By Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director
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:
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.
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.