Philadelphia recently signed through a major decriminalization bill, reducing the charge for possession of up to 30 grams to a $25 ticket. Before Mayor Michael Nutter signed the bill, it was amended to include a $100 fine for smoking in public. At the bill’s signing on October 1 at City Hall, local cannabis activist Mike Whiter was already plotting to be the first person to get that $100 fine. On Monday, he met with Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan to discuss the terms of this ceremonial micro-bust. The deal was reported in today’s Philly Metro print edition.
“It was peaceful. It was a really good discussion,” Whiter told me over the phone. “I told him what my intent was – that it’s not to rub it in their faces. My intent is really to say, ‘Thanks for signing the decrim bill and finally doing something right by marijuana consumers in the city.'”
Whiter is a veteran and the founder of Pennsylvania Veterans for Medical Marijuana who uses cannabis for PTSD. He’s also on the advisory board of Philly NORML. He was a frequent participant in Smoke Down Prohibition, the series of mass smoking protests on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall throughout 2014. When local and federal authorities began cracking down violently on these demonstrations, Whiter approached the Philadelphia Police Department in hopes of reducing the physical harm to protesters.
According to Whiter, “we’ve been talking to them since then and we’ve been sitting with them before every Smoke Down just to let them know what our intent was. It worked. It stopped all the gang tackling of people who were smoking pot at Independence Mall.”
Following that positive collaboration, Whiter used the same soft approach to request that he be the first person to be ticketed for smoking a joint in public. He’ll do so at the dead center of town, Philly’s City Hall, on October 20 the moment the law goes into effect.
By all measure, this will be a peaceful protest with the cooperation of police, but can a marijuana activist truly trust a cop? When asked about the possibility that PPD might decide at the last minute to make an example out of him, Whiter shrugs off any concern. “That’s always a risk that we take, but what are they gonna do, bum rush me for a joint and give me a $25 ticket before I even light it up?”
We’ll find out on October 20.