Reefer Madness: Law Enforcement Targets Marijuana Activists in Philadelphia

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director June 5, 2013

    On May 18th, The Panic Hour and PhillyNORML held “Smoke Down Prohibition V” in a free speech zone near the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA. As the name suggests, this was the fifth such event they had organized. The previous four were well attended, with hundreds of legalization advocates attending and peacefully demonstrating against our country’s failed policy of marijuana prohibition. You can view video of the largest event, held on April 20th of this year, by clicking here.

    The previous rallies went off without a hitch. Protestors were peaceful and respectful while law enforcement kept their distance and allowed them to voice their constitutionally guaranteed rights (as evidenced in this video, where National Park Police refuse to interfere with the event). This time, things were different. It was immediately clear from the outset that the police were taking a different approach to Smoke Down Prohibition V, from the very beginning the police presence was massive, with a couple dozen officers standing by and a newly erected fence in place to keep the attendees contained.

    Smoke Down Prohibition V continued as planned, despite the inclement weather and ominous group of National Park Service Officers and Philadelphia Police keeping watch. Speakers addressed the crowd of about 100 through the rain and things seemed to be going smoothly. However, as The Panic Hour’s N.a. Poe began the countdown to 4:20, a time at which the crowd traditionally engages in a moment of “cannabis reflection,” the police made their move. Rushing past a crowd of people openly smoking cannabis, they stormed the stage and began the process of violently detaining several marijuana activists, including N.a. Poe, radio host Adam Kokesh, and New Jersey Libertarian candidate for Senate, Don DeZarn. The travesty that followed can be best understood by watching cell phone video captured from the scene below:

    (Poe’s arrest starts around 1:50 mark, he is in the hat and yellow shirt being violently pinned to the ground by law enforcement.)

    When the dust settled, several were detained and released. N.a. Poe and Adam Kokesh were taken into federal custody. For six days they were held in solitary confinement at a nearby federal detention center, with Poe being denied even a single phone call. The confinement was supposed to provide him with one hour out of solitary for every 23 hours he was in, but this often did not occur, with Poe spending over 36 hours straight in his cell at points. During these six days, he was also denied recreation, access to lawyers, and medical treatment.

    Photo Credit: Vanessa Maria, The Panic Hour

    When they were brought up for a hearing on their charges, Poe was charged with felony assault on a federal officer and resisting arrest though Kokesh ultimately had his charges dropped to citations. Unfortunately, Poe still must appear in court under these trumped up allegations, which it seems rather clear to any who watched the countless videos, filmed at multiple angles, never happened.

    Despite law enforcement’s best efforts to silence him, Poe remains undaunted in his fight against our nation’s absurd marijuana policy. “The suppression of freedom of speech and targeting of activists expressing their views at the birthplace of liberty is a travesty that casts a bright light on the failure of marijuana prohibition at a federal level,” he stated.

    N.a Poe and The Panic Hour have long been supporters and friends of NORML and the marijuana legalization movement and the seemingly purposeful targeting of him and several other marijuana activists is an appalling example of the lengths law enforcement will go to, not just to criminalize marijuana smokers, but to silence our ability to utilize our First Amendment rights speak out against this prohibition. NORML will keep you updated as his case moves forward, you can click here to learn more how you can help by supporting N.a. Poe’s legal defense fund.

    Not ones to be intimidated, The Panic Hour and PhillyNORML will be hosting Smoke Down Prohibition VI on June 30th, featuring a pro-legalization march with the Cannabus and live comments from N.a. Poe (who will have to be video streamed in as the conditions of his release require him to stay off of federal park property). Stay tuned to The Panic Hour and PhillyNORML‘s facebook pages for more info very soon.

    46 responses to “Reefer Madness: Law Enforcement Targets Marijuana Activists in Philadelphia”

    1. “…Demonstrating against our country’s failed policy of marijuana prohibition.” PLEASE Erik, learn the difference between actual journalism and biased, one-sided stories.

      The only example we have of how marijuana legalization would work in our society is the rate of alcohol use amongst people of legal age to drink it (21). Keep in mind, alcohol is still illegal for people under the age of 21, so alcohol use amongst 13-20 year olds vs. people aged 21 and older is a great indicator of how well marijuana legalization would actually work.

      Here is one of the only facts we need to know on this subject, not from any one, potentially biased source, but from every single statistic ever taken on this subject:

      1) Marijuana use (illegal) is far LESS than alcohol use (legal) for people aged 21 and older.

      And because alcohol is LEGAL for people over the age of 21, people under the age of 21 are MORE likely to try than the ILLEGAL substance of marijuana.

      Say whatever you will about whether or not smoking marijuana is a good thing, the stats are on the side of prohibition.

      [Editor’s note: 1) NORML is not the media and staff are not journalists, 2) NORML is an advocacy organization with a clear bias in favor of reform and ending prohibition and 3) your supposition maybe correct, but, not likely since society does not actually know how much cannabis is used. Why? Because, unlike legal alcohol, which is taxed and regulated, cannabis is neither.

      Where do cannabis use numbers come from? They’re derived from two highly dubious and inaccurate measurements from anti-cannabis federal government bureaucracies (whose bias is worse than NORML’s pro-reform bias):

      -Asking children in school about their drug use
      -Asking adults in their homes about their drug use

      Rather then quibble around the edge of the public policy here with supposed use rates, instead, the obvious focus should be cast directly upon the federal government’s own stated goals to measure ‘success’ in it’s seventy-five-year-old cannabis prohibition. How has that worked? Not too well considering that all of the seven stated goals of the feds are NEVER met is probably one of the reasons the Office of Management of Budget gave the Drug Enforcement Agency and ‘F’ for it’s ability to achieve any of its stated goals.

      Prohibition of cannabis is a clear failure in America.

      Thankfully today an ever-growing majority of voters, elected policymakers, media outlets, health professionals, law enforcement, businesses and other major institutions are keen on ending the failed public policy of prohibition and replacing it with more constitutional-friendly and free market-oriented public policies that look more like alcohol and tobacco taxation and controls.]

    2. Miles says:

      Those Philly police are a bunch of God Damn cowardly pigs! Last time I checked that is America! What the hell is wrong with the Governor, the Senators, and the Congressmen who represent Philadelphia? Frigging A-Holes!

      President Obama should take notice of the kind of country he is leading and realize how badly he is failing!

    3. Jamie Folk says:

      Pot prohibition and arrests are tied to large federal grants. That is why law enforcement will not give this up. They get paid millions to arrest people by the feds. Forget medical, it needs to be fully legal. It is time we stop playing nice. We need to take the war away from them, they are addicted to the federal money they receive for these arrests and, like any addict are responding violently to anyone who gets in the way of them getting their fix of cash from the feds

    4. Douglas says:

      What need they excpect to happen. Dont smoke in puplic. Uknow there was some thing going to happen this year. Acoucen of mine just happen to be there. They left early caus they could feel it in the air. As for the cops that took part in this raid. Iam sure they all went home and jack off thinking about what they did. Next time dont smok in puplic

    5. Chris in WI says:

      If you guys honestly believe Obama thinks people should be locked up for weed… I have a bridge to sell you. There’s something more going on here. For the life of me I can’t figure out WHY he’s taken this position, but I KNOW he cannot believe it’s the correct moral stand. Someone has some leverage over him is my best guess…

    6. D says:

      Douglas. Public is spelled that way

    7. Lee says:

      I find their conduct and judgment pretty shameful. I encourage people to do what I’m doing; contact Philadelphia’s mayor and the Chief of National Park Police.

    8. Todd says:

      What is the Liberty Bell for? Nothing?

    9. Andre says:

      Chris from WI, your statement if really powerful and I fully agree. Thanks for sharing.

    10. Ed says:


      Obama is not going to add ‘marijuana legalization’to the legacy of ‘first black president’

      That’s my opinion of course.