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October 10, 2017

If you can get marijuana anywhere, why did police bother raiding the 'Smoke Session' party?

Opinion Marijuana
N.A. Poe Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

Richard Tamaccio, seen here after a previous hearing on charges stemming from an April 2017 'Smoke Session' marijuana party in Frankford, was sentenced to probation on April 4, 2018.

First off, let’s dispense with some basic news and notes about Richard Tamaccio and Rachael Friedman, who faced a preliminary hearing Tuesday on charges stemming from the April “Philly Smoke Session” marijuana-party raid in East Frankford.

Over the course of 90 minutes, Municipal Court Judge Martin S. Coleman heard testimony from two police officers who responded to questions from Assistant District Attorney Ryan Slaven, and cross-examination by defense attorneys Chuck Peruto and Fortunato Perri Jr.

The officers alleged in testimony that Tamaccio and Friedman oversaw the promotion, and coordination, of the gathering where marijuana and THC in various forms was sold to hundreds of attendees.

This really wasn’t anything new, what with Tamaccio – aka N.A. Poe – being covered extensively in the local media, and promoting said events openly online.

What was new was the prosecution successfully adding a felony charge of risking catastrophe to each defendant’s laundry list from a similar “Smoke Session” party held in a different location three months earlier.

Also new? Hearing an undercover narcotics officer described how he used gift cards purchased from Walmart to buy tickets online for both of the events.

“They were general admission tickets. I don’t think the police department would pay for me to go above that (and purchase the VIP tickets),” he said from the stand.

That officer also described a surveillance operation in which he saw an “Asian man wearing a fur coat” enter Tamaccio’s South Philadelphia home in the days leading up to the April party. 

Much to my dismay, not much more was said about this clearly interesting character.

In making the case that the party sites were unsafe – thus, validating the felony charges (as nobody’s really arguing the weed charges) – he was asked to describe the scene inside the Smoke Session.

“Remember the Fog Bowl with the Eagles? That’s what it was like,” the officer said.

It was a decent analogy. For our younger readers, here’s a video of that 1988 playoff game in Chicago to help get a sense of how thick he said the weed smoke was:

By the time the hearing was done, I thought the judge might knock some of the charges down, particularly against Friedman, who was presented as someone who basically checked people at the door for tickets.

I suppose Slavin made a decent enough case for a jury to consider the catastrophe charges based on a limited number of exits from a facility where butane torches were being used to “dab.”

Maybe not to the point of Judge Coleman saying “we could have had a Ghost Ship situation (like) in San Francisco” – alluding to the warehouse fire in Oakland that killed 36 people. But hey, his courtroom, his discretion.

“I really don’t know what happened in there today,” said Tamaccio afterwards. “Maybe I was naïve to think those charges could be thrown out in such a high-profile case.”

Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t.

“Who can’t get weed (in Philly)? Who doesn't know where to get weed?" – Undercover narcotics officer, Philadelphia Police Department

Two moments from the hearing really stuck in my head as I walked back to the newsroom to write this report, though.

The first was how the undercover officer – identified by name on the public record before testifying – stopped as he was walking out to ask me to keep his name out of this story. 

It was the first time that had happened. You know what? I have no problem doing so, what with the nature of his job and all. (Take THAT, everybody who thinks the media is out to get the police at every turn.)

The second was something he’d said on the stand and, again, to me in the hallway outside the courtroom.

“Who can’t get weed (in Philly)?” he asked, meaning marijuana is so prevalent in our society that anybody who wants some can get some. "Who doesn't know where to get weed?"

The tone of the question sounded like a noise a shrug would make if such gestures had an audible impact.

Nobody disagreed with his statement.

Not the prosecutor. Not the defense attorneys. Not the defendants. Not the other cop. Not the judge. Not me.


You know why they didn't? Because anybody who wants to get weed in Philadelphia can get weed in Philadelphia. It's a by-product of marijuana being decriminalized here to the point of issuing tickets to people, instead of locking them up, for low-level possession and/or smoking offenses.

It's a nagging sentiment, that, considering the predicament that Tamaccio and Friedman (both of whom I know, and like) are facing.

If it's so easy to get weed in Philly, why the heck are resources being wasted to surveil and bring legal charges to court against a pair of people who facilitated an act that's essentially shrug-worthy in 2017?

Alas, the answers won't be known until the trial takes place, if they ever are at all.