On Oct. 26, 2011, Capitol Hemp, one of D.C.’s best-known vendors of industrial hemp products, buckled in its legal battle with the District, leading to its closure effective Sep. 7 of this year. Metropolitan Police Department’s pursuit of head shops is indicative of the War on Drugs mentality that prioritizes petty drug use over more egregious violent crimes. Instead, the city should focus on implementing its nascent medical marijuana program and reorient local drug conviction procedures to be more conscientious of addiction.
The police raid of Capitol Hemp last October resulted in the arrest of seven employees and confiscation of $300,000 in store merchandise, including “glass artisan pipes,” one of the store’s signature products. The raid was carried out under the premise that Capitol Hemp engaged in the promotion and sale of “drug paraphernalia.”
According to Metropolitan Police Department affidavit explaining the reasons for the raid, “while hemp is legal, the hemp clothing, accessories, food, books, and promotions within ‘Capitol Hemp’ only direct one to see that the focus of the store is its promotion of marijuana, its illegal use, and the sales of devices to smoke marijuana.”
Capitol Hemp was engaged in legal activity—selling hemp-based products like yarn and soap, along with accessories that could be used for illegal activity, but are not themselves illegal. To shut down a head shop that has not been proven to sell marijuana merely forwards the witch hunt that exemplifies the War on Drugs. “The story of Capitol Hemp’s demise is the story of the War on Drugs being enforced by D.C. government as a war on free speech,” wrote Capitol Hemp co-owner Adam Eidinger.
The crackdown on marijuana has become a hallmark of the Obama administration’s ramped-up war on drugs. As reported in the Huffington Post, among other outlets, the Obama administration’s ramped up attacks on marijuana far exceeds anything witnessed during the Bush years. Eric Holder has said that this administration will continue to prosecute distributors even in states where the sale of medical marijuana is legalized—and continue to prosecute marijuana users. These priorities will only exacerbate the injustices in our criminal justice system, diverting resources from more worthwhile endeavors. In D.C., black citizens are eight times as likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than white citizens.
The Capitol Hemp raid was a high-profile crackdown on a lone head shop, but it is indicative of the single-mindedness with which a racist drug war is carried out.