MOUNT HOLLY — Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion broke the law when he was caught with more than a pound of marijuana in the trunk of his rental car two years ago.
His reasons for having the pot are irrelevant, Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Luciano told a jury Thursday as the much-hyped Superior Court trial got under way.
The 47-year-old former truck driver and father of five was charged with possession of marijuana and possession with the intent to distribute after a 2010 car stop. He faces up to 10 years if convicted.
“You can’t have marijuana in the state of New Jersey,” Luciano said, telling jurors that despite whatever “song and dance” the defendant presents about his personal beliefs and his medical use of marijuana, he committed a crime. “Mr. Forchion is a charlatan. He is a wolf in hemp clothing.”
Forchion, representing himself and responding to the prosecutor in his own opening statement, told the jury that his song choice would be Bob Marley’s “Legalize It,” but that there would be no dance because of large, painful tumors in his leg.
The defendant, who claims dual residency in Pemberton Township and Los Angeles, said he uses pot daily for medicinal purposes, telling the jury it helps with pain management of his tumors as well as with headaches, depression and stress.
“I smoked a joint this morning, and I’ll probably smoke one at lunchtime,” said Forchion, a dreadlocked Rastafarian author and cult hero. “I don’t pop a Tylenol. I just twist one off.”
He admitted that he was in possession of marijuana when stopped on Route 38 in Mount Holly on April 1, 2010, while back in Burlington County for the week visiting his children.
Forchion said he is a licensed, card-carrying medical marijuana user in California and will present a doctor to explain his condition and use of the drug.
“I don’t see why I have to change my method of treatment every time I cross state lines,” he said, telling the jury that he believes in buying in bulk and had no plans to distribute the drug. “The marijuana was for me.”
Forchion said a pound of pot could last him a month or two, depending on how he used it. He compared the quantity to buying a carton of cigarettes or a gallon of milk.
“Here in New Jersey, I would have to go to the street corner. I’m not going to go out on a street corner every day or other day,” he said.
Luciano said a detective would testify that the “sheer volume and the way it was packaged” was consistent with drug distribution.
“It’s against the law,” he said. “Mr. Forchion wants to couch his criminal activity into some political discussion. ... He wants to turn it into a referendum.”
He reminded the jurors of their oath to judge according to the law and the facts of the case, setting aside their own passion and prejudice about the legalization debate.
Forchion has been barred by Judge Charles Delehey from discussing the state’s medical marijuana act, which was signed into law three months before his arrest but has yet to be implemented. Even if it had been implemented, Forchion still could have been charged since the law does not recognize the rights of medical marijuana patients from other states.
He also is prohibited from arguing that the state’s criminal code is unconstitutional and in conflict with the medical marijuana law.
Delehey warned Forchion about his pretrial decision as the defendant began to tell jurors about the medical marijuana laws in other states. The judge has said if Forchion doesn’t abide by his rulings, he will not be able to represent himself and public defender Donald Ackerman will take over.
“This is not a referendum on the law,” Delehey said to the jury.
The likable Forchion, who for several years has run a state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary in California, used his opening statement to tell the jury about himself, his military service, the peer pressure that led him to smoke the first time, his activism since then, and his medical condition.
“I’m a peaceful, proud, patriotic pothead patient,” he said. “Mr. Luciano will say I’m a charlatan, but I’m just speaking my mind.”
The trial resumes Tuesday and could go to the jury late in the day or by Wednesday. A handful of Forchion supporters attended the trial Thursday. The defendant had been inviting the public to “occupy my courtroom” in support.
Danielle Camilli: 609-267-7586;