Just in time for 4/20, the unofficial marijuana holiday, the Washington, D.C., marijuana legalization organization DCMJ has big news: The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDPC) has invited members of the group to a meeting next Monday.
“This isn’t with the president but with one of his top advisers,” said Adam Eidinger, co-founder of DCMJ, which helped run the District of Columbia’s successful marijuana legalization effort in 2015. “We’ll see if it means anything.”
For years, DCMJ has petitioned for a sit-down at the White House, but with no response, Eidinger said. “The president is the only federal representative we get to vote for, so you would think the president would be a little more concerned about D.C. [marijuana] affairs, since he has a unique D.C. role,” he said. After the latest of these petitions in March, DCMJ staged a “smoke-in” outside the White House on April 2 to protest marijuana’s federal prohibition. Then, last week, Eidinger received an e-mail from a White House staffer who he declined to name. “They said, ‘Let’s have a chat,’" said Eidinger, who added he’ll be attending the meeting with DCMJ co-founder Nikolas Schiller.
An administration official confirmed the invitation came from ONDCP, which is responsible for national drug control strategies but isn't involved in deciding whether or not marijuana should be rescheduled as a less dangerous drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
Eidinger said he won’t be going in to the meeting with specific demands, other than a recognition of the right for people to grow their own cannabis. “If I could say one thing to the president, it would be: You have to understand that letting people grow marijuana for themselves is the fairest thing you can do before you allow marijuana businesses. That should be a human right.”
While representatives of several marijuana organizations have met with White House staff members during various presidential administrations, rarely have these meetings been public, said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). The fact that this meeting isn’t “off the record,” according to Eidinger, could be a sign that the White House is softening its marijuana stance.
“This isn't the first time the White House has met with marijuana lobbyists, and I hope it won't be the last,” said Tom Angell, founder of the cannabis advocacy group Marijuana Majority. “It's good to see that the administration is treating this issue as worthy of serious discussion as the president nears the end of his term in office and hopefully considers making big, legacy-defining moves like possibly rescheduling cannabis."
Of course, those who aim to keep marijuana illegal weren’t thrilled with the news. “It’s disappointing and surprising,” said Kevin Sabet, founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a major anti-legalization group. “It would be like inviting Philip Morris to discuss tobacco policy at the White House. I don’t think it’s acceptable.”
Even some major marijuana players were surprised that Eidinger, who’s known for staging attention-grabbing acts of civil disobedience and co-owns Capitol Hemp, a Washington, D.C., smoking paraphernalia and hemp product store, would be the one to get the invite.
"I think in some ways it is unfortunate they are not inviting individuals from organizations who have more money and time invested in the issue, and instead are inviting a head shop owner. Maybe the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” St. Pierre said. “Probably not a home run when it comes to communication and outreach.”
Eidinger, however, says he aims to use this sit-down to push for a much bigger White House event focused on marijuana policy.
“This is a first meeting, but let’s have a wider meeting — a daylong summit with a who’s who of marijuana reform, marijuana businesses and marijuana advocates,” he said. “I would help them stage the most important marijuana event ever.”
Editor’s note: This article has been changed to include confirmation of the meeting from a White House official.