“It was a missed opportunity to bring about real change. The president could have done so much more than he did,” said Steve DeAngelo, founder of the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit working on cannabis-related criminal justice reform that has lobbied the White House on this issue, during the demonstration. “He really only did the bare minimum he could do to generate a positive-sounding press release.”
Outside the White House, protesters blasted audio from a clip of Biden during a 2020 debate with Cory Booker saying “everyone, anyone with a record should be released from jail, their folders deleted”.
“Keep your promise, Joe, let our people go,” chanted the crowd.
The White House has insisted that the pardons fulfill a 2020 campaign promise and would apply to about 6,500 people nationwide who have federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana on their record since 1992. is incarcerated in federal prison for simple possession alone, officials said.
The Last Prisoner Project estimates that there are approximately 2,800 people in federal prison for marijuana-related convictions, a statistic the organization says stems from a 2021 report by Recidiviz, a nonprofit organization nonprofit that uses technology and data to create tools for criminal justice reform.
Adam Eidinger, a longtime cannabis activist and co-founder of DC Marijuana Justice, who has worked to legalize drugs in the city, said part of organizers’ demands include the immediate release of 100 prisoners and the 2 800 by Christmas.
After Virginia legalizes pot, majority of defendants are still black
“The greatest civil rights tragedy of the modern era is putting people behind bars for cannabis,” Eidinger said. “If we get any interest from the White House and they are willing to arrange meetings with representatives of these protests, then I imagine we will call off civil disobedience and declare victory.”
Just after 11 a.m., protesters filled the inflatable joint and carried it down Pennsylvania Avenue to an entrance to Eisenhower’s executive office building.
Smoke billowed in the air as a handful of people lit joints on the sidewalk and loudspeakers – including hip-hop artists Redman and Dead Prez’s M-1 – swirled past a microphone.
In response to a request for comment, a White House spokesperson pointed to Biden’s past commitments, including on his website in 2020, which included Biden’s belief that “no one should be imprisoned for using illegal drugs only”.
Although public perception around marijuana has changed significantly, organizers are concerned about people who were convicted and sentenced before this more widespread acceptance. Marijuana is now legal for recreational use by adults in the district, two territories and 19 states. He’s on the ballot in five more states next month.
Organizers say the country must consider how harmful policies during the war on drugs have disproportionately affected black and brown communities, through discriminatory policing practices and marijuana sentencing laws. White entrepreneurs make up the majority of the legal market as black people continue to account for the bulk of marijuana-related arrests nationwide.
Raiden Washington, vice chairman of the board of directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said they traveled from Georgia for the protest.
“We want everyone who is still behind bars out of jail right now,” Washington, 26, said. “We want to keep him on his promise.”
One such person is Richardo Ashmeade, who pleaded guilty in November 2008 to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. He was sentenced to almost 22 years. He is being held in a medium-security federal prison in Welch, W.Va., with an expected release date of April 2, 2027.
While incarcerated, he keeps in touch with his four children and defers to a saying from Jamaica, where he is from: “You don’t know your strengths until you have no choice but to be strong.
He gives relationship advice to his daughters and tries to be present in their lives – whatever they are going through. A girl is in law school, so he studied law while also fighting for her case. Another girl is studying nursing, so he ordered some books on the subject so he could talk with her about his interests.
Ashmeade asked to be released from prison during the coronavirus pandemic, but was refused. In court filings filed by the government in opposition to his request for compassionate release, prosecutors said Ashmeade was integral to a drug offense that spanned more than seven years and included between 3,000 kilograms and 10,000 kilograms of marijuana, the seizure of over $2 million in cash, multiple foreign bank accounts and properties, and the use of a firearm by a co-accused.
But in Ashmeade’s more than 14 years incarceration, he has followed media coverage of a “thriving cannabis industry that we actually helped create. There are big companies on the stock exchange… making so much money, more than we ever dreamed of.
“It feels like a slap in the face, to tell you the truth, for Biden to forgive just for a mere possession just before the midterm elections just to get some clout. It’s very disheartening and actually a disappointment,” Ashmeade said. “We feel here that he really forgot about us, the guys who received draconian sentences.”
By early afternoon, the crowd had dwindled to a handful of organizers and activists seated in the middle of 17th Street NW, some of whom said they planned to stay until arrested.
“It matters to me personally because I smoke weed. I know a lot of people who smoke weed,” said Evan Hazlett, 23, board member of Student for Sensible Drug Policy. We are the people who need to step up and take responsibility for the plant we are consuming and not leave behind the people who are in jail for the same thing we are doing.”
The group returned to Pennsylvania Avenue where they blocked a White House staff entrance. Just before 3 p.m., a protester walked through a half-open front door as it closed and was immediately arrested.
“The individual was unable to pass through the security gate. Charges for unauthorized entry are pending,” said Lt. Paul Mayhair, spokesman for the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division in a statement sent by email.