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August 16, 2016

Philly activist: It's high time for a cannabis community center

A bricks-and-mortar location says 'we are here to stay,' says Nikki Allen Poe

Activism Marijuana Legalization
Nikki Allen Poe Screenshot from Youtube/for PhillyVoice

Nikki Allen Poe serves up alcohol as host of a recent cannabis versus alcohol challenge.

Many neighborhoods, cultural organizations and lifestyle groups in Philadelphia have active community centers to benefit their members.

It's high time for the community of pot smokers to have a place in the city where they can be themselves, says one marijuana activist .

Nikki Allen Poe says the decriminalization of cannabis nearly two years ago has helped recreational marijuana users step out of the shadows. A bricks-and-mortar location to host meetings and informational sessions is the next step, and he's working on making that a reality. 

"We want to show that we care and that we are normal people," said Poe, speaking for the cannabis community. "Removing the fear of arrest has allowed people to come out and express themselves. In our movement, people can come out and be themselves." 

As a comedian and legalization activist, Poe is a lot of things. But contrary to what some might say about those who regularly indulge in marijuana use, he's not lazy. 

The activist has kept busy with a pair of pro-marijuana legalization parades over the week for the Democratic National Convention, and he just dropped out of the race to replace Kathleen Kane as Pennsylvania attorney general. 

Poe, who was running as a Libertarian, said he never truly intended to win. Instead, knowing he lacks the college education and law degree required for the position, he said he hoped to "shake up" the race. 

The cannabis community center is his new venture. 

"We are looking toward more community building," said Poe. "And we want to be like any other community group... A community center says 'we are here to stay'." 

Poe envisions a facility that can provide local pot smokers with a way to "come out of the cannabis closet" and meet others who are fighting for the legalization of the drug. It would serve as a meeting place toward those efforts, and host classes on medical marijuana. 

Lately, with the legalization of certain forms of marijuana for medical treatment in Pennsylvania, seminars have been popping up at local convention centers and hotels to offer investors and entrepreneurs help in getting in on the ground floor of the business. 

But Poe argued those meet-ups tend to carry a high ticket price that serves to exclude many from attending and learning about the growing marijuana industry. 

"We can provide information and allow groups to meet. And we can teach about growing, but it's just that this isn't going to cost you $750 a plate to attend," he said. 

Such a place could really help cannabis advocates make an impact, he said.

"What we're doing locally is helping to make this place better for marijuana smokers," he said. "But it takes a village... We want to help people everywhere." 


Moreover, a physical address would give the group more sway in its decriminalization fight in the state capitol. 

"We need more pull in Harrisburg and a community center could really put us on the map," he said. 

Poe visited a few potential sites last week but isn't ready to make a decision yet about a location. 

No matter where it ends up, neighbors won't need to worry about any unmistakeable odors wafting from the center. Pot and the smoking of it will not be allowed on the premises.

"Believe me, there won't even be a joint in there. This isn't going to be like the New Jersey Weedman," said Poe, referring to Ed Forchion, who was arrested after his "cannabis church" in Trenton was raided earlier this year. 

Poe said a fundraising push this fall would help to purchase the space and pay for its operation. 

Right now, Poe is more focused on the current project at hand, providing supplies to Philadelphia schoolchildren. 

On Tuesday from 8 to 11 p.m., the Tuffy's Fight Cannabis for Epilepsy Foundation will host a Back to School drive at Connie's Ric Rac, 1132 S. 9th Street, South Philadelphia. 

The organization will collect new backpacks and school supplies to be donated to children in the Philadelphia School District. 

The organization is named for Tatyana “Tuffy” Rivera, a nine-year-old New Jersey girl who suffers from a severe form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. 

Poe said working to support this foundation has helped him focus on community organizing for the benefit of others. 

"Politicians are running this sh*t into the ground and giving money away to their cronies," said Poe. "But all the potheads out here will be collecting school supplies."