The New Jersey Weedman is Back! Forchion Announces House Bid Before Arrest at LibertyBell Pot-Smoking Religious Demo 12/26/03

Ed Forchion, also known as the NJ Weedman (http://www.njweedman.com), just got off parole, and he's ready to roll. Forchion endured 20 months in prison for marijuana trafficking and another six as a parole violator when New Jersey parole authorities jailed him for trying to run TV ads advocating marijuana legalization. He was only freed when a federal judge forced the state to recognize his First Amendment rights.

A little more than two weeks after his parole ended -- bad weather forced a delay from the original December 6 date -- Forchion declared his candidacy for the US House at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia in front of about 50 supporters and a couple of dozen cops. Running as the candidate of the US Marijuana Party (http://www.usmjparty.org), Forchion offered up a prayer for the nearly 700,000 marijuana offenders arrested each year and the thousands of more jailed for other drug crimes, then fired up a joint with comrade in arms Patrick Duff. They didn't get to finish -- 17 US Park Service rangers promptly swept in and detained them -- but they got what they wanted: An arrest that will serve as the basis for a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claim that their Liberty Bell pot-puffing is protected as religious expression under federal law.

There is legal precedent for such a claim. In May 2002, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the RFRA precluded the US government from prosecuting people who possess marijuana on federal lands for religious reasons. Unfortunately for the plaintiff in that case, Bennie Toves Guerrero, who was caught carrying five ounces into Guam, the court also found that the RFRA didn't block him from being prosecuted for importing marijuana.
Forchion's cable ad was censored by Comcast,
click picture to see ad's.

"I've gone through a lot at the hands of the drug warriors," said Forchion, "and I'm making a statement to let them know I'm back in a big way." In addition to running for the House and plotting the RFRA case, Forchion has also filed a suit in New Jersey challenging the state's new prisoner and parolee DNA testing law and his suit against cable TV giant Comcast for refusing to air his marijuana ads is pending. (See: the Comcast newsbrief this issue for a similar episode.)

And it all ties together, Forchion toldDRCNet. "I'm running for the House to expose the issue," he said, "but by doing so, I will be able to make Comcast run my ads. They will be political campaign ads now. In fact, I'm going to being submitting the same ads, except at the end they will say 'paid for by the US Marijuana Party.' What Comcast is doing is outrageous. The largest cable provider in the country has decided what political viewpoints are acceptable."

Forchion, who for years has headed his own Legalize Marijuana Party, is ready to be part of something bigger, he said. "I've been a one-man gang for the last few year," said the Weedman, "and I have no problem becoming part of something. My ego is not that big, and I've found that people find it difficult to latch onto the Weedman. Maybe I'll be more effective as part of a group." With chapters in 25 states, the US Marijuana Party is a group that fit the bill.

As for the RFRA challenge, said Forchion, "You can't challenge a law unless you have standing. By going to the Liberty Bell, which is federal property, and holding a prayer service, a non-denominational religious service and smoking marijuana as part of it and being ticketed, I now have standing. I will challenge the constitutionality of my arrest on the basis that I was exercising my religious freedom as guaranteed by the RFRA," he said. "They'll find me guilty, but it should be thrown out. I'm not trying to make the Liberty Bell a smoke-in place," he laughed, "but you can be sure if we get a favorable ruling, there will be people there doing just that. They're already talking about it."

He will be represented by prominent Philadelphia civil liberties attorney Michael Coard, he said. He and Coard will also be in contact with the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project, which was involved in the ground-breaking Guam case. "I hope we can at least get them to submit an amicus brief," he said.

He and Duff were not mistreated by the Park rangers, Forchion said, although he noted that he was strip-searched while Duff, who is white, was not. The Weedman was threatened with another arrest when, as part of the strip-search, he removed his jacket and shirt to reveal a t-shirt picturing a large, extended middle finger. "They threatened to arrest me for obscenity," he snorted, "but I said no, it's political expression and it represents my displeasure at government actions, specifically the war on drugs." Forchion emphasized his feelings by giving the officers a live two-handed demonstration of the one-finger salute to the cheers and laughter of videotaping onlookers.

Forchion, a resident of Browns Mills, NJ, is running in that state's Third Congressional District against incumbent Republican Jim Saxton. The district includes Burlington and Ocean counties and some CamdenCounty neighborhoods. Pat Duff, 27, a former radio personality and self-described "renegade car salesman" arrested along with Forchion, will run as the US Marijuana Party candidate for Philadelphia City Council.

"I just can't go back to being incog-negro," said the Rastafarian former truck driver. "This prohibition is wrong!"

Welcome back, Weedman.



By - Sam Wood


Newly off probation, Ed Forchion of Browns Mills announced a bid for the U.S.  House, then lit up.  

Call it a joint announcement.  

A South Jersey advocate for the liberalization of marijuana laws declared his candidacy for the U.S.  House at Independence National Historical Park by - how else? - lighting up a marijuana cigarette.  

Not that he got a chance to smoke it.  

After just a few tokes Saturday afternoon, a phalanx of 17 park rangers surrounded Ed Forchion, also known as NJ Weedman.  

The rangers confiscated the candidate's joint, and Forchion, 44, was issued a $150 ticket for possession of a controlled substance.  

Minutes before, while standing between Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Pavilion, Forchion said he intended to run as the U.S.  Marijuana Party's candidate for the seat held by Republican Jim Saxton in New Jersey's Third Congressional District.  

The district extends across Burlington and Ocean Counties and includes a few neighborhoods in Camden County.  

Also cited shortly after 4:20 p.m.  was Pat Duff, 27, who said he intended to run as the Marijuana Party's candidate for Philadelphia City Council in 2007.  The self-described "renegade car salesman" said he would run on a platform encouraging the opening of cannabis cafes across the city.  

About 50 supporters, many with video cameras and shivering against the wind, had gathered to watch Forchion and Duff ceremoniously light up.  

The time and setting had been chosen with Karl Rove-ian precision.  "Four-20" is stoner slang for smoking marijuana.  The park had the benefit of being federal property, outside the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia Police Department.  

"We're peaceful, patriotic potheads," the soft-spoken Forchion said.  "We had meant to do this on Dec.  6, but it snowed and ruined what we'd thought was going to be a big turnout." 

On Dec.  3, Forchion completed 20 months of probation in Camden County for pleading guilty to possessing five pounds of marijuana with the intent to distribute.  

"I'm happy," he said of putting probation behind him, "I can run for office again." 

Forchion, of Browns Mills, has run for Burlington County freeholder and for the First District seat in the U.S.  House on the Legalize Marijuana ticket.  

A Rastafarian, Forchion has said he smoked marijuana for religious reasons, to relieve back pain, and to help him deal with chronic depression.  The former cross-country truck driver has been an advocate of legalizing marijuana since the mid-1990s.  

His high jinks have been celebrated in what is left of the counterculture.  Among his stunts: lighting up in the New Jersey Assembly while wearing a black-and-white-striped prisoner's costume.  

Saturday's announcement was intended to make a more sober point, he said, adding that he intended to challenge the rangers' citations in court.  

"This is all about a First Amendment issue," Forchion said.  "Freedom of religion allows for the religious use of marijuana on federal property.  I'm just exercising that right." 

He's a Weedman with a mission

By Monica Yant Kinney | Inquirer Columnist

Coming soon to a candidate's debate and courthouse near you: Ed Forchion, the professional provocateur who just might be the most persistent pothead on the planet.

Surely, you remember Forchion.

He's the "N.J. Weedman."

Perhaps you've heard he's running for Congress. Again.

He's a candidate for the U.S. Marijuana Party, which has one and only issue: to legalize pot.

Or maybe you're familiar with Forchion's legal affairs.

Right now, he has several cases winding their way through the state and federal court system.

He's appealing his conviction in 2000 for possessing 40 pounds of pot with the intent to distribute.

He's suing the state for $4 million for locking him up just for speaking his mind while on parole.

Forchion sued officials who stymied his efforts to legally change his name to NJWeedman.com and use it on election ballots.

He's also challenging the state law requiring most convicted criminals and parolees to submit to DNA tests - and fighting contempt charges for refusing to make his own deposit in the DNA database.

Not that Forchion didn't give the government another option.

Last fall, he wrote Gov. McGreevey, inviting him to kiss his behind and "retrieve the DNA from your lips."

Usually, the Weedman is a mellow fellow. But ever since he got out of prison, he's been a man on a mission.

"I want," he says, "to ruin the laws that ruined me."

Up in smoke

The Weedman's ire, and inspiration, can be traced to the day he was busted for hooking his brother up with an Arizona dealer who shipped 40 pounds of pot to Jersey by Fed Ex.

It was 1997. Back then, he was just Ed Forchion, husband, father, long-haul trucker, ex-Marine.

He loved to travel, fish, gamble and lavish his family.

And he loved to smoke pot.

Because of how it relaxes him.

And because, as a Rastafarian with asthma, he believes he has the religious and medical rights to do so.

"I was living what I considered a normal life," he said. "I was below the radar, I was 'incognegro.' "

The arrest brought his alternative lifestyle to light.

The trial, conviction and sentence - he took a plea, but still got 10 years in prison - cost Forchion everything.

His driver's license. His 18-wheeler. His house. His manhood. All, gone.

Before, he says, he earned more than $100,000 a year hauling produce coast-to-coast.

Now, his wife is the breadwinner, working two jobs to support their kids and keep up their Browns Mills home.

After three years in prison and on parole, Forchion's a free man again.

Free to clock part-time hours at a gas station. Free to focus on his debts.

And free to stew about feeling more like a victim, than a perpetrator, of the nation's war on drugs.

"I've done my sentence and my parole, I should be done," he gripes. "But I can't go back to my old life. It's gone."

To be a mellow fellow

Forchion realizes how he looks to outsiders.

Like a self-serving media whore.

Like a man who thinks the laws of the land don't apply to him.

Like a thorn in the side of government who cries foul when the government pricks back.

"You don't have to agree with what I say," he points out. "But how can they throw me in jail for saying it?"

Just before Christmas, he pulled one of his regular stunts for the last time, smoking a joint in front of Independence Hall to get arrested.

From now on, he'll focus on his lawsuits, some of which have support from the ACLU and other legal minds.

"He's proven himself to be a sufficiently accurate assessor of his rights," said Mark Fury, a South Jersey lawyer appointed to represent Forchion on the DNA law case.

The Weedman doesn't expect to win millions or elected office. And he knows he could wind up back in jail.

But maybe by agitating, he'll persuade a judge to tweak a law or two.

And then, the "peaceful, patriotic pothead" can go back to being his mellow self again.


Monica Yant Kinney writes Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 856-779-3914 or myant@phillynews.com.