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

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Philadelphia police busted a “smokeasy” marijuana party in a Frankford 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 22 people — 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. raid was 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, was identified as the event organizer.

Poe and Chris Goldstein, a Philly.com columnist who was previously 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. Since October 2014, those arrested for possessing an ounce of marijuana or less in Philadelphia or those who smoke it in public are given citations and fines instead of being arrested.

G0ldstein and Mike Whiter, a Marine Corps veteran and marijuana activist who uses pot to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder, both said they attended Saturday night’s event. While the venue was new, the meet-up — which is called 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,'” said Whiter. “This thing was planned and orchestrated, well prior to that day.”

Goldstein agreed.

“It was a serious operation. It was well-planned,” he said. “The narcotics officers were openly talking about months and months of planning.”

Whiter and Goldstein said they both believe that the raid was specifically to target Poe. They said his South Philadelphia house was also searched at the same time the party raid occurred. Police also raided a third location, though the connection of that location to the warehouse or Poe was not immediately 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 like edibles, buds, and oils.

“There was everything you would see in a dispensary,” Goldstein said. “Not everybody is selling or buying, a lot of people are giving it away or trading or sharing. 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 they did not immediately identify themselves as police officers.

“They said ‘We have badges, who the f— do you think we are?'” Goldstein recalled. “They handled me pretty rough.”

Goldstein 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 said.

“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 hundred people throughout the night, he said.

“It was same as it always is, nice and chill,” he said. “People are medicating and networking and getting to know each other.”

Whiter was chatting with someone at the party when he saw a bunch of 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 that night, four men and two women. He said he saw at least one of them at many 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 state what charges, if any, have been filed against Poe or the other 21 people taken into custody. A state website that lists criminal charges filed against individuals was down for maintenance on Sunday.

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.

“Last 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. “It’s an easy bust. That’s what it was for them, easy.”

Staff writer Rob Tornoe contributed to this report.

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