Seven people were arrested for possession of marijuana in the nation's capitol during a 420 celebration of cannabis culture, U.S. Capitol Police said.
Cannabis advocates vowed to pass out marijuana cigarettes between noon and 4:20 p.m. Thursday during their first annual "JointSession." Possessing and giving away some marijuana is legal in Washington, D.C., but not on federal land. The advocates set up on a corner across from the Capitol that they believe is local land.
However, soon after the giveaway began, U.S. Capitol Police swept in and arrested two people handing out joints. Minutes later, more volunteers started handing out joints and more volunteers were arrested.
D.C. resident Adam Eidinger, who helped organize the event, told NBC he feared more people would be arrested. Minutes later, police arrested him.
Participants continued to hand out joints even though U.S. Capitol Police shut down the event multiple times.
Meanwhile, people smoking pot directly in front of police were not arrested.
Despite the arrests, volunteers handed out joints to about 50 federal employees.
At least two of those taken into police custody "volunteered" to be arrested for possession. Both men said they believed they were on D.C. property and therefore acting legally, NBC Washington's Mark Segraves reported.
Eidinger's advocacy group DCMJ, which spearheaded legalization of cannabis in D.C., led the free giveaway. Offering two joints apiece to members of Congress, staffers, journalists, interns and Capitol Hill workers 21 years of age and older. Basically, anyone with a valid congressional ID can get free weed.
D.C.'s Initiative 71 legalized possession of the plant in 2015 but not its sale. People living in the District can grow up to six plants inside their home or purchase medical marijuana if they have a qualifying condition. Money cannot be exchanged for recreational cannabis.
Organizers of the JointSession are calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency from using funds to interfere with D.C. and state medical marijuana laws. The measure is set to expire April 28.
DCMJ is also asking Congress to end the federal prohibition against marijuana and allow states to determine their own laws moving forward.
"Congressional inaction and leaving harmful laws on the books isn't any way to run a government. It is irresponsible," Eidinger said. "If these members of Congress ask themselves who has the most to lose from ending the war on cannabis, it isn’t the American people."
President Donald Trump hasn't clarified what his approach to marijuana will be, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes the drug's legalization and this month ordered a review of the government's marijuana policy, which has included a largely hands-off approach in legal marijuana states.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently called marijuana "a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs" — a view long held by drug warriors despite scant evidence of its validity.
In Philadelphia, there were events planned at One Art Community Center in West Philadelphia, a pipe exhibit at Creep House Records in Northern Liberties and a High Times dance party at Coda in Center City.
This year's 420 party follows successful legalization campaigns in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, which joined Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington as states that allow recreational marijuana. More than half of all states now allow medical marijuana.
Sixty percent of adults support legalizing marijuana, according to a Gallup poll last fall, and two-thirds of respondents in a Yahoo/Marist poll released this week said marijuana is safer than opioids — even when those painkillers are prescribed by doctors.
This wasn't the first time DCMJ gave away free marijuana. The organization handed out thousands of free joints in D.C. on Jan. 20 for President Donald Trump's inauguration day.