Professor's Penn State Pot Protest Continues 3/6/98

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- Alex Morgan for DRCNet

(NOTE: Coverage of this story on 2/20 (http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1998/2-20.html#heicklen) was also courtesy of Alex Morgan. The editors regret the omission of that byline.)

Penn State Professor Emeritus Julian Heicklen resumed his campaign of civil disobedience Thursday (3/5) by smoking marijuana with several supporters at the university's Main Gate. Heicklen and four other protesters have been charged with various drug offenses stemming from the Feb. 12 "Smokeout." Heicklen had refrained from smoking during the past two Thursday protests, but resumed yesterday to protest the slow pace that the cases are moving through the Centre County Judicial system. "I'm already being denied a fair, impartial and speedy trial, and I haven't even gotten into court yet," he told a crowd of about a hundred supporters.

This was the seventh consecutive protest held at noon on Thursday. However, unlike previous protests, neither the Penn State nor State College Police were present when the joints were being smoked.

The crowd cheered and applauded when Heicklen lit the joint and passed it to Diane Fornbacher, a local writer and marijuana activist. They were joined by Alan Gordon, a Penn State alumni who has publicly planted marijuana seeds and turned himself in for marijuana offenses numerous times in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia. Gordon was cited with Heicklen on Feb. 12 and plans to use a medicinal marijuana defense, while the Professor plans to persuade a jury to nullify the marijuana laws as an unreasonable intrusion of government power into the lives of responsible adults.

Co-defendants Ken Keltner and Jennifer Corbett were introduced to the crowd but declined to smoke, citing advice of their lawyer in a civil suit Keltner has filed against the State College Area School District for suspending him as a result of his arrest at the Feb 12. protest.

While smoking the joint, Heicklen talked about personal freedom and civil rights and contrasted the harm supposedly done by marijuana with the violence and disorder associated with College Football, an economic boon and cultural icon for this Big Ten College community.

"Football's primary purpose is to glorify violence... it's a highly criminogenic activity leading to student riots, public drunkenness, gambling and ticket scalping... football has corrupted this community."

Heicklen said that while he has nothing personally against football, it is hypocritical for the community to "...glorify football as a religion" while condemning marijuana as a dangerous drug.

He said that two-thirds of those going to prison are sentenced for non-violent crimes, while half are for non-violent drug offenses. "...I'm ashamed of it and I mean to change it."

Penn State student and Libertarian Charles Miller said that while the number of drug felons has increased so has the number of unsolved car thefts and burglaries, "...not only are they putting the wrong people in jail, they're leaving the wrong people on the street."

At 12:50 PM the Penn State Police finally showed up but no one was smoking. When asked by The Week Online why they weren't present at the start of the protest, an officer replied that they weren't aware of it until someone called 911.

Heicklen was quoted Wednesday in the Daily Collegian as saying that he would be smoking a joint at the Thursday rally to protest the corruption of the court system. Given that Heicklen had to cross the street into the town of State College on Feb. 12 in order to be arrested, it would seem that the University is reluctant to confront the issues being raised by the Professor.

In response to questions about his future plans, Heicklen said, "I'll keep smoking... I'm moving this thing out of the courts and into the streets."

There won't be a rally next week due to Spring Break but the protests will resume on March 19.

This past week Heicklen was the focus of major stories by the local CBS affiliate WJAC of Johnstown/Altoona and the Centre Daily Times of State College, and his actions were applauded by the Board of Editorial Opinion of the Daily Collegian, an independent publication of the students of Penn State University.

As of right now the Preliminary Hearing schedule for the five protesters arrested for assorted drug charges at the Feb. 12 protest is as follows:

  • March 11- Alan Gordon
  • March 18- Professor Julian Heicklen
  • March 25- Jennifer Corbett, Ken Keltner and Andrew Burke

All dates are subject to change.

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