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Philly cops meet with pot smokers to plan a bust (but don't call it an arrest)

Julia Terruso, Staff Writer

Updated: Friday, January 20, 2017, 1:08 AM

Members of the Philadelphia Police Department's top brass met with marijuana activists Thursday to hash out how pot citations will be issued at a protest planned for Friday in Rittenhouse Square.

Members of the Philadelphia Police Department's top brass met with marijuana activists Thursday to hash out how pot citations will be issued at a protest planned for Friday.

Police and activists gather for a photo after meeting to discuss plans for Friday's protest in Rittenhouse Square. They are (from left) Lt. Jonathan Josey, Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan, Chris Goldstein, Mike Whiter, and Nikki Allen Poe. JULIA TERRUSO / Staff
Inspector John Heath talks with NORML chapter chief Chris Goldstein. The "toke back the wall" event in Rittenhouse Square was initially intended to protest the park's since-lifted no-sitting ban. JULIA TERRUSO / Staff
Chris Goldstein, right, shakes hands with police top brass after meeting at La Colombe to discuss his planned "smoke-in" protest on Friday in Rittenhouse Square. (Julia Terruso / Staff)
Photo Gallery: Philly cops meet with pot smokers to plan a bust (but don't call it an arrest)

"So we'll have everyone light up and then line up," said Nikki Allen Poe, talking with members of the Police Department at a corner table at La Colombe coffee shop at Dilworth Park, "and then you'll do the arr-."

"Don't use the A-word, it's not an arrest," Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan said. "It's a citation."

Poe and a community of local marijuana activists have planned a Rittenhouse Square "Toke back the wall" event, initially intended to protest a now-abandoned rule that prohibited sitting on the wall in the square.

The group is also intentionally holding the event to dovetail with President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration.

They expect up to 175 people to show up at the park at 4:20 p.m.

Officials said there would be a large police presence, along with an RV where the citation-writing would take place. They asked the activists to make sure people stayed within the park. They also emphasized that no one should run if approached by police.

If there's a "runner," it goes out over the radio and can become a more serious issue.

Chris Goldstein, president of the Philadelphia chapter for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said part of the reason for the orchestrated event was to demonstrate the "right way" to get in trouble for small amounts of pot in the city, which has traded in criminal charges for citations.

"We're going to line up some people to courteously get code violations, and we want that to be a demonstration for our own community - this is how to get it right," Goldstein said. "Don't freak out. Hand over your ID, hand over your joint. Get your ticket. Have a nice day."

Fines are $25 for possession and $100 for smoking in public.

Sullivan commended the group on its eagerness to work with police.

"I would say you guys take the lead," he said. "We really love the opportunity to meet in advance and discuss things and plan things out to make sure everything goes in a positive fashion. We're grateful."

Goldstein said one of the most troubling parts of the sitting ban in Rittenhouse was that it seemed to point to marijuana smoking as the lone cause of other issues - loitering, a shooting in October, the stability of the walls.

The mayor and the city have said the ban had nothing to do with pot. Mayor Kenney even tweeted that marijuana users should smoke "not so obviously."

Goldstein brought this up at the meeting. Could there be a section of the square designated as "less obvious"? What does obvious vs. not so obvious mean when it comes to police?

"That's the subject of discussion," Sullivan said. "Let's focus on tomorrow."

jterruso@phillynews.com

215-854-5506@juliaterruso

Julia Terruso, Staff Writer

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