Philadelphia–“We’re not really protesting,” says a prominent Philadelphia marijuana activist. “We’re celebrating. We’re smoking joints in the rain.”
Thursday afternoon brought torrential rain to Philadelphia, but also Chris Goldstein, who sits on the board of directors of Philly NORML, and about 100 other pro-marijuana activists. They huddled under umbrellas puffing away, determined to persevere with their scheduled 2016 DNC Pride Parade.
For Philadelphia’s marijuana advocates, the Democratic National Convention has provided an opportunity to draw national attention to their issue. Their goal this week is to get marijuana removed from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of so-called “Schedule 1” substances, the most serious classification, which also include drugs like heroin, LSD and Ecstasy
On Monday, they held a dive-bar welcome party for delegates, and they’ve also marched a 51-foot joint throughout the city, enlisting roughly 24 people to carry it in temperatures well over 90 degrees.
If the Democratic Party’s new platform is any indication, they’re making slow progress. Earlier this week, Democrats decided to support downgrading marijuana’s listing, laying out a “pathway to future legalization.”
Locally, marijuana activists have also enjoyed some recent successes. In April, the state passed a law legalizing medical marijuana for patients suffering from 17 conditions, including cancer and seizures. State-run dispensaries are expected to open around May 2017.
In 2014, Philadelphia’s mayor signed legislation decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. One indication of a shift in law-enforcement: On Monday, the Philadelphia Police Department posted a photo of marijuana activists from the official Twitter account.
Philadelphia’s marijuana advocates are patterning their strategy after the LGBT movement, says Richard Tamaccio, a local comedian who has long done cannabis activism and comedy under the name N.A. Poe.
“I want to normalize marijuana culture in the same way they do,” he tells Heat Street. “I hope that hash bars become our new day bars. We’re working on building relationships with government, communities, police. Show that we’re productive members of society, change the stigma and move forward.”
He pauses for a moment in the deafening rain. “And I might be stoned all the time,” Poe adds, “but I feel like I can make better decisions than 75 percent of the people in office right now.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.