- March 13, 2013
Longtime marijuana activist Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion was sentenced to nine months in the Burlington County Jail in Mount Holly on Tuesday after he admitted that he violated his probationary sentence for pot possession.
But Superior Court Judge Charles Delehey said the sentence will not keep the medical marijuana patient from his treatment for bone cancer in California.
Forchion, who is receiving experimental treatment for painful bone tumors, will be released in time for his next appointment once Delehey receives official word from the doctor noting the date and expected recovery time.
If Forchion has time left on his sentence, he will have to return to the county jail to finish his term, Delehey said.
“He has played his health as if it was a Stradivarius,” the judge said. “Mr. Forchion continues to ignore this court. He has punched his own ticket. The time for excuses is all over.”
Forchion, who claims dual residence in Pemberton Township and Los Angeles, has been back in jail since Jan. 31, when Burlington County Sheriff’s Department officers tracked him to Philadelphia International Airport and arrested him on the probation violation shortly before he boarded a plane to California.
In the Burlington County Courthouse in Mount Holly on Tuesday, Forchion said he failed to show up for probation after his Jan. 16 sentencing in Superior Court and pleaded guilty to the violation. Defendants sentenced to probation are always told to report immediately after their hearings to register with the probation department and begin their supervision.
Forchion told the judge he thought he had 30 days to report because he was planning to file a motion for reconsideration of his sentence.
“I would like to apologize for not reporting. I had the wrong assumption,” said Forchion, standing handcuffed and shackled wearing an orange jail jumpsuit. “It wasn’t an attempt to snub court. It’s one of those times I’m too smart for myself, and I made a mistake.”
Public defender Donald Ackerman said Forchion was not absconding the jurisdiction, just returning to California for his monthly medical treatment. He always planned to return, the attorney said.
Delehey called the defendant’s excuse “pure hogwash,” saying there was nothing to reconsider and pointing out the written instructions to report to probation.
“He ignored it. ... He was given a probationary sentence. He was given the opportunity to go back to California to serve it, and I ordered the transfer,” the judge said. “This court did everything other than give him the keys to the city.”
Forchion’s troubles stem from his arrest in Mount Holly in 2010, when police found a pound of marijuana in the trunk of his rental car. He was charged with possession and distribution.
Forchion fought the charges, claiming he was not a drug dealer but a licensed medical marijuana patient in California who brought his “medicine” with him to New Jersey while visiting family for a few weeks. At the time, Forchion ran a licensed medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, but it was shuttered after a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raid following his arrest.
A Burlington County jury found him guilty of possession in May. A more serious distribution charge ended in a hung jury at that trial. At a second trial, a new jury acquitted him of that charge in October.
The case sparked debate about New Jersey’s medical marijuana law, with Forchion believed to be the first defendant in the state allowed to present his use of medical marijuana as a defense in a criminal trial. New Jersey’s medical marijuana law, which was not in effect when Forchion was arrested, would not have allowed him to legally possess the drug since it does not recognize the rights of licensed medical marijuana patients from other states.
On Jan. 16, Delehey rejected the state’s request for a 12-month prison sentence for Forchion. Instead, he ordered the activist, whom he called a “dyed-in-the-wool recidivist,” to serve two years of probation and ordered him to pay a $2,500 fine.
Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Luciano on Tuesday again asked for Forchion to be incarcerated.
But that sentence was vacated in favor of the jail term, which is still less than the 18 months in state prison Forchion could have faced. On average, an inmate can be released from a nine-month jail term after about 80 or 90 days, officials said. Forchion has served about 45 days.
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NJWeedman seeks medical clemency from Gov. Christie Fri Nov 8, 2013.
Longtime marijuana activist Ed "NJWeedman" Forchion has petitioned Gov. Christie for clemency in hopes that the governor can end the monthly staggered jail sentences he is now serving.
Forchion, of Pemberton Township, has filed a petition for medical clemency, hoping the governor will sign his get-out-of-jail card because, he argues, his incarceration is preventing him from necessary treatments for bone cancer in California.
His petition for relief is more subtle than his last correspondence with Gov. Christie. In 2011, Forchion said he mailed a pill bottle full of weed to the governor and other officials.
The current jail sentence, imposed in September after Forchion violated a probationary term, was fashioned to allow Forchion to serve 20 days a month in jail and 10 days out so he could travel to the West Coast for injections for the painful leg growths. Superior Court Judge Charles Delehey imposed the nine-month, or 270-day, sentence for Forchion’s 2010 conviction for fourth-degree marijuana possession.
At the time the judge said, “(Forchion) won't be denied treatments, but this court is not giving him a free pass." He noted that the defendant violated the "lenient" probation sentence that required very little of him, allowed him to use marijuana, and permitted him to be transported to California, where he is a licensed medical marijuana user.
Forchion, who was released Tuesday from his latest 20-day term, said the staggered sentence is not letting him get back to California for his injections, which are part of an experimental treatment protocol that are required on specific days. He has also not been able to schedule other tests.
“Because of the imprisonment my monthly health care has been ruined,” Forchion writes in his request to Christie. “The jailing … has prevented me from obtaining required MRI/bone scan and prevented me from raising cash for flight to California for treatment.”
He notes a missed MRI in October and has no cash to fly out this month. Forchion also argues that he is protected under The Geneva Convention, which outlaws denying health care to prisoners of war, claiming he is a “prisoner in the war on drugs.”
“I’m a patient in California and a prisoner in New Jersey,” he said.
Forchion also asked the governor to consider his request in light of the state’s medical marijuana law, which was passed at the time of his 2010 arrest but not implemented. Even under the implemented program, Forchion would have still been breaking the law with the pound of marijuana police found in the trunk of his rental car during a traffic stop in Mount Holly on April 1, 2010.
The activist is due back at Burlington County Jail in Mount Holly on Nov. 15 to serve his next 20 days. As of Friday, he hadn't raised enough cash to fly back to California for treatment or medical tests.
Forchion calls his jail term “a hypocritical injustice and flies in the face of the goals and intent” of the state’s law, as well as “national public perceptions of medical marijuana.”
The Appellate Division of the state Superior Court denied Forchion’s emergent appeal to stay the sentence until after his full appeal of his conviction could be heard and decided.
“I won’t get my freedom back or my health care corrected, if and when the appeals court rules in my favor,” Forchion said Friday.