By Danielle Camilli Staff writer

bct njweedman loveshirtMOUNT HOLLY — A Burlington County jury Wednesday could not reach a verdict on the most serious charge against medical marijuana activist Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion, but it did convict him of possession.

The six men and six women found Forchion guilty on the charge of fourth-degree possession of marijuana, but deadlocked in their deliberations on the count of possession with the intent to distribute.

Forchion, a former Pemberton Township resident now living in California, could be retried on the third-degree charge as early as May 22. If convicted, he could face five to 10 years in prison.

Possession carries a penalty of probation to 18 months in prison.

At trial, the central question for the jury was whether the outspoken Rastafarian brought a pound of pot into New Jersey while visiting from California for his own personal, medical use or if he planned to distribute it.

Although Superior Court Judge Charles Delehey allowed Forchion to present a defense that he was a licensed medical marijuana patient in California and that the drug was for his medical use to control pain caused by bone tumors, the defendant was prohibited from presenting evidence about New Jersey’s medical marijuana law.

The law was signed a few months before Forchion’s April 1, 2010, arrest on Route 38 in Mount Holly, but it has been met with numerous stumbling blocks and has yet to be implemented.

Forchion, however, still would have been charged if the law was in place because it does not recognize the rights of patients from other states to use medical marijuana in New Jersey.

Forchion, an author with a cult-hero status on the Internet, found support from the medical marijuana community during his trial. Supporters called the trial “historic” because it was the first in New Jersey at which a judge allowed a defendant to present his medical condition and his treatment choice of marijuana as a defense.

The jury’s failure to reach a decision could be reflective of the debate over medical marijuana in the state and nationwide, despite being told repeatedly that the trial was not to be a “political referendum” on the issue.

“I think they totally understood my argument that I had this possession for me,” said Forchion, who admitted at trial that the pot was his. “They obviously believed that. ... I think they understood. Maybe it was a compromise verdict. I don’t know.”

Delehey, who presided over the weeklong trial, had asked the deadlocked panel to use its lunch break for “more reflection and thought,” but still the jurors could not come to a consensus. The judge, after consulting with the attorneys and defendant, decided to accept the partial verdict and declared a mistrial on the distribution count.

Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Luciano said the state would retry Forchion, who remains free on $50,000 bail, on the distribution charge.

Forchion demanded to be retried immediately, ignoring his court-appointed attorney’s advice to file a motion for acquittal based on the trial testimony. Delehey scheduled a trial date of May 22.

Forchion, who represented himself with the help of court-appointed attorney Donald Ackerman, said he was surprised by the verdict and hoped he would have been able to sway the jury to an acquittal.

The longtime legalization proponent, who did stints in prison years ago for drug distribution, became emotional while talking to the media after the verdict, with tears running down his face.

“I am happy I didn’t get handcuffs put on me today and thrown in jail. But I’m very unhappy it left me in limbo. It’s not over for me. I’m stuck,” said Forchion, who had been looking forward to returning to California to rebuild his business and getting medical treatment for his bone tumors.

“I really do regret April 1st, 2010 it ruined my life and the jury left me stuck in New Jersey with no weed, no health treatment and more court proceedings,” he said. “I asked them for all and nothing and they didn’t do it, now it’s costing me my health.”

Reportedly, the jury was split seven to five in favor of acquittal.

In Los Angeles, Forchion ran a state-approved medical marijuana dispensary, the Liberty Bell Temple, before it was shut down after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency raided it in December. No charges followed, but Forchion said he has not had the resources to reopen.

He blames authorities in New Jersey with working with the DEA to disrupt his legitimate California business.

The trial included two days of testimony with four witnesses, including conflicting experts on whether the marijuana found in Forchion’s trunk during the traffic stop was for distribution.

The prosecution’s witness claimed the sheer volume of the drug coupled with the $2,000 in cash Forchion had that night made it likely he was going to sell or otherwise share the pot.

The defense expert, a decorated, retired state trooper, said distribution was unlikely, given the lack of other signs inherent to the drug trade, including scales, baggies, ledgers, a weapon and other packing materials.

Luciano told the jury that no matter what the use or reason, it is illegal to have marijuana in New Jersey. He said Forchion can choose to treat his condition but cannot break the law.

“This case is not a political referendum,” he said. “It’s simply a case about freewill and the choices the defendant made and the consequences and repercussions of that choice. You can’t have marijuana in the state of New Jersey.”

Forchion, who did not testify but gave his opening and closing arguments, told the jury he was not a drug dealer.

“I had my medicine with me. If my medicine was aspirin or Percocet, they would have found aspirin or Percocet,” he said in his closing Tuesday. “They found my medicine. They found my marijuana.”