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Feds warn of 'serious penalties' on eve of ninth pot rally at Independence Hall

Marijuana activists this weekend will rally for the ninth time since last December at Independence Mall in what is referred to as Smoke Down Prohibition protests.

And another "moment of cannibas reflection" is planned for 4:20 p.m., which will involve some protesters lighting up joints despite arrests and stronger prosecutions in recent months by federal law enforcement.

The crackdown on smoking pot in public began at the May 18 event when two protest leaders were busted. One of the organizers, Richard Tamaccio, a comedian who goes by the stage name NA Poe, faces sentencing on Tuesday in federal court.

Tamaccio spent six days in the nearby federal detention center after he was charged with and eventually pleaded guilty to interference with an agency function, disorderly conduct and possession of a controlled substance. Video from the May event posted on Youtube shows federal park rangers tackle Tamaccio before arresting him.

Two more organizers, Chris Goldstein and Don DeZarn, were cited for possession of marijuana at the last Smoke Down Prohibition protest Aug. 31 — their second pot bust at the protests.

Federal prosecutors are not allowing Goldstein and DeZarn to pay a fine, like they did for their first citation. Instead, both are required to appear before a federal judge. A date for a preliminary hearing has not yet been set.

The sentencing memorandum filed last week for Tamaccio's case by a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's office is worded strongly enough that it appears law enforcement is sending a message to repeat offenders at the ongoing Smoke Down protests. The message: Blatant and sustained disobedience of drug laws at Independence Mall will not be tolerated.

"... The government recommends special conditions of probation. These conditions ... will act to impede the defendant's stated desire to commit more crimes and to encourage others to commit more crimes, particularly on federal property," assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Goldberg wrote in the memorandum.

Goldberg yesterday declined to comment ahead of next week's hearing, but a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney said the federal government is not taking smoking pot on federal property lightly.

"People should know there are serious penalties for breaking the law on federal property," spokeswoman Patty Hartman said.

Goldberg recommended stringent probation terms in the filing, including: banning Tamaccio from entering Independence National Historic Park in connection with any meeting, gathering or demonstration unless approved by a probation officer; banning Tamaccio from associating with any others arrested for pot possession at marijuana events in the park or organizers of such events; and no further arrests during his probationary period.

"The determined and decidedly non-violent Smoke Down Prohibition participants have endured many encroachments of their liberties but hundreds of supporters have bravely kept up the monthly action," one of the organizing groups PhillyNORML said in a statement announcing this weekend's rally. Speeches will begin at 3:30 and organizers said some protesters will again light joints at 4:20 p.m.