Tourists were treated to an unusual sight outside the White House earlier this week. The manicured green lawns usually on display were replaced by different type of green altogether – as marijuana reform advocates inflated a 51-foot-long joint in front of the fence.
Protesting against President Obama’s apathy towards reclassifying cannabis from a Schedule 1 substance – a category it shares with heroin and LSD – the group then lit up joints which they smoked openly in front of the iconic building.
The Schedule 1 list is meant to be reserved for the ‘most dangerous drugs… with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence,’ and attracts the highest penalties for possession and supply. Despite state ballots repeatedly voting to decriminalise cannabis, roughly 5 million people have been arrested for marijuana-related offences since Obama took office.
Protesters argue that marijuana doesn’t belong on the list, and are campaigning to have it removed altogether or placed on a lower schedule. Adam Eidinger, the event’s organiser, accused Obama of hypocrisy, given his admission to formerly smoking pot.
“Obama — he smokes, maybe not now, but he did smoke,” Eidinger told the Washington Post. “So for him to oversee an enforcement regime that has arrested 5 million people for marijuana . . . I’m very motivated because I think it’s a discriminatory practice.”
In a sign that the tide is turning, police in the area decided not to arrest any of the protesters for taking part in the ‘smoke in’.
With a similar protest planned in Sydney this weekend, many are hoping the New South Wales Police will follow suit. But it is not looking likely…
Two Men Charged at Sydney Cannabis Picnic
In January this year, cannabis reform advocates held the first Free Cannabis NSW picnic in Sydney’s Victoria Park. Like the Washington protesters, the group hoped to highlight the harm caused by criminalisation – and the urgent need for reform.
As always, the NSW Police couldn’t help but overreact. For the 100 or so protesters gathered in the park, police deployed more than 30 officers, as well as sniffer dog teams at every nearby train station. Unlike their Washington counterparts, NSW Police arrested and charged two men with the possession of cannabis, after allegedly spotting them with half-smoked joints.
One of the men, Paul Lawrence, is fighting terminal cancer, and has visible tumors along his spine. He was charged for possessing less than a gram of cannabis.
Police issued the charges, despite their discretionary power to hand out a caution for the use or possession of small amounts of cannabis, and evidence of Mr Lawrence’s cancer.
“Only a sick state and a sick government and police force would arrest and charge an ill man like me,” Mr Lawrence said. “The prohibition of cannabis for both medicinal and recreational use does far more damage to society than someone like me having a quiet smoke with friends.”
Police Intimidation and the ‘War on Drugs’
This is not the first criticism of the tactics used by NSW Police to target cannabis in Sydney.
A recent viral clip, uploaded to the the Save New South Wales Facebook page, shows sniffer dog police harassing a man filming their operations in Central station.
“I travelled from Gosford to Central in Sydney where I was swapping form the country platforms down to the suburban platforms in order to catch a train to Circular Quay.” said the page’s administrator.
“What did I see in the way of New South Wales police resources? Ten uniformed officers plus a dog handler carrying out a sniffer dog operation!”
He then began filming the operation, which is perfectly legal to do, but this did not stop the officers from throwing their weight around.
After requesting to see his train ticket, an officer warns the man that filming of the operation could be viewed as suspicious “due to the current terrorism climate.” They then demand his name, and ask his purpose for being at the railway station. After he ‘respectfully declines’ to give that information, police ask whether he has health issues.
“It’s just public intimidation, the way all police states operate. Political dissent now gets you a prison sentence and cops with dogs patrol the streets to let the people know who runs things.” one Facebook user wrote in response.
The use of drug dogs in public spaces, and increasingly heavy handed police response to political rallies, has become symptomatic of a broader attack on civil liberties that’s taking place across the state. The gap between the response of the Washington Police to marijuana protesters, and the response we’ve seen from our own only serves to highlight that change.