Burlington County Times
MOUNT HOLLY - The man who gained notoriety as NJWeedman didn't expect to get arrested this month on his return to Burlington County, but he intends to use the criminal charges against him as a rallying point to challenge the state's new medical marijuana law.
Ed Forchion, 45, formerly of Pemberton Township and now living in Los Angeles, admitted he had about a pound of pot in the trunk of his rental car when a state trooper stopped him at Route 38 and Pine Street in Mount Holly on April 1, but he disputed that he had any intention of selling or distributing it.
Forchion, a longtime marijuana activist who now calls himself a marijuana capitalist, fought for years in New Jersey to legalize the use of the drug for medical and spiritual purposes. The founder of the Legalize Marijuana Party of New Jersey ran unsuccessful campaigns for governor, Congress, the state Legislature, and the Burlington County Board of Freeholders.
"I despise the new law, and now my criminal case gives me standing to challenge it," said Forchion, who owns and operates a medical marijuana dispensary, the Liberty Bell Temple, on Hollywood Boulevard, where he can legally sell the herb. "The New Jersey law is so restrictive, it just irritates me. It doesn't cover people like me who would rather twist up a joint and smoke it rather than take a Tylenol if I have a headache or problem with my back. It instead creates a separate class of walking dead people who can legally use it."
In January, Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed legislation that would allow patients diagnosed with severe medical conditions, including AIDS, cancer, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig's disease, to access marijuana grown and distributed through state-monitored dispensaries.
Forchion said he would file a constitutional challenge to the new law on the grounds that the state's criminal code - the one he was arrested and charged under - reads that marijuana has no medicinal value.
"But now the state has another law that legalizes it for medical purposes. You can't have it both ways," he said. "I've taken it upon myself to be the guy to challenge it."
"I had my dreads hanging," said Forchion, a Rastafarian who uses marijuana as a sacrament in his religious practice. "We were both at the stoplight together, and I saw him and he made me nervous. I knew he was back there."
The New Jersey State Police deny Forchion's claims and said he was stopped for failing to obey a red light at the intersection. During the stop, the trooper smelled burned marijuana, saw a glass smoking pipe on the rear seat of the vehicle, and got a warrant to search the car when Forchion refused to let him, officials said.
"I can assure you, Mr. Forchion was stopped for a traffic violation," said Capt. Gerald Lewis, a state police spokesman. "His claims are baseless."
Some, including his own family, friends and supporters, have questioned why Forchion would come back to the Garden State, where trouble has seemed to find him over the years, when he can legally and successfully run a business in California.
"Trust me, I didn't do this on purpose. Even though I say I've been in political exile from New Jersey since moving to L.A. two years ago, I've been quietly sneaking in and out of here every other month or so," he said. "To catch a charge like this is crazy. ... I felt stupid."
In Los Angeles, NJWeedman is somewhat of a star. He drives a "weedmobile" and has a celebrity clientele, and his shop has been featured in movies and is even on a few Hollywood sightseeing tours.
"The police know me and wave at me," he said.
If convicted in New Jersey on the charges of possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana, possession of drugs with the intent to distribute, and possession of drug paraphernalia, Forchion could face a state-prison sentence.
"It does concern me, but I'm not afraid. I'm not terrified," he said. "I'll survive."