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Fliers get cannabis activist arrested

By JANEL STEPHENS
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 30, 2002

TAMPA -- Anthony Lorenzo stood beside a papier-mache replica of a 4-foot-tall marijuana joint Saturday night as costumed Guavaween festivalgoers passed by.

Dressed in a black T-shirt with white letters reading "DEA," Lorenzo stood with a group of supporters with the Florida Cannabis Action Network and distributed fliers that urged people to "Vote Libertarian to end the drug war," and that talked of reforming state marijuana laws for medical and environmental use.

"We focus on events like Guavaween to get the message out directly to the people," Lorenzo said.

Lorenzo and other activists participated in the parade with a float that bore a picture of Uncle Sam urinating on the U.S. Constitution. A jail cell was built in the front of the float with a wheelchair behind bars in protest of what Lorenzo said is a federal attack against medical marijuana in California.

The Tampa resident and other activists distributed about 3,000 fliers to the crowd on Seventh Avenue Saturday before police confiscated them, citing a city ordinance that prohibits pedestrians and businesses from passing out handbills in historic Ybor City without a permit.

Lorenzo, 27, was arrested and charged with unlawful distribution of handbills and obstructing or opposing an officer without violation. Police also confiscated a videotape of Lorenzo's arrest. He was released on $600 bail Saturday.

A supporter of FLCAN since 1997, Lorenzo said the law violates his constitutional right to freedom of speech.

"We should have the freedom to distribute literature about any bad laws in Florida and the United States on public property," said Lorenzo, who has had several drug related arrests.

But a city ordinance adopted about two years ago states that off-premises canvassing "causes harassment of pedestrians in the Ybor City Historic District." The ordinance also states that canvassing has "a negative impact on aesthetics" and "causes sidewalk congestion and impedes orderly movement of the crowd."

The law prohibits permit and nonpermit holders from distributing handbills on Seventh and Eighth avenues and any publicly owned parking lot or garage. Also prohibited is distribution on Sixth Avenue, between the eastern boundary of 16th Street and the western boundary of 15th Street.

Annette DeLisle of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce said the ordinance was a response to fliers that littered the streets and were being distributed by businesses, many outside the historic district. "It just got to be out of hand," DeLisle said. "They would tape them on the poles and put them on walls."

DeLisle said she didn't think the ordinance was unconstitutional because there are areas designated for people to distribute fliers, just not in the historic district.

Lorenzo said he plans to challenge the ordinance. "Tampa's City Council has absolutely overstepped boundaries in neglecting to provide provisions for political groups to exercise their right to free speech," he said.

-- Researcher John Martin and staff writer David Karp contributed to this report.

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