A woman arrested at this year’s 4/20 rally in Washington D.C. is challenging the District’s marijuana laws by asking that her confiscated cannabis be returned to her.
Jessica Laycock was one of several people arrested during the festivities, which both celebrated cannabis and brought awareness to cannabis legalization. Activists distributed prerolls to congressional staff members in an effort to normalize cannabis and to advocate for federal cannabis reform. The event was situated on District land, since possession of up to two ounces of cannabis is legal within its boundaries.
The charges against Laycock were possession and distribution of cannabis, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia dropped the charges. Laycock is still fighting to have her cannabis returned to her since she was in possession of cannabis in a place where it is legal, unlike federal land where cannabis is prohibited.
In Washington D.C., local and federal jurisdiction is somewhat murky. The U.S. Capitol Police is a federal law enforcement agency that adheres to federal drug laws, but it has jurisdiction in the District where small amounts of cannabis are legal. Laycock was in possession of a legal amount of cannabis and paraphernalia under District law.
“Federal laws apply throughout the District of Columbia and the federal law was applied by the [U.S. Capitol Police],” said Eva Malecki, a spokesperson for the U.S. Capitol Police. According to a D.C. police spokesperson, which has local jurisdiction unlike Capitol Police, confiscated cannabis has been returned to those who are 21 and older, but Laycock still has not received her cannabis or vaporizer.
“Why am I being told that my stuff is being incinerated?” said Laycock. “Where I was standing, cannabis was legal.”
Malecki cited federal cannabis legislation that lists it as a Schedule I substance, a category reserved for drugs that have no medicinal value in the eyes of federal law. Unlike D.C. police, Capitol police policy is to destroy any cannabis that has been confiscated, regardless of whether charges are filed. According to Malecki, Capitol police does not recognize the District’s laws and treats cannabis as illegal within city limits.
In 2014, 70 percent of people in the District supported a referendum that legalized cannabis. Laycock and her attorney are arguing that the referendum justifies her property being returned to her. According to Evan Parke, Laycock’s attorney, Capitol Police are refusing to do so. Parke said,
“The strongest legal argument is that she was not doing anything unlawful under D.C. law to begin with, and she was never charged.”
He also mentioned that the lack of federal charges means Capitol Police should return her possessions, and that it is uncommon for them to arrest people within District lands while enforcing federal law.
Parke is filing public information requests to investigate why Capitol Police decided to arrest the 4/20 protesters. “They are giving us the runaround,” he said. He is considering a lawsuit so that a judge could order the return of Laycock’s possessions. It may also force Capitol Police to clarify their policies when local laws conflict with federal laws.
Another cannabis activist was arrested and is facing charges for carrying marginally more than the two ounce legal limit. Adam Eidinger, a well-known cannabis advocate in D.C. who helped plan the 4/20 event, said he supports Laycock’s pursuit. “They are letting the stigma of cannabis override the correct interpretation of the law,” he said.