Time To Move Beyond Street Theater

I cringed last weekend when I saw news photos of a protest and demonstration in front of the White House in which the most notable image was a 51-foot inflatable “joint.”

That’s right. Here we are in 2016 on the verge of finally ending marijuana prohibition, and some activists seem caught in a time warp, using tactics more suitable for the 1960s and 70s. I question not only their tactics, but also their political focus.

This latest example of street theater came courtesy of DCMJ, the local group in DC who led the successful voter initiative to legalize marijuana in the District of Columbia in 2014. They deserve our appreciation for helping move reform forward in DC, where adults are permitted to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, to grow up to six plants for their personal use, and to give up to an ounce of marijuana to another adult for no remuneration.

This latest protest, though, was both misguided and counter-productive.

The Wrong Target

First, the stated purpose of the protest was to put pressure on President Obama, whom the group claimed had done nothing to legalize marijuana. “The Obama administration has been a big ZERO on cannabis reform,” the organizers of the event alleged in their press release announcing the White House protest.

Apparently they are unaware of the extraordinary action taken by President Obama to instruct his Department of Justice to step aside and allow the first few states that legalized marijuana to implement those laws without federal interference. That unprecedented action was an enormous gift to the legalization movement and permitted us to demonstrate that marijuana can be successfully legalized and regulated with no significant unintended consequences.

Under any prior administration, the DOJ would have filed for an injunction in federal court, seeking to use federal law to enjoin the provisions in these new state laws licensing the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana. Most legal observers agree they would have been successful, based on the “supremacy clause” of the US Constitution.

It is the experience of these first few states that allows us to argue with authority that legalization is a legitimate option to prohibition. Ignoring the significance of this decision by President Obama, in order to justify some street theater, suggests a lack of political sophistication.

Also, President Obama has commuted the sentences of nearly 200 federal drug prisoners, including a number of people serving life sentences for non-violent marijuana offenses, and promises additional non-violent offenders will be pardoned or otherwise released from prison over the remaining months of his administration. It is difficult to imagine a public protest intended to embarrass the president would be a helpful tactic at this juncture.

The Wrong Time

Public protests have at times played a powerful role in our country’s history, most notably in building public opposition to unpopular wars, including especially the Vietnam war. However, those demonstrations involved hundreds of thousands of citizens, and demonstrated mass support for ending the war.

The latest protest at the White House involved perhaps 100 protesters, and rather than demonstrating mass opposition to President Obama and his marijuana policies, showed a handful of activists more concerned with seeing themselves on the evening news than engaging in the hard work of actually changing public policy. The utilization of the 51-foot inflatable “joint” left the impression this was more about fun in the park and less about serious political change.

Keep in mind that the City Council in the District of Columbia has been actively discussing the need to license commercial growers and retail sellers of marijuana. They would have done this earlier but for a provision attached by Congress on the District’s budget (Congress retains the right to review and possibly reject actions of our elected City Council).

Under the terms of a recent court case in DC (Council of the District of Columbia v DeWitt) , it now appears the Council may adopt a legally regulated market for marijuana, if they use only money raised from DC residents, excluding money provided to the District by Congress. The Council members understand they need to tread carefully in this area to avoid a backlash from the more conservative members of Congress, but a clear majority want to move forward.

C1_8734_r_xWitnessing the juvenile demonstration at the White House could only complicate this delicate dance the DC City Council is trying to take regarding marijuana policy in the District. Instead of (symbolically) blowing smoke in their faces, these local activists could have been meeting with our supporters on the City Council to discuss how best to move forward with the least resistance from Congress.

Apparently, that would not have been nearly as much fun, nor would it have resulted in their being covered in the local news. All of us who engage in public advocacy for legalization need to be sure we are taking actions that move the legalization movement forward and not confusing media coverage with political progress. All news is not good news, and some news coverage definitely sets us back.

This latest street theater at the White House was one of those times. Though few of us were involved (none of the national reform organizations), it made us all look less than serious and politically naïve, and it did nothing to move us closer to full legalization in the District, or to encourage President Obama to push marijuana law reform further under federal law.


This column first appeared on Marijuana.com:


39 thoughts

  1. Sent to: http://dcmj.org/contact/

    Hi DCMJ,

    My name is Julian. Im a member of Texas NORML, but I was born in DC and returned briefly to live there for high school. I’m really proud of the petition you passed and progress made with the city council to legalize marijuana in D.C. …Thank you all so much for your efforts.

    I’m concerned however, with your recent protest in front of the White House. With public venues allowing MJ in DC riding so heavily on Congress and the DOJ staying out of the way, I’m afraid you’re barking up the wrong tree.

    Due to a recent Federal court ruling, there is an opportunity to work with the DC city council to provide public venues for marijuana consumption without agitating any unwanted press with a 51ft joint.

    As disappointing as it may be, President Obama is still battling for executive privilege from the Fast & Furious scandal, and I believe he has done all that he can do to keep the DOJ out of the way from local governance over marijuana legalization. Expecting him to deschedule marijuana through this kind of protest is counterproductive to our movement and we need the resources to provide a much more effective weapon; A venue where even a Congressman can sit down with fellow citizens and consume marijuana in a public location in DC.

    Once again, I greatly appreciate your petitioning efforts, and if you have any questions or require assistance feel free to contact NORML right there at their headquarters on K street.

    Best Regards,


  2. Keith, you are overreacting by thinking “it made us all look less than serious and politically naïve”. Assuming how one group (them) is perceiving the other group (us) based on individual’s opinions and actions is wasting valuable energy, as you know from trying to predict election results, for example, Ohio’s last. Take the Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump. There is no way for the Republicans to look less than serious and look more politically naïve than standing him up, right? But the Republican Party still exists. Use events and publicity to your advantage, I always say.

  3. Starting a vlog about becoming a pot farmer from the ground up literaly. Please and thanks for checking it out.

  4. Great piece that touches upon a very live issue. I had many of the same thoughts, and also felt that the promotion of this event was extremely aggressive, it anticipated arrests and gave sop’s for how to handle it (arrests are something that this movement surely doesn’t need right now), it came across as a big F-U to the government, law enforcement, and authority as a whole. All of which was unprecedented given the recent actions taken by the Obama administration.

    This event was planned prior to these actions and the organizers were either unwilling to forfeit their investment (despite how Irrelevant their cause was) and all the free publicity, or they were just completely uninformed (which I have a hard time believing).

    Either way the whole thing was amateur hour to say the least, and I hope the bozos that were covered on the local news, in no way represent where legal cannabis is going in DC.

    Love Peace & Elbow Greese


  5. Kudos to DCMJ for getting cannabis legalized in DC by doing it their way.

    In a state such as Pennsylvania, where the legislature has to legalize because there is no ballot initiative, shedding that old pothead image reminiscent of Cheech and Chong movies helps members of the cannabis community look more mainstream, more like educated and productive citizens, as opposed to a bunch of useless eaters whose only goal is the next high and staying high.

    Has someone put together a list of sophisticated things people can do to protest and demonstrate against cannabis prohibition? Is there a professional ad or marketing outfit that will do things for cannabis reform groups in a sophisticated way on the cheap, e.g. flyers, banners, signs, t-shirts, pens with informative scrolls or messages printed on them, etc.?

    1. Thanks for bringing up the positive remedy issue concerning this Media problem. There is no more sophisticated image than someone using a flexdrawtube one-hitter which protects against wasting expensive cannabinoids, reduces exposure to carbon monoxide and 4211 Combustion toxins, doesn’t annoy neighbors with unasked air pollution etc. Please everyone go to


      (or any other intelligent Marley portrait!).

      Draw a new line cartoon based on it, except that instead of drawing a joint sticking out of the mouth like the present one, draw a drawtube leading 55 snaky cm to a handheld einzelheater utensil under head of which a half-inch flame heats air going in while we suck. Give yourself time and really go to town drawing the crinkles of the Marley dreadlocks. Practice drawing several times, till you get it right, the position of the hands– one holding the vape toke utensil and the other holding the lowered lighter with thumb on the little black lever keeping the flame going 19 seconds or so.

      Print up hundreds of little stickers which you can put up over old out-dated tattered or ugly posters already on the poles especially near bus stops, no one will mind, the original poster was illegal yours isn’t.

      If you base your art on a public domain image like the above, I would think there’s little chance Privateer Holdings/Marley family can sue you… they won’t know who you are anyway, you’re just some obscure volunteerguy using it to drown out that 51-foot hot burning overdose monoxide paperpuffage Trojan Horse* into nicotine $igarette addiction “Joint” image and save 6,000,000 human lives a year within the first decade (winning NORML a Knowitwell Prize $1.5-mil. along the way).

      1. PS– a slogan in elegant letters could be:

        More Marley– Less Monoxide!

  6. I’d really like to see Lord Mayor Bill De Blasio do something pro-cannabis in NYC. He should make the announcement BEFORE the UN meets this month about de-scheduling cannabis at the international level so that the pressure is on them, big time. I would also like to see Lord Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia do something pro-cannabis. He wants money for the Philly school system, and his tax on sugary drinks is getting a lot of push-back.

    Oh, if DC would actually use non-federal money and regulate cannabis, that would be better than the good old days of making the drive into The Netherlands to Amsterdam for FREEDOM, and to bring a small amount back home. Currently, like back then, driving back from Colorado to wherever, one still has to contend with police profiling and pulling you over to search the car. You know, en le flic is giving you a hard time, sniffing, best not to do it in the car, not to smell of it, definitely not have anything in plain sight or the usual compartments, not on you, but only a small amount well hidden.

    Come on, DC!

  7. It reminds me of the last year South Carolina flag issue honoring the memorial of those who have fought in the Confederacy. The presents of the K.K.K. and the Neo-Nazis made a mockery of the situation for the media. Which makes me wonder what was their purpose? Street Theater is entertaining but I do not understand why the 51-foot inflatable joint?

  8. Is this a move beyond or street theater?;


    I don’t even facebook so I couldn’t tell, but if Massroots is datamining marijuana consumers that specifically don’t want to rate their weed where their families communicate, then it has appreciable value, and perhaps NASDAQ will accept their first cannabis company, despite that advertising for cannabis could be labeled as “aiding and abetting” the trafficking of a schedule 1 substance.

    C’mon Congress, look at what you’re holding back! Jobs and progress! Legalize cannibanking already!

  9. Keith, I agree this is a serious political issue and now more than ever our actions as activist will either harm or support legalization. We have to show we are serious. We need to emphasis the harm prohibition of Marijuana and Hemp, has had on our society and environment. There are people in prisons and families being destroyed by the present laws. We can’t afford to look like a bunch of the Stereo Typical Stoners that the enemies has unfairly projected on us. This is a War Brothers and Sisters and There have been and will continue to be lives at stake. We can’t let our brothers and sisters who have lost everything down. We have to project a serious, mature, and educated, civil resistance.

  10. It garnered national media attention to our cause, and it showed dozens of people protesting in a non-violent way. People realize that the colorful manner of protest is nothing but showmanship.

    I say it’s a good thing that this got media attention at all, in a relatively positive light.

  11. Are you sure that you should be lecturing on “I question not only their tactics, but also their political focus.”
    In the past your tactics have including outing Bourne. A tactic that halted Cannabis reform for years, what kind of political focus was that?
    In this interview done in 2000 by Frontline Bourne explains the Carter ideas on Cannabis, Bourn was the Special Assistant to the President for Health Issues before resigning in 1978 because you outed him.

    In his campaign speech and then in office, Carter supported decriminalization. What was the stated policy when you got in on drugs?

    We did not view marijuana as a significant health problem–as it was not–even though there were people who wanted to construe it as being a public health problem. Nobody dies from marijuana smoking. Marijuana smoking, in fact if one wants to be honest, is a source of pleasure and amusement to countless millions of people in America, and it continues to be that way. . . .

    The view then with the Carter administration was that you should not have penalties that are more damaging to the individual than the problem that you’re trying to solve. but the decision that we made in the Carter White House is that, as far as federal law was concerned, the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana means that you’re a user, not a seller, and it should be made a misdemeanor. It would still be illegal, but it would be something more like a traffic ticket. If you had more than an ounce and you were clearly a trafficker, then there would be more severe penalties, and it would remain a felony. . . .

    I think there was a pretty rational policy. Where marijuana or other milder drugs were of minimal consequence, then we wanted to be sure that we didn’t damage people legally by hurting them with the law in a way that marijuana was not going hurt them. .

    [Editor’s note: Dr. Bourne outed himself as a hypocrite as it was muckraking journalist Jack Anderson who got wind of Bourne attending NORML parties and doing ‘illegal drugs’. Also, Bourne, while generally supportive of what today is articulated as a ‘harm reduction’ public policy, he regrettably chose not to engage the Carter Administration and the US military regarding the attempted poisoning of cannabis consumers by the military’s unchecked use of paraquat as a chemical weapon against cannabis cultivators in Mexico (in the 1970s upwards of 80% of the cannabis consumed in the US was derived from Mexico).

    When you’re the so-called drug ‘czar’ and you do illegal drugs, you’re pretty much cooking your own goose.]

  12. I think Keith is totally correct in encouraging anyone who is considering engaging in legalization efforts to work with, and not against, the tactics and efforts that will be most productive at stopping marijuana arrests.

    It’s harder for me to say that fun and festive 420 rallies are counter-productive, in general. You could say that such rallies promote the spirit of legalization, which might lead to more specific and productive activism.

    Was the rally in question specifically counter-productive, as Keith asserts?

    Perhaps so, if it pisses off Obama enough to cause him to retaliate, or upset local DC negotiations. That doesn’t seem likely to me; but I’m no expert here and could easily be wrong.

    Sometimes you just need to express yourself, like wearing a tye-dye shirt! Doesn’t do much for the cause, but doesn’t set it back either.

    Was the super-spliff any different? Again, under the circumstances, perhaps so. But not an easy call.

    But fundamentally, I agree: It makes sense to try to harness one’s passion for legalization into specific, productive, change-inducing action; and, like a physician, at the very least do no harm.

    1. Its not so much what Obama would do, as much as it was a misdirected waste of resources on behalf of DCMJ to protest in front of the white house while theres a chance at quietly passing some legal public venues for legal marijuana in DC., the holy grail of DC legalization.

      Its Congress who will take any public display on Federal property as an excuse to delay and overturn DCs efforts to create public venues, so thank God no one was arrested. The city council and the mayor, who are on our side, are asking us to kindly not blow smoke in the face of Congress…. Literally. So the point is, at least the way I see it, we should focus on legalizing public venues in DC, inviting those Congressman who are on our side to some nice rooftop cafe in Adams Morgan and deflate the 51ft joints for a little while so as not to fuck it all up in the mean time.

      1. It’s a subtle point. For me, the validity of the criticism hinges on the distinction between ineffective, and counter-productive.

        Ineffective is no crime; yes, the ineffective may require encouragement to go further, but criticism should be reserved for the counter-productive.

        As I’m sure you know, a 420 rally can give expression to the powerless: a voice for the voiceless.

        Even for those who are trying! Example: I’ve written congressmen and senators in the past, and have received very many “fuck you” form letters in return, saying, essentially, thanks for writing, but I’m going to continue supporting marijuana prohibition, so fuck off and have a nice day.

        And so rallies have been, for years, about all the average stoner has had left, other than t-shirts and tatoos (that’s how I roll!)

        Ordinarily, I see NORML booths at such rallies, staffed with good citizens trying to take advantage of the spirit of legalization in order to advance the nuts-and-bolts political mechanics that generate real change, as opposed to just making a statement.

        So, I don’t think rallies, in general, are, as you say, “misdirected waste of resources.”

        On the other hand, DC is politically complex by its nature, on any day; and then when you have the kind of legalization-without-dispensaries that is going on there, perhaps there are political forces at play which could make this political rally counter-productive. I don’t discount these kinds of arguments.

        Yes, we need nice clean cut types to lobby and represent the cannabis culture and industry; but let’s not lynch Tommy Chong and his kind, just because they might be wearing a tye-dye! Nothing wrong with that. We don’t need to disavow the hippies in order to have clean cut representatives.

        Geez, lots of clean-cut types smoke pot! If you need more lobbyists, I’m sure that there are all kinds of preppy frat boys and sorority girls, toking up right now, who were just born to the task!!

  13. Todd – I’m in agreement with you. Most people simply do nothing. These people may not have been exacting with their frustration. They did bring attention to civil disobedience at the steps of the white house. It did make a large PR impact, and it may motivate that million dollar donor to find the best organization for legalization!

  14. Mr. Stroup: I completely understand your viewpoint in this article you wrote. However, I also completely understand the motivations and reasoning behind the protesters actions. It is really hard to get our thick-skulled politicians to pay any attention to something that has caused massive damage to our country.

  15. I completely agree with Keith, his assessment on Wrong Time and Wrong Target is spot on.

    Keith Stroup’s commentary is a reflection of the national advocate community, he is certainly not alone with his above expressed views.

    He makes good points on how and why this juvenile demonstration made Cannabis Supporters all look less than serious and politically naïve, and it did nothing to move us closer to full legalization. It is accurate to say that DCMJ and adam eidinger showed a complete lack of political focus and more concern with seeing their spectacle on the evening news.

    I support the notion that this was not the time, place or target for civil disobedience.

  16. Thanks for this blog. It’s lonely out there sometimes. We need the secret suburban users to come out of the basement and stand up for their rights. Let’s represent like the responsible, cannabis enjoying adults that we are.

  17. President Obama appointed a ANTI-POT person to be head of the DEA.
    — why did he do that ???

    re; President Obama to instructed his Department of Justice to ‘step aside’ and allow the first few states that legalized marijuana to implement those laws without federal interference.

    this has NO, LASTING, legal effect;
    all of our ‘progress’ can be UNDONE,
    5 minutes after the next pres. takes office.
    the next pres. just has to say “go do your job”, and the feds will do so, eagerly.

    however, if obama legalized, decriminalized, or de-scheduled, or even re-scheduled it,
    that would be THE LAW,
    and the next pres. would have to work to change that law.

    how obama could get it done;
    SIMPLY have one meeting with;
    the head of the DEA,
    the head of the FDA,
    and the head of NIDA;
    all in the same room, together.

    AND SAY; “gentlemen; i want this done.
    you will stop fighting against this,
    and get on board,
    or you will need to find a new job.

    these are all appointees.
    nobody voted them into office.
    and the pres. has the authority to fire and replace, any appointee, he wants.

    don’t forget; legalization / decriminalization was one of obama’s campaign promises.
    and then we elected him.
    so, ‘the people have spoken’.
    therefore; he has an obligation to us, to do it.

    and don’t forget; nixon’s ERLICHMAN, just blew the whistle last week;
    the war on drugs was a big, fat, lie,
    put in place SPECIFICALLY to target the vietnam war protesters (hippies) and those ‘uppity blacks’, that wanted civil rights.

    so, is obama going to continue the ADMITTED, targeting, of blacks ???

  18. they should have written;




    on the 50 foot long joint.

  19. Agreed Keith. In the last few weeks I read several news items about an aide of Richard Nixon’s who claimed the war on marijuana was used to target the protesting hippy class in American society. More of the protesting hippy stuff (as much as some people enjoy it) will not help change the minds of the kind of people who consider Nixon to be a national hero.
    There has been to much “preaching to the choir” in marijuana legalisation. If you really want to help then go to Alaska and spend some money – that will really send a message that legalisation attracts easy money to somewhere that needs it!

    1. Some people consider Nixon to be a national hero??? That’s hilarious but I know they’re out there. Kevin Sabet and Senator Grassley are among them… Idiots!

  20. I fully agree that there are more productive ways to protest cannabis prohibition than using a huge inflatable joint for a prop.

    And I appreciate everything NORML has done for the cannabis community.

    But… NORML, you are way, way too quick to praise Obama. We will always disagree here. But, we can’t all agree 100%.

    [Editor’s note: NORML is non-partisan but political credit must be given to Obama and Co. for largely overseeing the de-federalization of cannabis prohibition. There would be no legalized cannabis in four states if the US had a president McCain or Romney…]

  21. Stroup is making a lot to do about nothing! I remember when the suit and tie guys coopted our local anti nuclear power group, suddenly we were off the media radar. I never trusted guys in suits and ties, for good reason. To hell with the respectability façade, it’s just another deceptive tool of those who want to manipulate and control the use of marijuana towards their own benefit. No taxes, no legal interference, no restrictions! “Legalization” allows for profiteering, it creates ‘money funnels’ to those with political and criminal ambitions. “Free The Weed” was going to happen anyway that is why we are seeing so many “entrepreneurs” struggling to get out in front of the inevitability of decriminalization with this “Legalization” scam. I reluctantly support NORML and donate but so called legalization with legal attachments only favors a select few! Freedom loses again, legalization is just replacing one boot on our necks for another! Piss on politics that benefit few at the cost of the many!

    [Editor’s note: Dream on about an end to cannabis prohibition that is without restrictions, taxes or controls. If you want such, then you’re a fan of criminality and prohibition, because that is the only alternative that emerged…and it failed a long, long time ago.]

  22. Yeah, but –
    You can’t just let Obama arrest 5,000,000 Americans for cannabis, and get away with it.
    Obama has been just on the wrong side of neutral, at best.
    The protest was a great success!

    [Editor’s note: Ummm…99% of all cannabis arrests happen at the local and state level. Blaming whomever the president is for cannabis arrests in the US is misplaced as cannabis prohibition is largely a local public policy enforcement decision.]

    1. President Obama knows that cannabis is not dangerous and has medical properties. He has described recreational use of it as being a bad habit. He even admits that him and his friends partied many times with cannabis in their younger years and yet has done next to nothing regarding prohibition. For almost 8 years, as president, Obama has watched as more than a million good Americans have their lives ruined because of racist greed-fueled laws. This after getting so many of us to believe in his “Yes We Can” election campaign. I no longer trust him at all!

      Can we expect Hilary to do anything more if elected? I don’t think so and don’t trust her one tiny bit. I believe she is a liar and is bought and paid for by very rich people. If she ends up being the Democratic candidate I intend to vote for the Libertarian Party candidate and encourage everyone who reads this to do the same. Gary Johnson is far superior, in my opinion, to the Republican and Democratic candidates!

      1. Miles,
        As an advocate for legalization in Texas who is forced to work with libertarians in order to stir up some improvements in state marijuana laws, let me tell you that it would be an extreme situation for me to throw my vote away on a Libertarian so as not to vote for Hillary if, as it turns out, Bernie doesn’t win the nomination.
        In the case of viting for Republican Smiegel in Maryland, getting rid of Harris, now THAT makes sense. One can vote for a Republican congressman during the primaries and still vote for a Democratic president during the general election.
        But while libertarians certainly believe the government should have nothing to do with marijuana regulation, they also believe in zero income tax and abolishing the department of public education. (Coo-coo…) Let’s not forget that if it wasn’t for taxing marijuana through income and sales, legalization would never have happened in Colorado. Spending the fairly taxed revenue from marijuana legalization on public education has been one of the greatest success stories of the 21st century, and represents the model we need for future marijuana legislation.

      2. I suppose you are probably right… I dread the thought of another Clinton presidency since I have no faith in Bill or Hillary. However, I also have to concede that Trump or Cruz would almost certainly be even worse. Damn!

  23. Well, I don’t want to bring the party down because it’s 420, but this post belongs on this blog anyway;


    The DC council shot down public consumption yesterday. 🙁

    While there may be avenues out by redirecting Congress (good luck with that MPP) and the DCMJ has already written a draft referendum (Good luck with that too), let this be a lesson to the wise that we should not go around blowing smoke in the faces of our adversaries when we could be quietly making friends out of them as we peacefully attain our goals.
    How did Bob Marley put it? Oh yes;
    We don’t need no trouble.

  24. Keith, I noticed today that DCMJ leaders got invited to a meeting at the White House. How’s NORML’s mature non-theatrical approach doing on that front?

    ‘Street theater’, done right, is a powerful tool for change. Ask the marriage equality movement.

  25. I would like to point out that that protest got them a visit to the white house. “Street Theater” as you put it is an important component to legalization. We work at all levels at once. If you want to work with the legal side, then do it. If you want to stage a protest, then do it.


    [Editor’s note: Meeting with a local band of street protestors who don’t actively represent millions of cannabis consumers (NORML, DPA, ASA, MPP, etc…) and cannabusinesses (NCIA, MIG, etc…) is a possible sign that the White House meeting is non-substantive in nature. Substantive executive branch meetings about policy, lawsuits and treaties happen with drug policy reform organizations, who, choose not to hype planned meetings as overly meaningful.]

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