Politics

The Debate Over This Inauguration Day 'Smoke Out'

Four minutes and 20 seconds into Donald Trump's inauguration ceremony on Friday, a group of pro-marijuana legalization activists plan to light joints while marching toward the National Mall. The stunt is designed to catch the president-elect's attention and ideally start a conversation about federal marijuana policy under his administration.

National Mall

DCMJ, the organization behind the event, says it will hand out thousands of free joints to adults over 21 who present identification cards, encouraging them to join them in the presidential smoke session. 

But the legalization community is divided on the Inauguration Day "smoke out" protest.

Tom Angell, founder of Marijuana Majority, said DCMJ deserves credit for its role in passing a recreational marijuana law in the nation's capital — a task that few legalization groups at the time were willing to take on. "That said, I think the inaugural activities are not smart politics and I don't think they're going to help us win," Angell told ATTN:.

"In particular, sending the message that marijuana legalization means huge clouds of marijuana smoke in a public park where children and their families are vacationing, doesn't help us legalize marijuana in more places," he added.

For advocates, the 2016 election was a mixed bag of successes and new worries; eight states passed marijuana reform measures in November — raising the total number of legal states to 28 — but Trump and several of his cabinet picks have raised advocates' concerns about the fate of these advances. Trump has voiced support for state rights in terms of enacting marijuana laws; his attorney general nominee, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R), was unwilling to commit to that position during his recent confirmation hearing.

NORML executive director Erik Altieri said that their organization "is not formally involved in these inauguration protests" but recognized that "the American people are anxious and angry when it comes to the future of marijuana reform in this country and they have every right to be." He told ATTN: that "[d]irect action has been the cornerstone of all great social movements, and it has long been a part of the marijuana legalization movement and will continue to be."

But what is the most effective form of "direct protest" when it comes to advancing the legalization agenda?

marijuana-leaf

Altieri said that NORML will be "working with our allies in Congress" and "pushing the transition team to clarify their stance on marijuana policy." He wished DCMJ co-founder Adam Eidinger "the best of luck with his inauguration protest."

Mason Tvert, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, declined to comment on the inaugural protest but told ATTN: that he didn't see much use for legalization protest efforts aimed at the Trump administration for the time being because "we don't know what the administration's marijuana policy will be."

Engaging the Trump administration on its marijuana policy could be tricky, but as with other social justice issues, it's important for pro-legalization groups to "do our due diligence with traditional forms of advocacy like trying to meet with the new administration and giving them policy papers and really making the case in a serious way," Angell said. "If those tactics prove unsuccessful, then maybe it will be time to escalate tactics."

For Eidinger's part, he's got high hopes "that Donald Trump will reach out to us... will reach out to me personally and invite me up and the leaders of the major marijuana groups up to Trump Tower and have a green panel and ask us what we want to see happen," he told NBC News. Whether an Inauguration Day smoke out will get the community's foot in the door remains to be seen.