Pot activist's bail reduced; plans to use trial as 'cause célèbre'

Marijuana activist N.A. Poe, whose real name is Richard Tamaccio Jr., smokes a joint on Independence Mall in February 2015. Poe and 21 others were arrested April 22 when police busted a marijuana party he organized in Frankford.

In his arguments for a bail reduction for his client, attorney Chuck Peruto said Monday that there are two reasons why marijuana activist N.A. Poe will be sure to show up for his trial.

“Number one, his mother would kill him if he didn’t,” Peruto said. “And number two, he wants to go to trial because he’s using it as a cause célèbre.”

Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Tracy Brandeis-Roman reduced bail for Poe -- whose given name is Richard Tamaccio Jr. -- to $10,000. She granted a similar request for Poe’s girlfriend, Rachael Friedman. Their bail had been set at $250,000 each after they were arrested April 22.

On that evening, police raided a Frankford warehouse where Poe and Friedman had allegedly organized a large marijuana party and charged people $50 to attend.

Police said they arrested 22 people and confiscated 50 pounds of marijuana, 100 pounds of THC-infused edibles, $50,000 in cash, and four handguns.

The Departments of Licenses and Inspections was called to the scene and found that about 20 provisions of the fire, building, and business codes were violated, according to an L&I spokeswoman. One of the owners of the warehouse said the space for the party was sublet by one of his tenants against the terms of his lease. 

In court Monday, Peruto said he had known Poe’s mother, Joanne Tamaccio,  “since grade school.”

“She actually witnessed my first kiss,” he told the court.

Assistant District Attorney Ryan Slaven argued against a bail reduction and hinted that the biggest concern for prosecutors was the danger that the party patrons might have faced if a fire broke out. Along with drug and conspiracy charges, Poe has been charged with causing a catastrophe.

“He is the face and brains of the operation,” Slaven said. “It’s not a little basement pot party.”

Peruto said Poe is far from dangerous.

“This defendant likes to smoke his marijuana, but he’s a harmless guy,” Peruto said.

Slaven requested that the judge order random drug screenings for Poe while he awaits trial. Tamaccio let out an audible “Oh, no” from the gallery when the request was made. Peruto immediately objected.

“We all know he smokes pot,” he said.

Brandeis-Roman denied the request. In granting the defense motion for a bail reduction, she ordered that Poe not plan, run, or attend another marijuana party while he awaits trial.

“I’m reducing it, but I’m not saying it’s not serious. It’s serious,” Brandeis-Roman said. “But it’s going to take a long time to try, and I don’t think he should be in."

Brandeis-Roman said she was taking a chance on Poe and Peruto assured her that his client would follow the rules because “he’s pretty scared.”

“I know he’s making a statement and it’s a cause, but not on my watch,” the judge said.

Tamaccio declined to comment after court, as did Friedman’s parents.

Richard Tamaccio Sr., Poe's father, who was also arrested in the raid, did not attend the hearing. Tamaccio Sr., who faces lesser charges than his son, was released on much lower bail shortly after his arrest. He has declined to comment on the case.