Police bust 'smokeasy' pot party and raid home of activist host; 22 arrested

Marijuana activists gathered outside Philadelphia Police Headquarters on Sunday with "Honk for free weed" signs to protest the arrest of 22 people  taken into custody when cops raided a pot party in Frankford on Saturday night.

"As human rights and civil liberties go, this bust was kind of ridiculous," said Hugh McHugh, 62, an Overbrook resident who attended the protest, but not the marijuana party.

Philadelphia police busted the "smokeasy" marijuana party in a warehouse Saturday night and concurrently raided the South Philadelphia house of the marijuana activist who organized the meet-up, according to authorities and friends of the party host who attended the event.

In a statement, police said 19 men and three women were taken into custody following an investigation of "large-scale marijuana sales." About 175 people were released without charges, police said.

Confiscated in the 7:45 p.m. Saturday raid were about 50 pounds of marijuana, $50,000 in cash, four handguns, and about 100 pounds of THC-infused edibles, according to police. Partygoers said those edibles included THC-laced gummy bears.

The event, which took place in a warehouse on the 4500 block of Worth Street, was publicized on Instagram by Philly Smoke Session, which was charging $50 per person to attend. Comedian and pot activist N.A. Poe, whose real name is Rich Tamaccio,  37, was identified as the organizer.

Tamaccio and his girlfriend, Rachael Friedman, were each charged with seven separate offenses, including conspiracy, drug and threatening public safety charges. Bail was set Monday at $250,000 each. Tamaccio's 66-year-old father, also named Richard, was charged with four separate drug and conspiracy offenses and was released Monday after posting 10 percent of $25,000 bail.

Tamaccio/Poe and Chris Goldstein, a Philly.com columnist who previously served on the board of Philly NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), were the marijuana activists who successfully lobbied Mayor Kenney when he was a councilman to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

Goldstein and Mike Whiter, a Marine Corps veteran who uses pot to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder, both said they attended Saturday night's event. While the venue was new, Philly Smoke Session has been held in other locations across the city for two years without a problem, they said.

"They basically just did a speakeasy raid — a 'smokeasy' raid," Goldstein said. "Here we are, back in the heyday of Prohibition."

Both men estimated that at least 100 police officers, including many from narcotics and SWAT, participated in the raid.

"They told us, 'We're not here for the customers; we're here for the vendors and organizers,' " Whiter said. "This thing was planned and orchestrated well prior to that day."

Whiter and Goldstein said they believe the raid specifically targeted Poe. They said his South Philly house was searched at the same time the party raid occurred. Police also raided a third location, though the connection of that location to the party or Poe was not clear. Authorities said "additional contraband" was recovered at both properties, but they did not specify what was confiscated.

According to Goldstein and Whiter, many underground medical-marijuana patients attend these events, where vendors have marijuana in all its various forms, including edibles, buds, and oils.

"Not everybody is selling or buying; a lot of people are giving it away or trading or sharing," Goldstein said. "That's the nature of the medical-marijuana patient community."

Both men said they were unaware of anyone with a gun at the party.

Goldstein said he was outside the building, smoking a tobacco cigarette with two hired security guards for the party when six men wearing neck badges came up and put them all against the wall.

He said he was handcuffed behind his back and twice searched by two different officers, both of whom put their hands down the front of his pants.

"He [one of the officers] volunteered that he was doing this because marijuana is still illegal and that's why they were there," Goldstein said.

Meanwhile, Whiter was upstairs enjoying the party, which was attended by a couple of hundred people throughout the night, he said.

Whiter was chatting with someone when he saw people rush through the doors.

"Immediately, I knew what was happening," he said. "The SWAT team came busting in and told everybody to 'get their f---ing hands on the wall' until they realized there was not enough wall space, so they had us sit down and put our hands on our head."

Whiter said he believes six undercover officers attended the party, four men and two women. He said he had seen at least one of them at previous Smoke Sessions.

"I was a little suspicious of him. Stoners don't always have well-manicured beards. This guy was really clean-cut and his beard was perfectly manicured," Whiter said. "I was like 'Dude, you don't fit in.' He went out of his way to say hi to me three times."

Whiter said he and others at the party watched for about an hour as police conducted their investigations around them. They took photos and confiscated cannabis, money, and other items, he said. He also watched as his friends, including Poe, were taken into custody.

"He was mad; he was yelling," Whiter said of Poe as he was led out by authorities.

According to Whiter, police lined up everyone they did not arrest at the door and went with a bag, person by person, offering amnesty as long as people threw their marijuana and related items away. Individuals were then searched before they were allowed to leave.

According to Whiter and Goldstein, Poe and others remain in custody. Police did not say what charges, if any, have been filed against Poe or the others. A state website that lists criminal charges did not have any recent charges against Poe posted by Sunday evening.

A police supervisor at the protest said four people from the raid were still in custody at headquarters Sunday evening.

Whiter said "as stupid as it sounds," the raid hurt his feelings because of the amount of work he, Goldstein, and Poe have done for decriminalization of marijuana in Philadelphia.

"[Saturday] night was a good example of a big waste of police resources. Just the fact that they have gone to the depths they have when there are people dying every day from heroin overdoses in Kensington," Whiter said Sunday. "It's an easy bust. That's what it was for them -- easy."

About 13 people attended the protest outside of Police Headquarters at the corner of Eighth and Race Streets in Center City on Sunday, including Sarah Herbert, 33, of Melrose Park, who said she uses marijuana to treat her PTSD from a childhood trauma.

"I'm a patient; it's about the only thing that's worked for me, and I think this was an unfair attack," she said of the raid.

Five officers gathered out front of Police Headquarters and eight others guarded the rear entrance during the protest.

The sound of car horns responding to the activists' "Honk for free weed" signs was, at times, deafening. A few Greyhound bus drivers, a Megabus driver, and an officer in a police cruiser were among the many who beeped as they drove past the protest.

Staff writer Rob Tornoe contributed to this article.

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