N.A. Poe’s Splendor in the Grass
Last December, Nikki Allen Poe was sentenced to one year of federal probation—no drugs, strict drug-testing and no walking within 100 feet of the Liberty Bell. That was the site of his arrest on charges including possession of a controlled substance and disorderly conduct. Turns out you can’t light up a joint on federal property. Poe did so brazenly and repetitively during monthly Smoke Down Prohibition rallies on Independence Mall, which was an off-shoot of Occupy Philly. (You can read more about Poe in our latest cover story.)
During his year of probation, Poe convinced Councilman Jim Kenney to back a decriminalization bill (it passed); he ran for city council himself (he lost); and interviewed a host of naked bike riders. He also failed drug tests, went to rehab and called his probation officer a “lapdog.” As the comedian-turned-activist’s probation strikes midnight, we caught up with him about his next act, the prospects of marijuana reform statewide and whether he considered a Whizzinator.
Philly Mag: Tom Wolf just announced that John Hanger will be his secretary of policy and planning. You know, the cannabis-friendly candidate who bought “legalize marijuana” billboards in Scranton and Erie while running against Wolf in the primary. What’s your reaction?
N.A. Poe: We are hoping that the combination of Wolf, Hanger and Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack—who proposed statewide decriminalization last year—will usher everyone to the middle of the aisle on marijuana reform. First comes decriminalization statewide, followed by a restoration of the conditions on the medical marijuana bill, which were reduced from 45 down to 10 during the drafting of it. At this point, I can’t believe that we have to fight tooth and nail for reform. To be honest, all of this is bullshit. It’s time to legalize everywhere. The war on pot should be over; pot won.
PM: Did you feel like you got any different treatment—harsher or laxer—throughout your probation, since you were a public figure?
Poe: My probation officer told me personally that I was one of two people that he’s ever had on probation for misdemeanor charges. I don’t think the federal probation system deals with a lot of people who understand the First Amendment, who create media in a way that may be combative with the government. I was pulled back into court several times because we had made videos promoting new Smoke Down Prohibition events and they were trying to say that because I was doing that, I was calling for people to break the law, while I was on probation. So I had special conditions put into my probation that stated that I could no longer use the Youtube, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram of the Panic Hour, which is the group that started Smoke Down Prohibition with PhillyNORML.
PM: Take us through what life was like under federal probation?
Poe: Being someone who enjoys a freedom-oriented lifestyle, it was very hard to get used to having to report to them regularly. When I first started, I was on a weekly drug test. I was on a color coded system and I had to call a line every day and they gave a color and if that was your color you had to go in for a urine test. It took me a few months to get used to that and I did fail a couple tests in the first couple months. Then I was put into an outpatient rehab program for marijuana use which was, to me, comical, because anyone that works in the marijuana field knows that marijuana actually isn’t addictive.
PM: When you were running for city council, the Daily News reported that you had accidentally eaten a weed cookie and failed a drug test. What was the story behind that and did you ever consider using a cleanse or a Whizzinator?
Poe: Once I was running for city council and it said I failed a drug test in the Daily News, and my grand mom reads about it, that really put things into this weird perspective. At that point, I realized, I’m like look you just have to suck this up and get through it.
PM: So, no Whizzanator?
Poe: [laughs] Yeah, I mean there are a lot of things that crossed my mind when it comes to that stuff. But, the fact that it was only a year and once I saw Chris Goldstein get sentenced to two years and a $3,000 fine, I was like WOW. This is just something you have to get over. There are points in life when you have to use self-control.
PM: On the campaign trail, you often said hyperbolic things like, “the fact that I’m a victim of the drug war for my politic beliefs is something that I’m proud of.” How many of those quotes were serious and how many were part of your comedian persona?
Poe: The main reason that I ran for City Council was because I saw the marijuana decriminalization thing hit the wall after the first initial passing through City Council, so we wanted to keep volleying the idea into the press. When over 4,000 people voted for someone that is on several probations and has a record that is openly talking about marijuana, openly talking about the fusion center, openly talking about stop-and-frisk and how fucked up the PPA is. I think we lit a small fire under younger voters to reengage with the political process.
PM: A large piece of Wolf’s campaign was about statewide education and the deterioration of school funding, and yet, we’re running a $2 billion budget deficit in Pennsylvania. Out of all the solutions he could explore, tell me why you believe legalizing and taxing marijuana is the fix?
Poe: The data that’s going to be pouring in from Colorado over the next one or two years is going to show how directly affected a school system can be by marijuana sales. I think that people need to understand that they don’t have to necessarily smoke marijuana or support marijuana to realize the economic benefits within vice. People are going to smoke marijuana, people are going to do that on the black market where the government can’t benefit from it. Or they can do it above ground and every student in Philadelphia can have a Mac in front of them.
PM: How will you celebrate your newfound freedom?
Poe: Three years ago, if we wanted to book a party for the marijuana reform community in Philadelphia- we couldn’t get a venue. Now we brought it so above ground that we’re using one of the newest and best venues in the city. We are throwing a party at Underground Arts this weekend.
PM: Parole sucks, but did it give you new perspective on marijuana in that sense?
Poe: I see myself as being a less frequent user of marijuana, which is almost strange to say. Now that my career is on track and we’ve achieved some things, after about a month of living like Snoop Dogg, I might go back to being someone who uses pot more to decompress. Waking up at 9:30 in the morning and taking a few bong hits is another thing.