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7 people arrested in pro-pot demonstration near Capitol

WASHINGTON — The conflict between federal and local laws on marijuana played out in the shadow of the Capitol on Thursday, when seven pro-pot activists were arrested for doing something that's been legal in Washington for the past two years — handing out free joints.

U.S. Capitol Police said in a statement that they invoked federal law in making the arrests. Two women and one man were charged with possession with intent to distribute pot, while four women were charged with simple possession, after officers observed them "distributing marijuana in public view to passers-by," the statement said.

The arrests occurred on the day known as 4/20, considered a national holiday by pot enthusiasts who held public smoke-outs around the United States.

Possession of up to 2 ounces of pot for recreational use is legal in the nation's capital under a referendum approved by two-thirds of city voters in 2014. Congress did not block the referendum from taking effect, but it did bar the city from taxing or regulating the drug or allowing it to be sold legally. Giving pot away, however, is legal.

Thursday's demonstration was held on city land rather than federal land in an attempt to comply with that law. Pot is also legal in eight states, and the point of the giveaway was to call on federal authorities to respect local pot laws.

One of the organizers, Nikolas Schiller, told The Associated Press that police "decided to play politics" with the demonstration and that the people arrested committed no crimes.

"We'll see them in court," Schiller said.

Schiller said no individual was in possession of more than 1 ounce of pot. He said participants gave away about 100 joints to people with Congressional ID badges who were over 21 years old before police confiscated the rest of their pot. Demonstrators had planned to give away more than 1,000 joints.

A follow-up demonstration is scheduled for Monday afternoon on the lawn of the Capitol, in which activists plan to risk arrest by smoking pot in public, which remains illegal on both city and federal land. Schiller said he believed Thursday's arrests were intended as a pre-emptive strike against that action.

Among those arrested was Adam Eidinger, a well-known activist who along with Schiller founded the group that put legal pot on the ballot in the city.

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Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.

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