Video: Numerous pot protesters arrested at ‘Smokedown Prohibition’ 9

sigguyPennsylvania gubernatorial candidate John Hanger stands on a stubby concrete wall in Independence Mall, a crowd of about 150 people surrounding him, and over and over again, he yells, “Shame!”

That’s for his discontent with Pennsylvania’s pot laws.

“As a taxpayer,” he says, “I’m tired of paying $350 million in Pennsylvania to enforce these unjust laws while we’re closing libraries and schools right here in the city of Philadelphia. Shame!”

PA Gubernatorial candidate John Hanger

PA Gubernatorial candidate John Hanger

It’s hot for a Saturday in late September. There are loud buses going by on Market Street and an anomalous car or two honking in favor of pro-marijuana law reform posters that’re held up by a clot of sidewalk-dwelling protesters egging them on.

Weed enthusiasts from all over the Delaware Valley and beyond came to the Philly NORML and Panic Hour-organized ‘Smokedown Prohibition’ event in Philadelphia on Saturday. The ninth event in as many months, protesters were in town to celebrate their vice (or, in some cases, medicine) of choice with some like-minded people, all with the same Peter Toshian goal: Legalize it.

“Quite a bit of it you can see right around this encampment, can’t you?” continues Hanger, speaking of the parade of National Park Officers surrounding the event. “Wasting all kinds of taxpayer money to enforce unjust laws … Shame on that!”

The gubernatorial candidate who recently said the pot issue will earn him the Democratic nomination for the 2014 elections is one of eight speakers to grace the small stage without a microphone during the afternoon. (A permit was not granted for amplification). And the event is being emceed by local marijuana activist Chris Goldstein.

We’re standing near the southeast corner of the Mall, near 5th and Market. In front of the Liberty Bell, however, about 100 yards away, members of anti-abortion Christian fundamentalist group Repent America are stocked with a microphone and gigantic posters of mangled fetuses, preaching to tourists waiting in line to see the hollowed-out, cracked relic of American history. Pot and pro-life sentiments aren’t necessarily at odds with one another, but by the end of this protest, here, they will be.

Many of those getting on stage note the large police presence surrounding them at the mall (I count 30 police when I get there around 3:15; 42 by the time I leave), though they make sure to speak more of the potential relief millions suffering from ailments across the United States could receive if marijuana were legal.

One of those speaking is Staff Sgt. Mike Whiter, a former Marine who says he suffered from PTSD after his tours during the current War on Terror. There were, he says, “a lot of chronic issues that I had from issues I sustained while in the military”—and he subsequently was put on “40 different medications” when he got out.

Staff Sgt. Mike Whiter

Staff Sgt. Mike Whiter

But nothing worked for his symptoms. Once he was put on methadone for pain, he says, he mostly got rid of all the pharmaceuticals. “I decided enough with the medications. I’m just going to smoke pot from now on,” he says today.

Now, he claims, marijuana helps him with his symptoms. It could probably help out others, too, especially considering 22 military veterans commit suicide every day in the United States.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is … for other veterans to get involved with this and help us fight this terrible, terrible epidemic that is post traumatic stress disorder amongst military veterans,” he says.

Going on monthly since the beginning of the year, it wasn’t until the May Smokedown event that park rangers and Philadelphia police began cracking down when those attending smoked up in an act of civil disobedience at 4:20pm. At that May rally, activists N.A. Poe and Adam Kokesh were both arrested and held in a Philadelphia jail for their activities.

On Saturday, at this event, Poe is in the vicinity, though stands on the sidewalk. He is not allowed within 100 feet of the national park due to his prior arrest.

Phoenixville-based blogger and photographer Ed Roper found through a Freedom of Information Act request, the National Park Service paid $1,522.43 in overtime at the April Smokedown Prohibition event. That was the last event without a large police presence.

At the June Smokedown, his FOIA found, the National Park Service spent more than $21,000, and several arrests were made. Since then, at 4:20, several smokers have lit up, knowing full and well that they’d be carted off by the National Park Service or Philadelphia police and receive a ticket for possessing a controlled substance.

Saturday is no different.

Like there has been at other events, a countdown, led by Goldstein, begins with 10 seconds to 4:20pm. National Park Service begin moving into the crowd to see which members were smoking, and who to arrest.

Here is video I take from inside the crowd at this point.

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The arrests are somewhat uneventful. Not in their meaning, but in that everyone is civilized, no one fought back, and police don’t physically mistreat anyone. Those arrested are taken behind a metallic gate to be given their summons while protesters crowd around (sarcastically named the “Freedom Cage” by attendees) and attempt to speak with police officers as to why they were doing their job like this.

That’s when something ridiculous happens. Repent America, having been preaching to the tourists and exhibiting decapitated and seemingly grinded up fetuses to their children in the name of Jesus, turn their speaker toward the marijuana protesters—and preach at them!

Their message is not a positive one. Rather, it seems as though the speaker is asking the Smokedowners to stop smoking weed and submit to Christ. The main words I’m able to make out are “Jesus” and “sober.”

Then, the pot protesters chant back two things: 1) “Pot was made by God” and, 2) “I like weed and I’m a good person.” The latter was also led in a chant by Goldstein earlier. The dueling protests end after just a couple minutes, and those at the Smokedown rally turn their attention back toward the protesters being handled by police.

“It’s impossible to overdose on marijuana!” continues screaming Reed Wurts, a volunteer with NORML, at the National Park Service while the final members of the protest are let out of the Freedom Cage. “Literally impossible!”

David Kowalsky, CEO of Cannabis Network Radio agrees with the sentiment that marijuana activists need to get on Twitter and Facebook to get the message across (as was noted by several speakers), but tells Philadelphia Weekly the key is going to be getting more people to rallies like this one.

He says: “If we had 1000 people out here smoking simultaneously do you think they’d be making all these arrests?”

Randy live-tweeted from the event on Saturday. You can read that here: @RandyLoBasso

9 Responses to “ Video: Numerous pot protesters arrested at ‘Smokedown Prohibition’ 9 ”

  1. Richard Dyott says:

    Thank you Randy LoBasso, it so good to see unbiased and truthful reporting on the subject of marijuana legalization. So often protest such as this are totally ignored or misrepresented by the mainstream media.

  2. Reed Wurts says:

    Wow. Let me explain the context: I prefaced that statement with, “Marijuana is safer than alcohol, tobacco, and caffiene, and all prescription drugs…”, then continued, “It’s impossible to overdose on marijuana! Literally impossible!” Here’s the explanation: The LD50 level, which is the scientific medical testing level at which 50% of test subjects overdose (rodents in this case, I think). For marijuana this level is so high it would take smoking 1500 pounds within 15 minutes or so, hence my statement “literally impossible.”

    I’d like to add… Many people are not aware of the significant contributions to society made by marijuana users, including our last four Presidents of the United States that have admitted using marijauna in college. More relevant than that, for computer users worldwide, …. the founders of Microsoft and Apple Computing, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, also used it in college and prefered marijuana to alcohol, while they were developing their first computer products! It’s truly ironic that law enforcement uses their products to excercise and enforce ethnic discrimination against marijuan users.

    As for Linux and Unix computing founders, I’m not sure, but the two Unix guys wore long hair at Harvard in the late 1960’s. Anybody have an answer for this question?

  3. Jon Brouse says:

    It’s time to stop focusing on the distractions of non-supporters. Ignore the fallacies around this uber sustainable (potentially billion dollar) textile. The fight is not one of substance abuse but the simplicity at which it is grown.

    Never in human history has this plant be under such displaced scrutiny. It has been an essential part of human existence until it was racially demonized in the 30’s by Dupot to promote his plastics. BPA is bad. Cannabis plants are good.

    Anti-Cannabis = Racist

  4. Lori Ann says:

    These cops were wrong to arrest these people. They were not hurting anything or anyone. Marijuana should not be a crime in any state. We should have freedom to smoke marijuana. No one should be allowed to take our freedom from us . Marijuana has 0 deaths from it’s use. NO ONE CAN DIE FROM USING MARIJUANA , so please stop acting like it is a crime ,it is not .

  5. John Giles says:

    Who is the dolt with the “Tax and Regulate” sign? Why not tax and regulate tomatoes and cucumbers while we’re at it?

  6. Wee D. Ismedicine says:

    We need to elect John Hanger. As long as Corbett is in office, no reform will ever happen. No other Democratic candidate offers a real solution for cannabis reform.

    I’d like to respond to Richard Dyott as well, and his reference to cannabis use by successful and intelligent people who have made enormous contributions to our society:

    I have been using cannabis for well over 20 years. I am a software engineer. If you use the internet, I can almost guarantee you have used software I programmed. I am living, breathing proof that cannabis is beneficial. I am always amused when I hear people say marijuana makes you stupid. If that were the case, then explain how I compete with the world’s best computer programmers… every… day.

  7. Doihafta says:

    I’ve been trying to convince the Virginia Chapter of Norml to do something like this. I say you get like 500 people out in the capital to peacefully smoke a bunch of weed for a whole day once a month and we’d make pretty big strides. I mean civil rights weren’t won in the 60’s through negotiations. They were won by taking action against injustice.

  8. David Olifant says:

    I urge jury nullification for all marijuana prosecutions. In Colorado it had become virtually impossible to get a jury to convict a marijuana offender. It only takes one juror to hang it. After spending time and money on useless prosecutions maybe the DA will get the message to move on to violent criminals and wisely spend his departments finite resources.

  9. Reed Wurts says:

    Correction: The two Unix guys were at University of California, Berkeley. Anybody know if they ever smoked?

    Here’s another one! …Lotus Development founder, Mitch Kapor … http://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/text/Oral_History/Kapor_Mitch/Kapor_Mitch.oral_history.2006.102657943.pdf

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