PHILADELPHIA — The marijuana activist known as NJWeedman is back in the joint after allegedly violating probation for pot possession. Edward Forchion, 48, who claims dual residence in Pemberton Township and Los Angeles, was arrested at Philadelphia International Airport on Thursday, 15 days after being placed on probation in Burlington County Superior Court.
At the time, Judge Charles Delehey called Forchion a “dyed-in-the-wool recidivist,” but rejected the county Prosecutor’s Office request for a year prison term. Instead, he opted for a two-year probationary term for the medical marijuana patient.
Now, Forchion finds himself behind bars in Philadelphia and could face up to 18 months in New Jersey state prison if found guilty of the violation of probation. He is being held on $200,000 bail and has a preliminary hearing set for Feb. 11, according to court documents.
Charlene Webster, public information officer for Burlington County, said Sunday that Forchion was charged with failing to appear for probation.
The Burlington County Sheriff’s Department sought to execute the warrant for his arrest Thursday. Authorities first traced Forchion to his mother’s home in Sicklerville, Camden County, and then received a tip that he was heading to California, Webster said. The County Sheriff’s Department worked in conjunction with Philadelphia police to make the arrest, she said.
Forchion was apprehended at the gate before he boarded his flight to the West Coast, Webster said. He was sent to the city’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility and is in the process of being extradited to New Jersey to face the new charge.
Forchion, who has said he uses marijuana to treat painful bone tumors, was sentenced Jan. 16 to two years of probation and ordered to pay a $2,500 fine for his conviction last May. A Burlington County jury found him guilty of possession of a pound of pot during a Mount Holly traffic stop in 2010.
A more-serious distribution charge in the same incident ended in a hung jury, and a new jury acquitted him of that charge in a second trial in October.
The case sparked debate of 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.
In the wake of Forchion’s arrest Thursday, friend and supporter Eric Hafner was trying to rally support for the “Weedman” via the activist’s Facebook page.
“Ed does have serious health issues and we want to make sure while he’s in jail he’s treated fairly and humanely,” said the New Jersey man, who is fighting his own marijuana case in Monmouth County. “I think this is politically motivated ... and the New Jersey authorities are doing everything in their power to make Ed’s life a living hell.”
Hafner said he knew Forchion was not keeping up with his probation and was planning to return to Los Angeles. Forchion, on his Facebook page, said he was planning to return from Los Angeles this week to file a motion for reconsideration of his sentence.
A Rastafarian who is a licensed medical marijuana patient in California, Forchion had said in court last month that he intended to appeal his conviction. After the hearing, he said his appeal will help change New Jersey’s medical marijuana law.
Forchion had admitted that the brick of pot found in the trunk of his rental car during an April 1, 2010, traffic stop on Route 38 was his, yet denied he was a drug dealer when he was charged with possession with the intent to distribute.
During his sentencing, Forchion asked the judge to stay, or postpone, his probationary sentence until his appeal was decided. Delehey denied the request, but said Forchion’s probation could be transferred to California, if officials there would accept him into their program.
It was not known Sunday if California accepted the transfer. Before Forchion was sentenced to probation last month, he said he didn’t think he would be successful under the supervision of the state. He said he had no plans to stop using pot or being tested for use of the drug.
Claiming that marijuana is his medicine, Forchion has challenged the constitutionality of the state’s criminal code now that New Jersey has a Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act that recognizes the benefits of cannabis. Forchion said last month he was anxious to get back to California to continue his treatment in a clinical 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.
Forchion operated a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles that was shuttered by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency after his New Jersey arrest. Delehey said he’d considered Forchion’s medical condition as well as his criminal record, which includes 40 arrests for everything from dog-leash violations to theft and drug charges.