Last month, Philadelphia narcotics cops raided a marijuana speakeasy party that was serving, among others, veterans and medical marijuana patients in wheelchairs while collecting donations for a local homeless charity.
In the process, police arrested 22 people and charged them with felony distribution of marijuana. One Philly outlet, parroting police reports, sensationalized: “50 pounds of marijuana, 100 pounds of edible products, $50,000 in cash, and guns were seized.” Nevermind that no gun charges came from the arrests, or that the weapons reportedly belonged to the hired security guards.
Cannabis advocate Rachael Friedman, as well as her boyfriend, comedian and cannabis activist Richard Tamaccio, better known as NA Poe, were among those arrested. Pegged by the police and some in the media as ringleaders, Poe and Friedman face excessive charges, including possession with intent to deliver, conspiracy, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, possessing of an instrument of crime, and most serious of all, risking a catastrophe.
Chris Goldstein is a writer and Philly.com columnist, as well as an advocate and educator who teaches a course titled Marijuana In The Media at Temple University. Along with Poe, Goldstein was once credited by the mayor of Philadelphia with helping the city decriminalize cannabis. I had a chance to interview Goldstein, who was smoking a cigarette outside of the party when the raid took place, on a recent episode of my WEMF Radio show, The Young Jurks. We spoke about the Philly bust and what it means for the movement—everywhere—going forward, and I pulled out some key points to share with readers …
On the local Philly media’s relationship with NA Poe:
They’ve known Poe for a long time … he’s a darling to them in a lot of ways, he’s [been] featured on every TV station, every newspaper … so everybody knows who he is down here.
On activists in Philly hosting underground parties:
This is just the first round of getting the book thrown at them.
The most serious charges leveled in Philly are related to hosting a party that was “unsafe.” On where cannabis users are supposed to convene:
That’s the whole point. If [any large venues] would rent their places for 300 pot smokers, we would go rent it.
On underground parties being safer than getting ripped off on the street:
Absolutely, [members of] the cannabis community have events like this all the time … What I don’t like now is [how] our movement has become part regulated and part not, in states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where we still have prohibition in place. We have parties like this and I see a lot of poo-pooing of what happened to Poe: Ah, well, it was some sort of unlicensed raid …
It was raids like this that helped changed the law in other states and I don’t understand why we would say that now. I don’t like that the regulated marijuana industry would be happy about anybody being arrested over cannabis. It’s not okay to be in the regulated industry and [to] be like, Don’t arrest us, but it’s okay to go after the dirty stoners.
This is cognitive dissonance … It’s becoming a little dangerous, this movement was about [patients] … I had two cops put their hands down my pants, underneath my boxers for a marijuana raid …
At the same time they are raiding NA Poe and terrorizing a group of low-income Philadelphia patients, [Pennsylvania officials] are just accepting the applications from millionaires … for this regulated cannabis oil program, so it’s really hard to hold all these same things in your mind at the same time.
No matter what happens to Poe in court you have to wonder if he got in hot water because of pot or the politics. Was it because of the party? Or because he was an uppity stoner who wouldn’t shut up about the politics?
On what this may mean at the national level:
Poe is a political activist on a national scale. He and I and Adam Eidinger of [the DC cannabis advocacy group] DCMJ took marijuana to [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions’ office back in December and were not arrested … And Adam Eidinger this week was arrested … by US Capitol Police [for handing free joints out to people on the street in Washington].
On Sessions and predictions of a crackdown on marijuana:
I think when we say crackdown, it’s going to be a crackdown on the underground cannabis consumer.