Federal police target Philadelphia cannabis activistsThe large smokeasy event cost $50 to get into. People could smoke cannabis and buy cannabis infused products for medical benefits. Many people attending were seeking information and access to medical cannabis. Police arrested 22 people and released a further 175 people without charge. Cannabis possession has not been a criminal offence in Philadelphia since 2014. Decriminalisation reduced the penalties for people caught with small amounts of cannabis. Currently possession of up to 30 grams is a civil offence with a $25 fine. But, it is still illegal to smoke cannabis in public or buy cannabis products. Pennsylvania has failed to join eight other American states in legalising recreational cannabis. But doctors can prescribe cannabis to patients who are ill.
Declaration of war on cannabisSince the 2016 federal election, there is a renewed push to target cannabis users. Although cannabis may be legal or decriminalised on a state level, it is still a federal criminal offence. The smokeasy was a peaceful event more like a market than a party. A SWAT team came through the doors after spending months planning the raid. Even though a small amount of cannabis is not a criminal offence, police came down hard on people. Only a few days later, the Pennsylvania Department of Health released a list of conservatives applying for a licence to sell legal medical cannabis. Among them are investment brokers, millionaires, lawyers, bankers, licenced cannabis growers from out of state, police members and politicians. Yet the raid on April 22 of the smoke session run by cannabis crusader NA Poe aka Richard Tamaccio, was reminiscent of a modern-day raid of the old alcohol prohibition days. Some of those present say the raid was the most invasive they had ever encountered. Full body searches with hands probing private parts and zips on pants left open. But according to reports, the second cops searching genital areas felt like blatant intimidation. Two days after the raid Poe had bail set at $250,000 in the criminal case against him. Both he and his girlfriend Rachael Friedman have seven charges against them:
- possession with intent to deliver
- possession of an instrument of crime
- causing or risking catastrophe
- possession of a controlled substance
- recklessly endangering another person
- use or possession of drug paraphernalia.
Two years of decriminalisation celebratedThe raid has come as a complete surprise. Poe’s public involvement as a cannabis activist was no secret. He worked with local police to run peaceful events and built up goodwill. Events such as activists demonstrating with two 51 foot joints when the Democratic National Convention came to town in 2016. Philadelphia police tweeted a picture of them marching up the street. Poe helped to throw a Marijuana Welcome Party for the delegates with some openly smoking dope in a safe environment with no police raids. In October 2016, Philadelphia celebrated two years of cannabis decriminalisation with a pop up weed garden on Eakins Oval. Poe’s promotional video was popular and hundreds turned up to smoke dope. There were no arrests. There was a general feeling everyone was working together for the same end goal. For the legalisation of cannabis. But all this goodwill did not make some happy. The US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions made it clear dope smokers were not going to get it easy. So, undercover police infiltrated the local scene and hit hard. It is not hard to infiltrate. Be nice to people and talk about cannabis. Everyone is welcome.
While most people were not arrested in the raid, they had goods confiscated before leaving. While no one denies there were laws broken that night, these are laws changing all over the country.
Activist’s bail reducedBoth Poe (Richard Tamaccio jnr) and his girlfriend Rachael Friedman had their bail reduced from $250,000 to $10,000 each after their arrest on April 22. One of the charge Poe faces is recklessly endangering others for 20 violations of the fire, building and business codes. In arguments against the bail reduction, Assistant District Attorney Ryan Slaven said Poe put people in danger if a fire had broken out. He also requested random drug screening while Poe is out on bail, but Poe’s attorney Chuck Peruto said everyone knows Poe smokes dope. The judge did not enforce drug screening as part of his release, but Poe is not allowed to organise or go to any cannabis parties. He cannot leave the tristate area without first getting permission. Federal police target Philadelphia cannabis activists to make the rich get richer and the people whom dedicated their lives to cannabis will be imprisoned so they will miss out on any profits.
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