters have been arrested outside the White House in the past for other offenses such as standing in areas where demonstrating isn’t allowed.
The groups organizing the events emailed copies of a letter addressing Biden to White House aides this month threatening to stage the protest.
“We would prefer not to have to escalate our protests, however your administration has thus far refused to release our incarcerated neighbors, friends, and family members and it is therefore our moral duty to mobilize sufficient public attention to your lack of action on this urgent injustice that you promised to address,” the letter said.
“Under your watch, billions of dollars are being made for wealthy corporations, while real people, disproportionately people of color, are wasting their lives in cages,” the letter said.
A White House official told The Post on Friday that Biden “announced and is doing” what he promised as a candidate. The official pointed to a narrowly worded pledge posted to Biden’s campaign website that said “no one should be in jail because of cannabis use.” That statement doesn’t address marijuana dealers, however.
Earlier this month, federal marijuana inmates told The Post they were outraged by Biden’s decision to leave them in prison, despite the president saying during a 2019 debate: “I think everyone — anyone who has a record — should be let out of jail, their records expunged.”
Philadelphia native Joseph Akers, 40, whose 16.5 year sentence for taking part in a marijuana dealing conspiracy is scheduled to end in 2031, said, “Biden fed us rancid hamburger and the media is celebrating as if he served up filet mignon.”
Donald Fugitt, 38, who has about 16 months left in prison for dealing marijuana, said that inmates in his Fort Worth, Texas, prison cheered upon hearing of Biden’s clemency — only to later read the fine print.
“The initial glee turned into yet another let-down,” he said.
Cornelius Berry, 46, said he thought Biden’s pot clemency was “good news” and a step “in the right direction,” but added that “it’s a slap in the face for those of us in prison because Biden’s words when campaigning were no one should be in prison for marijuana.”
Berry’s 15-year sentence for pot distribution in Texas is scheduled to end in 2029.
Eidinger and local DC pot activists have for years drawn attention to their cause with theatrical stunts.
In April 2016, hundreds of people joined a smoke-in on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House asking President Barack Obama to administratively lower marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug.
DC activists later gave away free joints to Capitol Hill staffers, for which they were arrested, and snuck marijuana into a congressional office building and rolled joints in the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who was poised to become President Donald Trump’s first attorney general.
Federal marijuana legalization generally is considered inevitable due to broad public support. Since 2012, the federal government has allowed 19 states and two US territories to tax and regulate recreational pot — despite the fact that possession remains illegal under federal law.
Last year, a Gallup poll found 68% of Americans — including half of Republicans — support pot legalization.
As a senator, Biden wrote some of the nation’s harshest federal drug laws and his spokespeople say he remains opposed to legalization — even though Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sponsors a federal legalization bill.
Biden announced his mass pardon earlier this month after Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democratic Senate candidate, urged him to embrace pot reform ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections — even though Biden fired at least five White House staffers last year for past marijuana use.
When he announced the mass-pardon, Biden also encouraged governors to pardon people convicted under state laws for pot possession and extended his own mass pardon to unknown thousands of people convicted locally in DC. He additionally ordered a federal review of whether to reduce marijuana’s schedule within the Controlled Substances Act, which could allow for interstate commerce and easier research of the drug’s medical properties.
Eidinger said that Biden has a chance to head off the planned civil disobedience on Monday.
“If the White House sends out a representative to talk to us or brings in representatives to talk we’ll cancel the civil disobedience,” he said.
“People are sitting in prison for years for selling less cannabis than a dispensary sells in one day” and federally tolerated state-legal business are “cultivating thousands of times as much cannabis as someone who has been given 20-year sentence,” Eidinger added. “We need to empty the jails of all cannabis prisoners. And that’s what this demand is and it has always been.”
Cannabis reform isn’t partisan in Washington. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) is leading legislation that would release the roughly 2,700 federal marijuana inmates and on his last day in office, Trump last year released seven people serving life terms for marijuana — including two men who were given life without parole under the three-strikes provision of Biden’s 1994 crime law.