A wise man from Delaware County once cautioned that you don't tug on Superman's cape, or spit into the wind. If Jim Croce were still with us today, he might add that you don't film a video making fun of a possible undercover Philly cop and post it to social media.
Yet that's exactly what provocateur, pro-marijuana activist and self-styled comedian N.A. Poe (real name: Rich Tamaccio) did back in late January, when he posted a 42-second video clip on Twitter of himself lighting a joint at some sort of rally, taking a giant toke and proclaiming, "Donald Trump being president of the United States makes me want to smoke marijuana all day long!" (We hear ya, Rich.)
He turns to a sturdy, straight-up dude -- baseball cap, windbreaker -- standing next to him. "Having fun? What are you here for?"
"Checking (bleep) out." The man does not sound like he's having fun. Poe passes the joint right past him to a bystander.
"This cop don't mind – this is a cop and he's here undercover tonight and because he's undercover he can't do anything about it," Poe proclaims. "That's what so awesome."
Awesome probably isn't the right word. Exactly three months to the day after that was posted, Poe is spending his fourth night in a Philadelphia jail, scrambling to raise $25,000 in cash bail -- while somehow proving to authorities that the money didn't come from selling pot -- and facing a string of felony changes, including possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and "causing a catastrophe."
The "catastrophe" was a massive pot party at a Frankford warehouse that was raided by a small army of as many as 100 cops who, at least on this spring night, showed they could do something about it, after all. You have to think that, somewhere up there, the ghost of Frank Rizzo was watching and getting a kick out of the whole thing.
But for the earthbound, the raid raises all kinds of serious questions.
Why are we sending such ridiculously mixed signals, in a city that until this weekend was winning kudos for a more liberal approach to marijuana including the decriminalization of small, personal-use amounts of weed?
Is this somehow related to the sea change in Washington, with a new attorney general who blasted marijuana use in a speech to other prosecutors last month, declaring that "our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad, that it will destroy your life"?
And did Poe and other pro-pot activists trigger the massive Philadelphia police response, and the seriousness of the charges -- 22 people were arrested in all -- with their increasingly provocative and even taunting behavior? After January's video, is revenge a munchie that's best served cold?
Arguably, making fun of a potential undercover cop isn't even the most daring thing that Poe and his allies have done in the recent months, even as the dawn of the Trump era threatens to return America to a kind of pot Prohibition. In January, Poe was one of a dozen activists who brought a few grams of reefer into the office of that future attorney general -- Jeff Sessions, then still a U.S. senator from Alabama -- to press his staff for clarification on how the Trump administration would handle marijuana.
Was Saturday's raid an answer to their question? Chris Goldstein, who writes the Philly420 blog for Philly.com and was with Poe at the Sessions event in D.C., thinks it might be. He noted that the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Trump and wondered if "they see Jeff Sessions' statement as a call to arms," especially toward "the ones that are obvious," like Poe.
"There is absolutely a subset of the PPD that considers Trump & Sessions a green light to be who they are," Jeff Deeney, the Philadelphia writer and social worker who focuses on drug issues, and who also reposted Poe's January video, wrote on Twitter.
The Philadelphia police aren't talking about why this happened, and why now; since Saturday, it's been nothing but the facts, ma'am, on one of the city's most high-profile drug busts, especially involving marijuana, in recent years. But there's still a lot to explain. Who's behind the steering wheel when it comes to drug enforcement in this town? Mayor Kenney, who pushed decriminalization and who argues -- correctly, in my opinion -- the only logical solution is to follow Colorado and other states that have legalized recreational marijuana? The FOP and the pro-Trump crowd? Or some higher (no pun intended, really...) authority?
Kenney raised another really good point this week: That large illicit pot parties in urban warehouses are a danger; that issue, and memories of last year's Oakland warehouse party fire that killed 36 people, actually gave authorities a perfectly good reason to bust up the party and send everyone home safely.
Goldstein, who attended the so-called Philly Smoke Session on Saturday and was detained by police, doesn't disagree -- but he blames our confusing and contradictory laws for driving users, including some who use pot for medical reasons, into such shadowy situations. "How else can you book a venue?" he asked.
Untangling America's drug-law mess is going to take years, especially when you have the Jim Kenneys of the world pushing in one direction and the Jeff Sessions types pulling the other way. That's a shame, because I think a majority of Americans, let alone Philadelphians, agree on common sense solutions. Recreational pot should be legalized, regulated (please keep crazy stoned drivers off the roads, thank you) and taxed -- just like its cousin, alcohol. And when it comes to drugs and addiction, our resources be marshalled towards the opioid crisis, and then toward getting users into treatment and not the sticky web of the criminal justice system. I don't know all the answers but I do know this: We'll never get to where we need to go by treating a marijuana comedian as the Second Coming of El Chapo.