Philly's leading marijuana legalization activist to appear in federal court

Philadelphia marijuana activist Chris Goldstein lights up at 5th and Market streets in April. (COURTNEY MARABELLA / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

At the same time that Philadelphia's infamous monthly "Smoke Down Prohibition" protests began at Independence Mall last December, President Obama declared to ABC News that he had "bigger fish to fry" than marijuana smokers.

But 10 months later, Philadelphia's pot legalization lobby has found that message still hasn't trickled down to the local feds. 

More than 30 citations — and a few arrests — for smoking on the federal park property at Fifth and Market street have marred Smoke Down protests since May.

"I guess we are the bigger fish to fry," Philadelphia's pre-eminent pot legalization advocate, Chris Goldstein, said in an interview this week.

More court hearings this week and the 10th Smoke Down protest planned for Saturday make for a contentious week ahead for the city's ongoing pro-pot campaign.

In the most high-profile case yet stemming from the pot protest busts, Goldstein will appear Thursday in front of a federal judge  for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to face a citation he received at the August protest. Because it was his second citation in three months, the U.S. Attorney's office requested  a court hearing instead of the usual $175 fine that comes with a federal citation for possession.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office said prior to last month's protest that federal prosecutors are indeed taking seriously those protesters who purposefully smoke marijuana on federal land.

"People should know there are serious penalties for breaking the law on federal property," said spokeswoman Patty Hartman.

Goldstein said prosecutors are the ones seeking conflict.

"I'm sure they’re tired of it, but they’ve made their own mess here. For the first five months we assembled and dispersed peacefully," he said. "The fact they’ve persisted with this intervention every month, it’s not going to stop the protests every month."

Goldstein and another protester cited for a second time in August, Don DeZarn, a libertarian candidate for state Legislature in central New Jersey, could face up to six months in prison and $1,000 in fines if found guilty.

Federal prosecutors have already won a restraining order against another leading pot advocate, Richard Tamaccio, a comedian who goes by the stage name NA Poe. Tamaccio, who is charged with resisting arrest during the May Smoke Down protest, is not allowed within 100 feet of the monthly events.

"I'm honored that the government feels that I am the mastermind behind these events," he said this week. "But let's be honest: it doesn't take George S. Patton to organize a marijuana rally."

Contact Brian X. McCrone at 215-854-2267 or Follow @brianxmccrone on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; Follow @phillynews on Twitter.