The Florida Cannabis Action Network (http://www.jug-or-not.com/can/) took to the streets of Tampa's Ybor City last weekend to protest what it called an unconstitutional ban on the distribution of political literature in the entertainment district. About 15 network members were joined by Joe Redner, local political gadfly and owner of the Mons Venus Club ("300 beautiful girls live and nude on the stage from 12:00 noon to 5:00am"), as they passed out leaflets citing US Supreme Court decisions upholding free-speech rights.
The street demonstration came after Tampa police arrested Florida Cannabis Action Network volunteer coordinator Anthony Lorenzo during the city's Guavaween celebration October 26 for passing out leaflets advocate the reform of marijuana laws. In an effort to cut down on advertising handbills and litter, Tampa officials passed an ordinance in 2000 barring the distribution of leaflets in Ybor City.
"We were in the Guaveween parade; we had a float in solidarity with the California medical marijuana people," Lorenzo told DRCNet. "We had a jail cell with a person in a wheel chair inside, and on the side we had a picture of Uncle Sam urinating on the Constitution. Oh, and we had a six-foot joint." But the parade wasn't the problem, Lorenzo said. "After the parade was over, the strip was packed with people and we were trying to reach as many as we could. We had 6,000 flyers and managed to distribute about 3,000 before the police came over and tried to snatch the fliers out of my hand. My natural reaction was to pull away, and then they cuffed me and arrested me for distribution of handbills and resisting arrest without violence."
Lorenzo spent 18 hours in the Tampa jail before being released. The criminal charges are still pending, he said, adding that he expects them to be thrown out as unconstitutional infringement of political speech. And then we'll talk about civil suits, he said.
"The city of Tampa and the Tampa police need to understand that the First Amendment applies throughout America, even in Ybor City," said Lorenzo. "If they're worried about the litter, they should pay someone to pick it up."
Tampa police already seem to have gotten the message. "We really got a lot of media attention with this," said Lorenzo. "When we tried to give them flyers on Saturday, they didn't want to arrest us -- they didn't even want to touch the flyers."