Professor organizes ‘Toke Back the Wall’ marijuana protest in Center City

The event was created in reaction to the “wall-sitting ban” proposed in Rittenhouse Square.

Holly Patterson, a senior psychology and neuroscience major, poses with the “Toke Back the Wall” event poster in Rittenhouse Square on Friday. GENEVA HEFFERNAN | ASST. PHOTO EDITOR

While sitting on the walls of Rittenhouse Square, seven marijuana activists smoked in front of officials from Philadelphia’s Major Crimes Unit on Friday. When prompted by police, each person stepped down from the wall, handed the police officers their marijuana, and was escorted for a citation.

One by one they peacefully walked away, all with smiles on their faces.

On Friday, members of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws met with other activists in Rittenhouse Square to peacefully demonstrate how to handle police interaction when caught with possession of marijuana.

Chris Goldstein, who instructs the class, Marijuana in the Media, was one of the organizers and leaders of the event, called “Toke Back the Wall.” The name is a play on the recent “wall-sitting ban” put into effect last week and lifted days later by Mayor Jim Kenney. Goldstein estimated 20-30 people smoked marijuana at the event.

He and the two other organizers, Nikki Allen Poe and Mike Whiter, agree on three rules to follow when being cited by the police.

“Don’t freak out, have your I.D. out and ready and go through the process peacefully,” they said throughout the event.

Capt. Frank Palumbo, who works for a cross-district police unit in Center City, was among about a dozen officers present.

“I want there to be peace, and we are in favor of freedom of expression,” Palumbo said. “Currently, smoking marijuana is also a code violation notice. My job as police supervisor is to make sure the city ordinance is upheld.”

Students, dog walkers, families and children made up a crowd of 75 people, who stood in the rain to watch the demonstration.

Rhiannon Hickey, a junior kinesiology major, was there to support the cause with her friends. She hopes for expansion of medical marijuana or total legalization to help her with her own medical needs.

She said she suffers from anxiety, and smoking helps her calm down.

“It can depend on the strain though, sometimes it can make my anxiety worse,” Hickey said. “That is why I feel it should be legalized. I’ll be sure of what I am buying.”

Holly Patterson, a senior psychology and neuroscience major, also attended the demonstration. During her time at Temple, she has studied the effects of marijuana on the human brain and said she was there to support the activists’ cause.

“I’ve seen medical marijuana work, I’ve seen FMRI usage of marijuana in patients,” she said. “You can’t deny the medical applications.”

Organizer Whiter live-streamed the entire demonstration via Facebook, while activists like Jim Wayne participated in the event and peacefully complied to police requests. Wayne, a medical marijuana patient from New Jersey, said he has been smoking marijuana in Rittenhouse Square since the 1970s, and he was the first to be escorted away from the park on Friday.

“It’s something that’s very important to me,” Wayne said. “With marijuana, I got off of years of percocets, Valium and every other drug they wanted to shove down my throat.”

Goldstein said 10 citations were written for violating city ordinance during the protest, but many others participated without being cited.

“Essentially we decriminalized pot, and we want it to be safe everywhere,” Poe said. “The way tension is in everything in the United States right now … if people believe in something, you better get off your ass and stand up for it.”

Henry Savage can be reached at

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