Pot activists meet with cops to prep for DNC

Cannabis summit
From left to right: Philadelphia police Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan; comedian and marijuana activist N.A. Poe; co-chair of the board of directors of Philly NORML Chris Goldstein; and SEPTA Transit police Chief Thomas Nestel, informally met today to talk about how police will handle marijuana users and protesters at the DNC next week.

 

Not wanting their protests during the Democratic National Convention to go up in smoke, the men who pushed for the decriminalization of marijuana in Philadelphia informally met with two of the city's police supervisors Friday to discuss how pot smokers and activists will be handled by authorities during the DNC next week.

"We have a lot of cannabis consumers coming in from out of town — and some of them are delegates," said Chris Goldstein, cochairman of the board of directors for Philly NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

Goldstein, comedian N.A. Poe, and Marine Corps veteran Mike Whiter met with SEPTA Transit Police Chief Thomas Nestel and Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan across from City Hall. The activists have several marches scheduled next week to push for the federal legalization of marijuana, including one on Monday that begins at 11 a.m. at City Hall and ends at the Wells Fargo Center, site of the DNC. That march will feature a 51-foot inflatable joint, Goldstein said.

The activists and officers have been meeting to discuss issues surrounding marijuana protests since 2013, when Goldstein and Poe organized a number of "Smoke Down" protests in the city to speak out against federal marijuana prohibition.

One of Goldstein's main questions regarding policing during the DNC was what would happen to cannabis users if they were spotted smoking or possessing marijuana by law enforcement officers from outside of Philadelphia brought in to assist.

Since Oct. 20, 2014, when marijuana decriminalization took effect in the city, people caught with less than an ounce of marijuana have been issued a $25 citation, and those caught smoking it in public get a $100 citation. No custodial arrest. No court date. And, most importantly, no criminal record.

But Goldstein questioned whether authorities from other agencies, including state police, would ignore citations and instead make arrests.

Sullivan and Nestel said if someone is caught with marijuana by an officer from an outside agency during the DNC, including federal police, the U.S. Secret Service and ATF, that person would be handed over to a Philadelphia officer, who will then issue the appropriate citation.

The police supervisors and cannabis users meeting was brief, respectful and funny. Poe told the officers that by next Friday, he hopes to be able to say there were no marijuana arrests in Philadelphia during the DNC.

"We want that too," Nestel said.

Goldstein smiled.

"Well it's good you two aren't patrolling the Snoop Dogg concert then," he said, referring to the rapper's post-DNC concert at the Electric Factory on Thursday. That event, which is billed as a "unity party" for donors, is being funded by a several super PACs.

Sullivan and Nestel have been the face of police at Philadelphia protests for years.

Nestel, who has a popular and prolific presence on Twitter, often tweets while policing protests about protecting protesters' First Amendment rights and preserving democracy.

Sullivan, who heads the SWAT, Homeland Security, and Civil Affairs Units, is usually the department's representative when dealing with protesters, other police agencies, and the public at large events such as Pope Francis' visit last fall.

As Friday's meeting came to an end, both sides expressed appreciation for each other.

"You know, I'm genuinely grateful to all of you because your protests are peaceful, cordial, and professional," Sullivan told them.

Goldstein nodded.

"We appreciate our relationship with you," he said.

The men shook hands, posed for a quick photo and parted ways.

"I think it's going to be a good week," Sullivan said. "I really do."

farrs@phillynews.com

215-854-4225 @FarFarrAway

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