On Friday, July 10, 2015 – the 710 “OIL” holiday for stoners – nearly 400 cannabis lovers took to the streets in Philadelphia for “Smoke Down Prohibition 2.0: Free the Weed.” This marked the largest cannabis demonstration and the largest act of smoking in civil disobedience in the city since the signing of the Decriminalization Law on October 20, 2014, which made simple possession a $25 fine and smoking in public $100. (Only small individual acts of civil disobedience took place from October-July, the most famous being military veteran Mike Whiter receiving the city’s first citation on the same day the bill went into effect.) The bill was sparked by the dozen monthly “Smoke Down Prohibition” rallies from December 2012–2013, organized by N.A. Poe of the “Panic Hour,” Chris Goldstein of “Philly NORML,” Mike Whiter, Vanessa Maria and Rachel Friedmann. “Smoke Down Prohibition 2.0” revived the Philly Movement, and focused new efforts on passing the state’s medical bill, SB3, which is currently facing roadblocks in the House.
The return of the “Smoke Down Prohibition” rallies was a combined effort by leading Philly and NJ activists. From NJ, both Vanessa Maria and I of the East Coast Cannabis Coalition (ECCC) worked with Poe, Whiter and Friedmann from Philly, while cannabis businessman Adam Killgore helped plan the after party at One Art Community Center. Poe first introduced the rally idea to Vanessa and I at the ECCC’s “Poor People’s Parade for Pot” in Camden, NJ, on May 2. Originally the date was aimed for June, but due to complications the rally landed on July 10, in order to pay tribute to the newest cannabis holiday – 710. 710 (OIL spelled upside down) is gradually gaining popularity among stoners like that of 420, especially along the West Coast, where smokers have experimented with DABS and other OIL and Hash products longer than here in the East Coast. For this reason concerts and festivals were held sporadically around the country on what has been called “The Day of Dabs,” but it was Philly that conducted the largest protest and act of civil disobedience in the entire nation that day.
The rally on the beautiful sunny day began with speeches at 4:00 in Love Park. Hundreds of people of all ages crowded around the stage until the communal Smoke Down commenced at 4:20, when nearly everyone lit up in the park to create a cloud of smoke that “could be seen from Harrisburg.” The park erupted into celebration when no arrests or tickets were issued, and the smoke-clouds hung in the air for the next ten minutes. The diversity of the crowd was worth celebrating itself. For the first time the Marijuana Movement received a huge boost from the LGBT Movement, due to Poe’s recruitment of Carl Max, a.k.a. Weedney Houston, a major force in the LGBT Community. Moreover, it was spectacular to see potential PA medical patients speaking with current patients from NJ and DE, as well as the fact that parents with sick children had no problem talking with non-medical potheads.
When people began to line up for the march at 5:00, I was randomly handing people large banners that I purchased and Dave Archer designed only the night before. The two biggest banners were 15-feet wide and required at least six persons to hold each one, reading: “Cannabis Is Medicine” and “Legalize Cannabis Now.” I also ran back and forth distributing two dozen poster boards created by Vanessa, Rachel, Dave and I. By the time I passed all of them out the march was two blocks down JFK Blvd and I sprinted to catch up. The Cannabis-themed banners, placards and William Haney’s flags made a tremendous difference in appearance. We looked powerful, like a force the State had to reckon with, and our signs made our goals very clear to the thousands of bystanders who cheered us on: “Legalize Cannabis Now.”
The march ended nearly an hour later out front of Governor Wolf’s office, who is a vocal supporter of state decriminalization and a medical program. Nevertheless, activists marched on the office to send a clear message to Gov. Wolf: Ensure the passage of the current medical bill SB3 (as well as decriminalization and full legalization bills), or else risk facing hundreds and even thousands of citizens performing massive civil disobedience in the streets and outside every major government facility. Marijuana users are naturally peaceful, but we also have a deep passion for the plant and will no longer pretend that prohibition is justified in any way shape or form. Smoke It Down Now!