Philadelphia Marijuana Activism in High Gear

Philadelphia; Liberty Bell 4:20PM on 4/20/13

5/9/13 by Chris Goldstein Advocates working to legalize marijuana are keeping a busy schedule in the Philly area with a series of public events.

On May 7th the NORML Women’s Alliance held a vigil at the historic Betsy Ross House in a memorial tribute to Rachel Hoffman and victims of Prohibition.

After an arrest in Florida for marijuana Hoffman was recruited as a police informant, a role that led to her murder.

NORML Women's Alliance – Rachel Hoffman Memorial (via Ken Wolski)

The group of about two dozen activists, almost all women, solemnly read the names of those who have suffered tragically under prohibition policy including prisoners currently behind bars in America’s war on marijuana consumers.

Vanessa Waltz helped to organize the event; “The mood was very reflective and somber;  these were people who were killed in botched police raids or because they felt they had to be police informants,” Waltz added; “I hope everyone realizes that there are people in prison, for life, because of non-violent marijuana offenses.”

On Saturday May 11th PhillyNORML will hold the annual Global Cannabis March on South Street. The long-running event (over a decade) attracts hundreds of participants for a 4:20PM walk from Broad Street to the Front Street pedestrian bridge.

“Cannabis prohibition costs the Commonwealth more than three-hundred million tax-payer dollars every year for about twenty-four thousand arrests,” said Philly NORML Executive Director Kevin Clough.

“This march shows how sick and tired people are of closing schools, building prisons and wasting money on marijuana prohibition.”


Then the following week, on Saturday May 18th, PhillyNORML and comedy/activism crew The Panic Hour will be back on Independence Mall for their monthly “Smoke Down Prohibition” protest. During the last outing, hundreds lit joints in open civil disobedience to call for cannabis legalization on a sunny 4/20/13.


Pennsylvania has two pieces of marijuana reform legislation currently active in Harrisburg. The Governor Shafer Compassionate Use Act HB1181/SB770 would allow for seriously ill patients to access a state medical marijuana system. The bill is different than New Jersey’s ineffective law because it also allows for patients and caregivers to cultivate at home.

Informational hearings were held for the medical access bill in the PA House during the 2010 and 2011 sessions but the Public Health Committee never held a vote. It is currently assigned to the same committee chaired by Republican Rep. Matthew Baker, who is an opponent of the measure.

Several polls by Franklin&Marshall put public support for a local cannabis program above 80% (impressive for any issue ) making it one of the most popular policy issues in PA politics.


A separate bill has been introduced to create a taxed and regulated system to sell recreational marijuana to adults. SB 528 is currently assigned to the Senate Law and Justice Committee chaired by Senator Charles McIlhinney, a Republican who has not offered a position on the bill. The same committee is currently (and not without irony) embroiled in the issue of privatizing PA’s state-run liquor stores.

The primary sponsors of both cannabis bills are Mark Cohen in the House and Daylin Leach in the Senate.

Yet the legislation is Harrisburg seems stalled. The respective committees (namely their chairperson) will need to offer the bills for hearings to move them forward. The Republican majority caucus of the PA General Assembly seems unwilling to take a break from their heavy investment into alcohol and consider the benefits of something far safer.

Still, the overwhelming super-majority of Pennsylvanians (in both parties) support some level of change … so the spring of 2013 seems to be the right time for this surge of public participation to have some measurable impact on politicians.

FB Event – Philly March 5/11:

FB Event – Smoke Down Prohibition protest 5/18

Leave a Comment