The trick marijuana activists used to avoid arrests this weekend
This weekend marked the 12th Smokedown Prohibition protest at Independence Mall, and the last of 2013. A gathering meant to bring attention to marijuana laws in Pennsylvania and the nation, the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and activist troupe Panic Hour-hosted events have been going on monthly, for an entire year.
Throughout 2013, the hour-plus gathering at the Mall became extremely organized, almost down to a science. Philly NORML co-chair Chris Goldstein hosts the event, acting as an emcee and introducing speakers who stand in front of their fellow activists for about five minutes. Speakers at the Philly rallies have included gubernatorial candidate John Hanger and libertarian activist Adam Kokesh.
The speakers often hit on a variety of issues surrounding marijuana prohibition reform. Things like medicinal use, recreational use, revenue creation through taxation of pot, and marijuana law impacts on poor communities and those of color.
Also over the last year, the rally has gone from seeing no arrests whatsoever, to an incident of oft-violent arrests in May, to civil disobedience and organized arrests and citations at rallies.
One of those arrested at a past event was Mike Whiter, a former United States Marine who became a pot activist after finding it to be the only medication that helped his post-traumatic stress disorder.
He spoke of his recent sentencing on Saturday, in which he was ordered to pay a $175 fine.
“I asked the judge if I could give him a letter that my therapist wrote that basically said before Mike started smoking pot, he was a fucking pill addict and he was all fucked up and he wanted to kill himself, and now Mike smokes pot and he goes down and he speaks to people and he talks to other veterans about smoking pot and how it’s really the only pharmaceutical treatment for PTSD,” he said. “SSRIs, depressants and anti-anxiety medications have an increased risk of [suicidal thoughts], so why are you going to give somebody who’s suicidal pills that make him even more suicidal? Fuck that.”
When I spoke with Whiter before his speech, he noted that he counted the fine as a win—especially because the Judge in the case, Jacob B. Hart, implied that marijuana should be legal, going to far to say, “If marijuana legalization were put up to a vote, a majority of Americans would likely vote for it.”
When the time came to participate in civil disobedience and smoke marijuana in front of at least 30 police and park rangers at 4:20pm, something funny happened. Minutes went by, smoke poured out of the dozens-strong crowd, and no one was being hauled off to a gated-off back area to receive a citation.
It wasn’t because police were suddenly cool with smoking pot in public, either. Some of the smoke reeked of marijuana, but activists in town for the gathering had lit up cigarettes and cigars, too.
An attendee who described herself as being from Delaware NORML told me that was pre-planned. Some showed up with pre-rolled marijuana-packed joints, but some rolled tobacco cigarettes. Others brought the stinkiest cigars they could find. It overpowered some of the marijuana smoke and made those huffing on an illegal plant harder to find. It was not the first time Smokedown activists have tricked the police.
About five park rangers wrestled their way through the crowd as activists continued to get up and speak on prohibition laws. The officers would grab peoples’ hands, and take their cigarettes away, smell the smoke at the tips of their noses, then give them back. Speakers went on as planned, and even shared a marijuana-themed cake. No one was arrested.
Follow @RandyLoBasso on Twitter