As this industry evolves, there are many issues that have gone beyond the work of activists and advocates and transitioned into legislation that advanced the industry.
Stories of what advocacy organizations have been able to do – and some like Americans for Safe Access continue to do – is raise awareness about the benefits of cannabis and point fingers at the obstacles to letting cannabis become what we in the industry know it should be.
But just when it appears that the work of street-theater activists is over, there are still issues out there that have yet to be addressed, and they are generally tied more directly to changes in federal law and not state law. One of those is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issue, recently addressed by activists in Washington, D.C.
It’s legal to possess cannabis in the district. It’s legal to give it away. It’s legal to grow up to six cannabis plants in your living space. But it’s still illegal to possess or grow cannabis in your apartment if you happen to be in a HUD subsidized housing property. And it is legal for HUD to evict anyone in a HUD property for growing, smoking or possessing cannabis in their apartments.
The first protest about that issue was staged in front of the HUD Washington D.C. headquarters on October 31 – Halloween – by the DCMJ, a local group of activists for cannabis legalization and other issues, led by Adam Eidinger.
Eidinger was one of the co-writers of Initiative 71 in D.C. that legalized recreational marijuana in the district. He has staged many protests in the district since that legalization initiative went into effect in February, 2015, including a couple that garnered international press: marching with a 51 foot inflatable joint near the White House (that showed up again in Philadelphia during the 2016 Democratic National Convention) which was a protest designed to get the attention of then-president Barack Obama to deschedule cannabis; a protest inside the office of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to get him to define what he would do about legalizing cannabis; a smoke-in in front of the White House; and the handing out 9,000 free joints on the day of the Trump inaugural, just to name a few.
“Nobody is watching how this HUD policy is impacting people,” Eidinger shouted to supporters in front of HUD headquarters, addressing the assembled Capitol police just a few feet away, and a host of the building’s occupants seen watching the event from their offices.
When HUD was asked how many people have been evicted because of their no-cannabis policy, he said, they had no statistics. “They said we don’t track those evictions, because if it’s a crime it’s a crime,” he said. “It’s long overdue to update federal policy. Period. Not just for the housing but for the whole damn country,” he said. “We need a new controlled substances act that takes marijuana completely out of it.”
At the end of the 90 minute protest featuring Eidinger and a host of other speakers, he reminded the crowd why they were there. “This is just the beginning,” he said. “We have mobilized the marijuana movement to address housing in this country. You should be proud. This is the first group of independent Americans to take this issue on in a public way. And I want the police and those listening to recognize that fact – that you are at the very first protest for changing this ridiculous policy.”
Eidinger ended his remarks by calling for organizing other protests about evictions for cannabis in subsidized housing across all 50 states. “We should have a national day of protest on this issue,” he said. “People will begin to link all of the issues together that are going on right now for low income Americans.”