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