N.A. Poe runs for City Council: ‘How hard can it be?’

Nikki Allen Poe, a comedian and pot-activist who is running for Philadelphia City Council, poses for a portrait inside City Hall. Credit: Charles Mostoller/METRO
Nikki Allen Poe, a comedian and pot-activist who is running for Philadelphia City Council, poses for a portrait inside City Hall. Credit: Charles Mostoller/METRO

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A stand-up comic turns into a targeted pot activist, then a federal criminal and now, a politician.

Probably not. Yet that’s the tale of N.A. Poe, the local comedian and pro-marijuana advocate currently serving probation for charges stemming from a bust at a pot legalization rally in May 2013 at Independence Hall National Historic Park. This same Poe is running as a Libertarian candidate for Philadelphia City Council in May 20’s special election against Republican Matthew Wolfe and Democrat Ed Neilson to fill the vacancy created by at-large councilman Bill Green, who left to become chairman of the School Reform Commission.

“Should be a cinch, right? ” said Poe.

A cinch? Who knows. But certainly a serious attempt at being heard. “I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a Libertarian, but I’m definitely liberty-minded,” said Poe. “I’m sick of corruption in City Hall, union control of politics and crooked cops. I’m running on the platform of pot decriminalization, ending the racist stop-and-frisk policy and stopping this city’s funding of the Orwellian Fusion Center that’s collecting our data. City politics no longer work for the people of this city.”

You’re not laughing now.

Poe didn’t start out working for this city’s welfare. The Overbrook-born, South Philadelphia resident’s initial goal as a stand-up was to “craft the perfect d*** joke.” As time passed, he alienated himself from Philly’s comedy scene by darkly exploring political and social justice issues. With that turn, Poe found himself drawn to the Occupy Philadelphia movement at Dilworth Plaza in October 2011, becoming its CEO of “digital gonzo journalism” and documenting the group in real time.

“I’m a concerned citizen who didn’t trust the media or the government, so I was thankful to be in an ‘activist boot camp,’” said Poe. “I cut my teeth there.” As part of Occupy’s cause was legalizing marijuana, protests involved smoking weed publicly. “I learned direct action tactics, how to engage, not alienate the public.”

Poe’s pro-pot ideology grew, although he’s not about stoner theology. “I love weed, but I’m not Tommy Chong.” From there, Poe and folks from NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) initiated Smoke Down Prohibition and its civil disobedience rallies, including one at the Liberty Bell in May 2013.

“Law enforcement from five federal agencies were there. I emceed the program, and at 4:20 p.m., surrounded by cops, I led a countdown and sparked a joint. I was subdued, tackled to the ground by three rangers, and hog-tied,” he said.

Nikki Allen Poe, a comedian and pot-activist who is running for Philadelphia City Council, poses for a portrait inside City Hall. Credit: Charles Mostoller/METRO
Nikki Allen Poe, a comedian and pot-activist who is running for Philadelphia City Council, poses for a portrait inside City Hall. Credit: Charles Mostoller/METRO

Poe spent six days in a local federal detention center charged with (and pleading guilty to, despite denying all charges save the smoking) interference with an agency function, disorderly conduct and possession of a controlled substance. In December 2013, he was given a year’s probation for that May day’s actions. “The Feds have had their boots on my neck since … but I’ve used that notoriety to spread our message.”

Poe’s probation has hit speed bumps. Reports state he ate a marijuana-laced cookie before February’s mandatory drug test and admitted using Percocet and cocaine in an April probation interview. (Poe couldn’t comment on charges.) Neither problem has stopped Poe’s political ambitions or slowed his pursuit of taking down the Philadelphia Parking Authority during a May 9 campaign rally outside of the PPA on Filbert Street.

“If elected, I’ll buy a few suits, curb my use of expletives and spend my days being a thorn in the side of the political machine,” said Poe. “I may not have experience but I have passion to work hard and create real change. If Maria Quiñones-Sanchez and Curtis Jones can do the job, how hard can it be?”

The facts in the case of N.A. Poe

  • Poe, 34, was born Richard Tamaccio. He will appear as Nikki Allen Poe on the ballot.
  • In 2013, he performed in 20 comedy shows.
  • Last year, he attended 20 pot rallies in Philadelphia, Lancaster, Trenton, Boston and Pittsburgh.
  • He was in federal court a total of six times in 2013 for misdemeanor pot possession and disorderly conduct charge.

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