On Sept 18th, 2000 my trial began, for the 1997 charges. (SEE FIRST ARREST) Please read the "PRESS COVERAGE below. The state has tried to pass this "SHAM" off as a fair Constitutional trial. The fact of the matter is it wasn't! I was denied the right to present witnesses, denied assistance of counsel and denied the right to present my defense or challenge the law itself all mandated by the 6th Amendment! In no-way will this trial ever stand-up to a constitutional test of "fairness".
I have appealed this "MOCKERY and FARCE" of Justice!
Despite a judge's order, Edward Forchion plans to bring up jury nullification. Jury selection is to begin today.
By Aamer Madhani
Barred from trying to convince a jury that the government's marijuana laws are unconstitutional, Edward Forchion - an advocate for the legalization of marijuana who is to go on trial this week on a charge of conspiracy to distribute 40 pounds of cannabis - has vowed to press on anyway.
Yesterday, Judge Stephen W. Thompson of Camden County Superior Court reaffirmed another judge's ruling to bar Forchion from introducing the concept of jury nullification to his jury.
John Wynne, assistant prosecutor, successfully argued that, although a jury has the power to nullify a law, the right should not be advertised.
Jury selection is to start today for Forchion, 36, of Browns Mills, in a case that stems from a 1997 arrest in Bellmawr. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in state prison. He has been out on bail since his arrest.
He said yesterday that he would try to use jury nullification despite the judge's order.
"This is a nightmare for me," Forchion said. "I'm hoping I get a jury that understands and sees how ridiculous these laws are."
Police say Forchion and his brother, Russell, arranged for a large
shipment of marijuana from
According to court documents, Russell Forchion testified that he and his brother had helped arrange the delivery.
Edward Forchion, who used to maintain an apartment in
In the past, he has acknowledged doing some eccentric things to make his point that marijuana laws are unjust. Calling himself "NJweedman," he has fired up marijuana cigarettes in the chambers of the state legislature, in front of the Liberty Bell, and in the offices of U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.).
He also has entered politics and is running for
"I know the truth," he said. "It's a stupid law, so I plan on continuing to openly advocate marijuana."
He said he took satisfaction in the fact that a few elected officials have
begun talking about the need to decriminalize marijuana, among them
independent Gov. Jesse
On a personal level, Forchion, who is a Rastafarian, said marijuana laws violated his freedom of religion. He said smoking marijuana played an important role in his worship.
Beyond religious grounds, Forchion said, it is wrong to criminalize marijuana when other drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, are legal.
"The difference is tobacco is the product of rich, white men, and so it goes untouched by the government," he said.
Edward Forchion, accused in a 40-pound drug
deal, said he was like Rosa Parks. He refused a plea offer.
By Aamer Madhani
With an opening statement in which he compared himself to Rosa Parks and discounted the merits of marijuana laws, Edward Forchion - a self-described eccentric advocate of legalizing cannabis - began his defense yesterday against charges that he conspired to distribute 40 pounds of marijuana.
The first day of Forchion's trial in Camden County Superior Court started with a juror's being excused after a teary episode. She told the judge that she could not be part of a decision in the case, according to Forchion.
Forchion, 36, of Browns Mills, told the jury that he had smoked marijuana in the morning as well as at lunch. After the proceedings, he showed reporters a marijuana cigarette that he had in the front pocket of his jacket.
Forchion, acting as his own counsel with lawyer Jaime Kaigh of Cherry Hill
advising, wore a khaki summer suit and T-shirt with a marijuana theme that
bore the message, "I love my country; I fear my government." He
told the jury that when Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus
He turned down a last-minute plea offer from John Wynne, a
Under Wynne's offer, Forchion would have been eligible for parole after 33 months. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in state prison.
In his opening statement, Forchion asked the jury to invoke its power to nullify the law under which he was charged - even though two Superior Court judges had affirmed the prosecution's request that he not be allowed to advertise the concept.
As Forchion was finishing his statement, he said he was surprised that Wynne had not objected to his bringing up the nullification power.
Judge Stephen W. Thompson interjected, "So am I."
Wynne declined to comment.
Forchion is accused of hooking up his younger brother, Russell, with a
marijuana supplier in
The shipment was delivered to the
Shortly after picking up the marijuana, Russell Forchion was arrested as he drove away from the laboratories, authorities said. His brother, who was driving behind him, was also arrested.
Russell Forchion pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in 1998 and agreed to testify against his brother.
Russell Forchion testified reluctantly yesterday, changing his earlier
statements to police and earlier testimony that he had bought his brother a
plane ticket to
"All I said is that he went to
Edward Forchion said that he had flown to
When the package did not arrive on the day it was supposed to, Edward Forchion said, he advised his brother not to pick it up because police had likely caught on to the plan.
Forchion, who has been out on bail since his arrest, is running for
The legalization advocate conceded his role in a drug deal. He got a light term and time to talk with jurors.
By Aamer Madhani
After refusing several plea offers that he said would compromise his principles,
In exchange for a light sentence and one more chance to address the jurors, he admitted to introducing two parties to a $20,000 cannabis deal. Yesterday would have been the second day of his trial.
"I did it for my kids," Edward Forchion said of the plea agreement as he left Camden County Superior Court yesterday. "But I still believe what I believe."
Forchion, 36, of Browns Mills, is a candidate for the U.S. House and the Burlington County Board of Freeholders on the Legalize Marijuana ticket.
He was brought to trial on charges of conspiring to distribute more than
25 pounds of cannabis - specifically, 40 pounds of marijuana from an
Instead, he pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute and conspiracy to distribute more than five pounds of marijuana, both second-degree offenses, and could spend as little as six months in prison.
Once released, he could be tested for drugs at any time, said his legal adviser, Jaime Kaigh. Forchion acted as his own attorney during the proceedings.
Forchion said he had a difficult time accepting the plea and did not make a final decision until arriving at the Camden County Hall of Justice yesterday morning.
A Rastafarian, he said he smoked marijuana for religious reasons, to relieve back pain, and to help him deal with chronic depression. Since the mid-1990s, Forchion, a former cross-country truck driver, has been an outspoken advocate of legalizing marijuana, and he acknowledges that he has done some outlandish things in an attempt to get his point across.
He has been cited for lighting marijuana cigarettes in the legislature's chambers and the office of U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews. He told the jury during his opening statement Tuesday afternoon that he had smoked marijuana before coming to court that morning and had smoked again during the lunch break.
Forchion acknowledged in court yesterday that he had introduced his
brother, Russell, to a marijuana supplier in
The shipment was delivered to the
Shortly after picking up the marijuana, Russell Forchion was arrested as he drove away from the laboratories, authorities said. His brother, who was driving behind him, was also arrested.
A third man, Eric Poole, who signed for the package, was convicted of a lesser crime. Russell Forchion, who had agreed to testify for the prosecution, served about five months in prison before being placed on intensive supervisory parole.
Edward Forchion is free on $65,000 bail until his sentencing on Dec. 1.
Before the proceedings began Tuesday, Assistant Prosecutor John Wynne offered Forchion a deal in which he would have spent 33 months in jail. On Tuesday night, Wynne called Kaigh and offered Forchion a sentence in which he might have to serve only six months in prison and then be placed on intensive supervisory parole.
Wynne said he thought the sentence was just, considering that Forchion had a lesser role in the conspiracy than his brother.
Forchion's defense strategy was to persuade the jury to invoke its power of nullification, by which a jury can set aside the law out of sympathy for a defendant. He pursued that strategy even though two Superior Court judges had affirmed the prosecutor's argument that the concept of nullification, although available for a jury's use, should not be advertised.
In his opening statement, Forchion still talked to the jury about the power. To the surprise of him and Judge Stephen W. Thompson, Wynne did not object.
Wynne said yesterday that he had not objected because "it wasn't hurting me. I think he was hurting himself."
Forchion also pleaded guilty to possession of a stolen item, a two-barrel
shotgun, in an unrelated
In a departure from typical court proceedings, Thompson allowed Forchion to address the jury after he entered the guilty plea and ask the 13 citizens if they saw any merit in his argument that the government's marijuana laws were wrong.
"It is highly unusual, but everything about this case has been unusual," Thompson said.
Several jury members told Forchion that they felt for him and understood his cause. One juror even encouraged Forchion to continue fighting for his cause when he is released from prison. But the jurors also said that they did not understand how his belief that marijuana should be legalized related to the charges he was facing.
"There is a right and a wrong way to do things," one juror said.
His trial in state Superior Court here on charges of conspiring to
distribute 40 pounds of marijuana ended Wednesday after Forchion pleaded
guilty to lesser charges. Forchion, 36, of
Had he been convicted of the more serious distribution charges, Forchion could have been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. Forchion will be sentenced on Dec. 1, well after voters decide whether he should serve on the Burlington County Board of Freeholders or represent the 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Forchion is running in both races on the Legalize Marijuana Party ticket.
"I pleaded guilty but I feel like a winner," Forchion said. "(Prosecutors) offered me so much, (but) they wouldn't just drop the charge. They didn't want me to win this case on jury nullification." Forchion's defense strategy was jury nullification, when a jury decides not to enforce a law out of sympathy for the defendant.
Forchion, a former truck driver who has been an outspoken advocate of
legalizing marijuana, was charged with helping his brother and another man
pick up a shipment of 40 pounds of marijuana at the
Russell Forchion and Eric Poole pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served short jail terms.
"To be consistent and fair, this was a responsible plea," said
John Wynne, a
While Forchion conceded he is not likely to win at the polls this year, he believes voters can cast ballots for him to protest the country's marijuana laws.
Wynne said Forchion is permitted to remain on the ballot. His conviction won't be official until he is sentenced, and that will be after the election.
In addition to the marijuana charges, Forchion also pleaded guilty to
possession of a stolen shotgun in
The charges, which date to 1996, will be consolidated with the drug charges, Wynne said.
Forchion ran unsuccessfully against incumbent U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, D-1st
Third-party candidate Ed Forchion spent part of the campaign season behind
bars, and he expects to return there soon. He can't hold elected office,
since he'll be sentenced in December for shipping 25 pounds of marijuana to
But Forchion still hopes residents will support him in November when he
seeks a seat on the
"Me running for office is just giving other people the opportunity to participate in my protest," said Forchion, 36, a Rastafarian who says he uses marijuana for religious reasons, to alleviate back pain, to clear his mind and to boost creativity. "I would love to get 5,000 or 10,000 people to vote for me. It would be a symbolic thing."
Forchion, who calls himself "the Weedman," was arrested in
Belmar in November 1997 on charges he was involved in arranging for and
picking up a shipment of 25 pounds of marijuana that came from
Another 15 pounds of the drug was found in Forchion's brother's van as the two drove away from the pickup spot, Wynne said. He said Forchion faced up to 20 years in prison, 10 without parole.
But under the plea bargain Forchion accepted Tuesday, he will serve up to 10 years, with his first chance for parole after two years. If a panel of judges accepts Forchion into an intensive parole program that could include home visits, curfews and daily drug testing, Forchion could spend as little as six months in jail, Wynne said.
Similar deals were given to two other defendants in the case -- Forchion's brother, Russell, and Eric Poole.
By agreeing to the deal, Forchion will also dispose of several other
charges against him: that he possessed 15 pounds of marijuana in
Those weren't Forchion's only run-ins with the law. The former truck driver has been arrested several times for smoking joints during public protests, once during a session of the state Assembly.
Forchion, who took the plea deal on the second day of his trial, said he couldn't resist the agreement. "I pleaded guilty, but I feel like a winner," said Forchion, who is free on $65,000 bail. "It was so close to total victory that I feel good about it."
In addition to sparing himself serious jail time, Forchion, who acted as his own lawyer, got his chance to address a jury on the subject of marijuana laws.
He asked the jurors to put the laws on trial, finding him innocent if they
decided the policies were unethical. His main argument was that the
government has wrongly classified marijuana as one of
Since 1996, he said, eight states have at least partially rejected those beliefs by making marijuana legal when prescribed for medical use.
"The law is a lie, and it is being enforced," said Forchion, who had planned to call witnesses, including a university professor and a state chemist. "I want to present the truth."
Wynne admits that Forchion's defense strategy prompted him to offer a fairly lenient deal.
"He was representing himself, and when that happens, sometimes juries feel sympathy because's he's not a lawyer," Wynne said.
As part of the deal, Forchion was allowed to speak to the jury again before they were dismissed. He says he polled jurors and found that at least five of them were on his side. "I would have got a hung jury," he said.
But Wynne says it's unlikely jurors would have disregarded the facts and found Forchion innocent. He said they seemed concerned that the marijuana could have ended up in the hands of children if Forchion sold it.
Forchion, who is married and has four children, says he will do what he can to keep his time in prison to a minimum, including taking a break from smoking marijuana during his probation. But he isn't promising to give up the drug forever.
"I have always felt like I, and I alone, control my body," he said. "By me signing this plea, I am giving up my right to regulate my own body. When I get that back, I probably will use marijuana again."
Forchion pleaded guilty last month to arranging a deal for 40 pounds of
cannabis. Two days after his guilty plea he was arrested in
But the State Attorney General's Election Division ruled Forchion is eligible to stay on the ballot until he is sentenced. That isn't scheduled until December.
- Aamer Madhani,
SUPERIOR COURT of NEW
Forchion -aka- njweedman
motion: To withdraw bribery induced plea
- REASONS -
(1) I was being denied a fair trial at the time plea was accepted - I
denied witnesses, or legal
(2) - I didn’t have the opportunity to discuss this legal matter (plea)
with my lawyer
(3) - At the time of the plea - I was suffering from a bout of anxiety,
this is related to the
(4) The states offer was an illegal act of bribery - in violation of 18 U.S.C. 210(c) (2) - this bribery was designed to keep me from presenting my legal defense of Jury Nullification, to a jury. Bribery is a illegal act - law enforcement is denied the opportunity to engage in illegal acts to prosecute citizens
(5) The State resurrected the
(6) The State unjustly charged me with a new offense on Feb 8, just too
again present more
(7) The State of
The state has for almost three years been attempting to bribe me out of my right to a fair jury trial. On numerous occasions the state offered me more of my freedom, in exchange for my guilty testimony. On Sept 20, Th. 2000, the third day of my trial, I suffered an anxiety attack and succumbed to the states undue pressure. - The fact that I had no assistance in preparing my defense or any financial help (from the Public Defenders office in acquiring/presenting witnesses for my defense, greatly increased the pressure, the courts lack of concern when presented these constitutional violations read into the court record on Sept. 18th. /see attached -court read statement/ played into my anxiety), in obtaining witnesses on my behalf. - Previously before Judge Brown I had complained to the court that the state was attempting to bribe me out of my “right” to a fair Jury trial.
On Sept 18th, I again brought this to the attention of the court, in Judge Thompson’s chambers when I again refused to accept the proceeds of bribery.
My legal assistant and the prosecutor conspired to prevent me from
presenting my chosen legal defense, OPEN ADVOCATION of JURY NULLIFICATION,
and conspired to bribe me into making false statements (plea). By denying me
the opportunity to legally defend myself.
1. -From the day I was arrested, (Nov. 24th, 1997) and learned I was the first defendant charged under a new law signed by Gov. Whitman on August 4, 1997. I have insisted on a Jury Trial where I intended to use a defense of OPEN ADVOCATION of JURY NULLIFICATION. I swore I would never sign away my right to a Jury trial.
The lawyers assigned to assist me have refused too. I know I’m not like most defendants - I know about jury nullification - I know that all laws are subject to challenges. This was a new law, subject to challenge. It is ironic that in 1994 Megan Law was passed and the Office of the Public Defender has been the main challenger of it, protecting child molesters but ignoring the injustices, unconstitutionality of this new marijuana law. The office of the public defender profits off the law.
"Jury nullification of law," as it is sometimes called,
is a traditional American right defended
2. - In effect the Jury has the right to Judge a law as well as evidence. - I wished to legally present a defense of “ THE LAWS WRONG NOT I.” - the state and members of the local bar -feared such a defense and conspired to prevent me from presenting it.
In 1986 the New Jersey Supreme Court decided
I was Pro Se as a way of utilizing Jury Nullification, but being
Pro Se in no way excludes my right to counsel for assistance again as per the
NJ and federal constitutions. I repeatedly made this clear; I needed a lawyer
for assistance. The counsel assigned refused to operate in such a capacity.
Without the counsel for assistance this left me feeling powerless and
psychologically defeated on the third day of my trial. - At that point the state’s
repeated attempts to bribe me out of my right to a Jury trial were successful
out of despair and helplessness it was reluctantly
I plead Guilty not because I was guilty but because the system
refused to assist me with my defense. I was faced with continuing as a
defendant faced with a possible punishment of twenty five years or more in an
unfair trial or accepting the state’s bribery offer of a flat ten year
sentence with no bar on parole, in exchange for false guilty testimony to all
charges. Ultimately, I succumbed to the pressures of the state’s
repeated bribery attempts, and in a
Originally I was just fighting the charges stemming from
The State of
According to NJ state law marijuana is a schedule 1 drug. I say that is a lie. Just look up the definition of a schedule 1 drug and compare that to what is known about marijuana and anyone with a fourth grade education can see the state flat-out lies about marijuana and arrests and ruins people based on this lies. THE LAW IS FLAWED.
This is what I wanted to present to the Jury, again the truth as per NJ
Constitution article 1 (6)
Definition of a schedule 1 drug according to the CSA (Controlled Substance
Act) of 1970:
The problem with this act is marijuana was deliberately, politically, maliciously mis-placed into schedule 1, making it illegal when factually, scientifically it should be a schedule 2, 3, or 4 legal drug if placement was even required. According to 21 U.S.C. & 321(p) - Marijuana was grand-fathered in as a old drug and need not conform to modern standards, or classification’s. For Political reason’s the CSA ignored this 1938 law that to this day is still in-effect.
Schedule 1 :
Factually-scientifically marijuana does not meet this required description.
(1)-I and millions of other’s call marijuana
use that ( “USE” ) not
I made it known that I wished to utilize NJ CONSTITUTION article 1(6) - Which state’s:
a person may freely speak, and in
all prosecutions - the truth may be given as evidence to the jury.
- The fact that marijuana doesn’t fit the description of a schedule 1
drug I had intended to make a highlight of my case, but unfairly, unlawfully.
I was denied even expert witness’s to again
tell the truth about marijuana. At the time of the plea acceptance the state
had it’s expert Dr. Songza
Park, Sr. - of the NJ State Police laboratory in
Again, this is a right ( to present the truth) as
defined by the NJ Constitution but because the legal profession wants to keep
it’s cash cow (The Marijuana Laws) intact, as well as the state’s
desire to keep it’s Marijuana Prohibition intact I had no assistance in
my defense, to the point even my right: to present witness’s was being
denied as per NJ Constitution Article 1: ( 10) In all criminal prosecutions
the accused shall have the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial
jury; to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be
confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for
obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel in
3.- The Judge errored in his Voir Dire - again preventing me from having a fair trial.
- according to again NJ -Vs- RAGLAND - The Judge was to in addition to being asked whether they (potential jurors) believed they will be able to obey the court’s charge, should also be asked if they believed they will be able to ignore the courts charge. If the nullification power is desirable, then, obviously, juries should include only those people who are capable of exercising it. In my case Judge Thompson didn’t do this and was in error for not doing it. Again my legal advisor should have helped me object to this. I’m not going to allege the Judge did it deliberately but had the trial gone to the Jury I would have asked for a mis-trial on this issue (wrong jury instructions at VOIR DIRE), if it was denied I would have asked for it on appeal. –“assistance from the assist of counsel would have been greatly appreciated at this point, but again assist of counsel failed to ever meet with me to plan any strategy or tactic’s.
4. - Last minute Discovery admitted into record.
The biggest surprise of my trial wasn’t really
the legal professions lack of assistance in my defense it was my brother’s
testimony. I didn’t get a copy of his plea agreement or statements
until Sept 18th, the day my trial began. He had re-assured me on several
occasions that he didn’t mention my name at all. - Now he admits he didn’t
think I would really go to trial either and made the statements just to get
the deal the state had offered. This is exactly why state plea bargains
should be illegal. They are nothing but state sanctioned bribery, bribery is an
illegal act. - A act that even state prosecutors should not be allowed to do.
- Again plea bargains force citizens to make statements that aren’t
true in order to avoid imprisonment. I had asked on several occasions for all
discovery material. In fact on court record on July 18th before Judge Brown Mr.
Wynne said, defense had every thing he had. Then on Sept.
A. The most valuable thing a person posses is his/her freedom. The
b. Again had I had legal assistance I would have tried to have these
statements thrown out, or at least objected to it’s inclusion on this
basis. My legal assistant didn’t even bother to appear, (Sept 18th, the
first day of Trial) instead he sent one of his law partners daughters to baby
sit me, she had no clue, or experience in a first degree criminal trial. She didn’t
advise me to object, probably because she wasn’t aware of the previous
statements. Again my right to counsel for assistance was vital to my case but
because of the lack of assistance rendered, this opportunity was lost.
EDWARD “njweedman” FORCHION
He calls himself an "American dissident."
But that doesn't stop Edward "njweedman" Forchion from running for a First District seat in Congress and a seat on the Camden County Board of Freeholders.
Forchion, 36, of Browns Mills, said his campaign is basically a protest advocating the legalization of marijuana, a stance that has gotten him into serious trouble with the law.
"I don't think I will get enough votes to oust (incumbent Democrat) Rob Andrews. But this is my opportunity to present my case," Forchion said. "This is my opportunity to voice my opinion in public."
Wearing a T-shirt that reads "I love my country, but I fear my government," Forchion explained his Legalize Marijuana Platform.
"Marijuana should be legal. I am telling the truth about marijuana," he said. "For the last 50 to 60 years, the government has lied about marijuana, using these lies to incarcerate people. Marijuana is not dangerous. If it doesn't suit you, then don't use it."
Forchion compared the high number of deaths per year from alcohol and tobacco use to those related to marijuana use.
"Nearly 400,000 people a year die from tobacco. If anyone should be in jail it should the chief executive officers of the tobacco industry," he said. "And the government has the nerve to call marijuana a dangerous substance. It is supposed to be free country. How is it a free country if you don't have the right to regulate your own body?"
Arrested on Nov. 24, 1997 during a drug raid in Bellmawr, Forchion
faced more than 20 years in prison and $300,000 in fines. He and his
brother, Russell, 30, were arrested a short distance from the
At that time, Forchion pleaded not guilty and began mounting a defense based on jury nullification -- under which jurors refuse to convict because they believe the law that a person is accused of violating is unconstitutional -- and freedom of religion.
Then in February, he faced another conspiracy charge for a drug transaction in which he introduced two parties. This is added to the list of arrests he has had for minor drug possession offenses.
"I can be arrested for marijuana any day of the week," he said.
After months and months of being in and out of court for the 1997 and February arrests, Forchion pleaded guilty to a combined lesser charge about two weeks ago.
Forchion could have to report to jail in December for anywhere from two to four months. But on Tuesday, he filed a withdrawal of his plea claiming he had an "unfair trial."
"A lot of people don't understand jury nullification. Inherently, the jury had the right and power to judge a law as well as evidence," he said.
He admits that being found guilty would bar him from serving in political office, but he still insists on getting his name on the ballot. And he insists that nothing is official until he is actually sent to jail.
Forchion, who grew up in Sicklerville, graduated from
He then joined the Marines in 1986, but was discharged after an asthma attack. Forchion confessed that he then switched his name and re-enlisted. He was then honorably discharged in 1990.
Forchion bought own truck in 1993 and was a coast to coast driver until he was arrested in 1997 after the Bellmawr drug transaction. Since then Forchion has spent most of his time maintaining his Web site and preparing his defense.
"I felt that I had something to gain. I wanted to spread the word before I was thrown in jail," he said. "All this actually saved my life."
Another issue Forchion said he feels very strongly about is abortion.
"Abortion is murder. I know I have offended people by saying it like that. Life begins at conception," he said.
He then asked, "This person has a right to regulate her body, then why don't I have the right to regulate my body?"
PRESS COVERAGE OF PLEA WITHDRAW
The TIMES of
Candidate's plea going to pot
By BETH E. FAND
Since then, he has begun feeling more like a hypocrite who took a bribe.
So Forchion, a candidate for a seat on the
Forchion had intended to argue that the jury should find the law flawed and acquit him.
The protest candidate, who expects to get only about 1,000 votes in November's election, says he's ready to make that argument before a jury again, even though he has already lost his home, his trucking business and even a custody battle over a daughter because of his activism.
Besides being charged several times for smoking marijuana during protests, he was arrested on charges he bought the drug just three days after he signed his plea agreement, something he took as a sign from God that he should pursue his beliefs.
"I am a patriot," said Forchion, a married father of four who is free on $65,000 bail. "When people start allowing the government to treat you unfair, it spreads. That's why we have the situation we have now with the war on drugs."
But it may not be that easy for Forchion to pull out of the deal. Camden County Prosecutor Lee Solomon said Forchion will have to convince a judge to void the deal by proving that his agreement was not voluntary, or that he was not adequately represented by an attorney, Solomon said. He said those arguments will probably be heard on Forchion's scheduled sentencing date, Dec. 8.
Forchion expects to have no problem proving he was not properly represented. Forchion, who was going to act as his own lawyer, says he was entitled to help from the public defender's office but didn't get full cooperation.
Jeff Beach, a spokesman for the
Jury nullification is not considered an acceptable defense in New Jersey, and Judge Stephen W. Thompson ordered Forchion not to pursue it, Beach said. As a result, he said, public defender Jaime Kaigh was not able to comply when Forchion asked him to subpoena certain witnesses and submit a motion asking the judge to allow the jury nullification defense.
Kaigh deemed one witness ineligible as an expert because he was going to testify that marijuana has been wrongly classified as one of the most dangerous drugs by the U.S. government, Beach said.
If Forchion is allowed to withdraw his plea, Solomon said Camden County will be "happy to try him" on charges he was involved in arranging for and picking up a shipment of 40 pounds of marijuana that came from Arizona to New Jersey in 1997. Forchion could face up to 20 years in state prison, at least 10 without parole.
Under the plea bargain, he would serve up to 10 years, with his first chance for parole after two years. If he was accepted into an intensive parole program under the deal, he could spend as little as six months in jail, a Camden County assistant prosecutor has said.
While Forchion says he doesn't expect to be acquitted, he feels certain he would end up with a hung jury after making his arguments. He says he was allowed to poll jurors before his trial was called off last month and found that at least five of them were on his side.
Assistant prosecutor John Wynne disagreed, saying jurors seemed worried that the marijuana Forchion is accused of smuggling could have ended up in the hands of children.
Forchion said the marijuana would have been sold to friends, and while it might have reached a few children, it would not have been marketed specifically to youngsters by drug pushers standing on street corners.
He said the government could stop those who do sell marijuana to schoolchildren by legalizing the drug and regulating the way it is sold.
"It should be in stores," he said. "The government creates
the black market."
THE BURLINGTON COUNTY TIMES
'Weedman' wants to withdraw guilty plea
CAMDEN - Ed "njweedman" Forchion is attempting to withdraw his guilty plea for conspiring to distribute 40 pounds of marijuana.
Forchion, 36, a Pemberton Township resident who is running for Burlington County Freeholder and Congress on the Legalize Marijuana Ticket, pleaded guilty to lesser charges last month during his trial in state Superior Court here.
However, Forchion has filed papers Oct. 11 to withdraw his plea, saying he agreed to it "in a moment of extreme anxiety and temporary loss of my faith."
An observer of the Rastafarian faith, Forchion has said he smokes marijuana for religious reasons as well as to help ease back pain.
He said he realized that entering the plea was wrong when he was arrested several days later after buying three ounces of marijuana in the Strawberry Mansion section of Philadelphia, he said.
"I immediately knew I had made a mistake, and two days later God sent me another sign that my mission to free the herb was not complete and I had diverted from His mission," Forchion said. "The plea was not what God had intended of me."
Assistant Camden County Prosecutor John Wynne said he would argue against allowing Forchion to withdraw the plea.
A decision on Forchion's motion is likely before Forchion is sentenced in early December.
"There is nothing in the motion that would be grounds for a withdraw of the plea," Wynne said.
Meanwhile, Forchion's name will remain on the Nov. 7 ballot in both the freeholder and First Congressional District races.
Forchion pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and to two unrelated cases. In exchange, he received a sentence under which he could spend as little as six months in prison and be subject to intensive supervisory parole (ISP) for up to 27 months.
Had he been convicted of the more-serious distribution charges, Forchion could have been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.
Forchion's defense strategy was jury nullification, in which a jury decides not to enforce a law out of sympathy for the defendant. It was, however, a strategy the lawyer assigned to assist him in the trial refused to allow him to use, said Forchion, who represented himself in the case.
Forchion was assisted by Jaime Kaigh, a Cherry Hill attorney who was assigned to Forchion through the state Office of the Public Defender, department spokesman Jeff Beach said.
"I felt I was getting an unfair trial in the first place," Forchion said. "I got more leeway than I thought I would get, but I wasn't getting a fair trial. I wanted to present the truth, that the law (against marijuana use) is wrong."
Beach said the defense strategy was barred by the judge prior to the start
of the trial.
Forchion, a former truck driver who has been an outspoken advocate of legalizing marijuana, was charged with helping his brother and another man pick up a shipment of 40 pounds of marijuana at the Bellmawr Industrial Park on Nov. 24, 1997. The marijuana was shipped from a marijuana supplier in Arizona via Federal Express.
Russell Forchion and Eric Poole pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served short jail terms.
Forchion ran unsuccessfully against incumbent U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, D-1st, of Haddon Heights in 1998 on the Legalize Marijuana Party ticket.
He also ran unsuccessfully last year for seats representing the Eighth State Assembly District and on the Camden County Freeholder board.
LEGAL MARIJUANA ADVOCATE FLEES TO CANADA TO AVOID PRISON by Jason Lauglin
Edward Forchion, a Browns Mills man who has campaigned to legalize marijuana, has fled to Canada to avoid a jail sentence for possession of the drug.
Forchion, 36, left the United States last weekend and has sought asylum at
the Cuban Embassy in Canada, he said in a phone call to the
Courier-Post. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 1 in Superior
"I can't just walk into jail," Forchion said Wednesday.
Forchion ran unsuccessfully this fall for a
He said he arrived Wednesday at the Cuban Embassy in
Forchion pleaded guilty to conspiracy and marijuana possession but filed a motion to retract his plea.
He could be sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, but he can apply to the state's Intense Supervised Probation program, which could allow him to be released under strict monitoring after serving about six months of his term. Without the program, he would be eligible for parole in about 30 months.
Forchion would become a fugitive if he does not show up for his Dec. 1 hearing, said Greg Reinert, spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's office.
"As with all cases, if the defendant fails to appear on his sentencing date on Dec. 1, the prosecutor will move to revoke bail and begin proceedings to have any posted bail forfeited and to seek to have that defendant extradited from any jurisdiction he is hiding in," Reinert said.
Forchion pleaded guilty in September, saying he wanted to be out of jail
to see his children. His children were not with him in
"I don't hurt anybody. I should be allowed to smoke," he said.
LOVE IT OR LEAF IT
To avoid a possible prison sentence, Edward Forchion, a pro-marijuana
activist, has fled the country and requested asylum from the Cuban Embassy in
He tried to change the system by civil disobedience and running for elected office. Now the candidate who campaigned as "NJ Weedman'' says he wants asylum.
Instead of facing a possible prison sentence in
"I can't just walk into jail,'' Forchion told the Courier-Post of
Forchion arrived in
"I didn't hurt anybody. I should be allowed to smoke,'' he said.
Authorities alleged Forchion was part of a drug ring that had 25 pounds of
marijuana shipped to a business in the
In October 1998, Forchion was indicted on charges of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute.
He was on the ballot at the time as the "legalize marijuana party''
candidate looking to replace
Dec. 1, Forchion faced up to 10 years in state prison.
He has since filed a motion seeking to retract that guilty plea.
Arrests and political campaigns continued.
In March, Forchion appeared at the State House for an Assembly session wearing a black and white striped prisoner's costume.
On the floor of the Assembly chambers, Forchion allegedly began smoking marijuana. He was escorted out by state troopers and arrested.
He said it was an act of civil disobedience to highlight what he said is the state's discrimination of marijuana users.
Forchion ran again this year as a third-party opponent to Andrews.
Forchion was also on the ballot in
During a campaign news conference outside the courthouse in
If Forchion does not appear in court for his sentencing hearing, he would be considered a fugitive.
"The prosecutor will move to revoke bail and begin proceedings to
have any posted bail forfeited and to seek to have that defendant
extradited,'' Camden County prosecutor's spokesman Greg Reinert
told the newspaper.
If only he was given a chance.
"I didn't get a fair trial. I have a right to choose my
defense. I have a right to legal assistance. I chose to challenge
the laws with the jury and I am entitled to assistance from counsel to do
Calling The Trentonian from an undisclosed location in
He also expressed conflicted emotions about his Canadian jaunt, declaring that he dearly missed his wife Janice and his five children: King, Daeja, Ajanea, Maria and Chanel.
"I'm a little stressed out and all. I don't know whether I made the right move or not," Forchion admitted over the phone.
The practicing Rastafarian, who stunned onlookers in March when he lit a joint in the chambers of the New Jersey Assembly, faces a sentencing hearing Friday for charges on conspiracy and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
Authorities allege that Forchion was part of a group that had shipped 25
pounds of marijuana to a business in the
In Oct., 1998, Forchion was indicted on the conspiracy and possession charges related to those allegations.
Forchion pleaded guilty in state Superior Court to these charges but subsequently filed a motion to retract the plea.
With Friday's sentencing hearing, Forchion could face up to 10 years in prison.
However, he argued that he will not officially become a fugitive from American law enforcement until Friday.
Forchion said that he will think about his next move after he receives the
result of his asylum request from officials of
"If nothing else, they took it seriously, I'll tell you that," he said.
He added that he also made requests for asylum in several European countries and is waiting for a response from those governments as well.
Forchion's argument for asylum is simple: He was denied a fair trial when officials denied him the right to use a legal defense known as "Jury Nullification."
In this process, a defendant indicted of charges outlined in a newly enacted law can argue to a jury that the law is bogus.
Forchion's argument was given support by a
In that editorial, Ragonese wrote of "jury nullification" that "it is an indispensable political right in a free, self-governing republic."
Ragonese wrote later in the editorial that "jurors serving in New Jersey Superior Court are left in the dark regarding their power and right to pass on issues of law and fact in criminal prosecutions."
Admitting that whileconsitutions of only three
"Jury's power of nullification by finding guilty defendant not guilty is unfortunate but unavoidable power that should not be advertised, but to extent constitutionally permissible, should be limited; efforts to protect and expand jury nullification are inconsistent with real values of system of criminal justice," Collins wrote.
Forchion argues that the Camden Public Defender's Office should have
allowed him and assisted his efforts to use jury nullification against
He argues that
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
MARIJUANA ADVOCATE IS SENTENCED TO PRISON
The highly unusual drug case involving marijuana-legalization advocate Edward Forchion came to a conclusion yesterday as he was sentenced to prison for his part in brokering a drug deal for his brother.
With Forchion's wife, Janice, and two of his young children in the courtroom, Camden County Superior Court Judge Stephen W. Thompson sentenced Forchion to a 10-year prison term. Forchion will be eligible for parole in slightly less than two years, and he could apply for intensive supervisory parole in six months.
"I don't smoke marijuana," Janice Forchion said after the trial. "But I don't understand why they let murderers, rapists and pedophiles off so quickly and put away marijuana smokers."
If Forchion, of Browns Mills, pursues the supervisory parole option, he could be tested at any time under the program.
Forchion - who has been cited for lighting marijuana joints in the
chambers of the New Jersey Legislature and the office of
A Rastafarian, Forchion has said he smokes marijuana for religious reasons, to relieve physical ailments, and to soothe chronic depression. Since the mid-1990s, Forchion, a former cross-country truck driver, has been an outspoken advocate of legalizing marijuana.
In November, he ran unsuccessfully for the Burlington County Board of
Chosen Freeholders and a
Assistant Prosecutor John Wynne Jr. said the Prosecutor's Office would not contest Forchion's application for the parole.
When he entered a guilty plea in September, Forchion acknowledged that he
introduced his brother, Russell, to a marijuana supplier in
The shipment was delivered to the
Shortly after picking up the marijuana, Russell Forchion was arrested as he drove away from the park, authorities said. Edward Forchion, who was driving behind him, was also arrested.
A third man, Eric Poole, who signed for the package, was convicted of a lesser crime. Russell Forchion testified for the prosecution, and served about five months in prison before being placed on intensive supervisory parole.
In his September trial, Edward Forchion served as his own attorney.
In his opening statement, he criticized what he said were unjust marijuana
laws and asked jurors to invoke jury nullification, in which a jury can set
aside the law it believes that the law is unjust. Jury nullification
cannot be advertised to a jury under
The trial ended when Wynne offered Forchion what both said was a good deal - potentially spending as little as six months in prison.
But before the sentencing yesterday, the judge heard a motion from Forchion to withdraw his guilty plea. Forchion said that he did not get a proper trial, because the Public Defender's Office refused to pay for expert witnesses to testify on his behalf. He said he wanted a new trial.
Wynne successfully countered that if Forchion were given a new trial, the first trial would have been essentially a practice run, something that every attorney would like but that collides with the integrity of the system.
The judge denied Forchion's motion to withdraw.
"In the middle of the trial, you elected to plead guilty, sir," Thompson said.
Forchion said that he pondered not showing up in court yesterday.
Last week, he called news organizations in
By Wednesday, he sent e-mails to the media that he would appear for his sentencing.
"I didn't want [my wife] to lose the house," said Forchion, referring to the home she put up to post his $65,000 bail.
Judge Stephen W. Thompson, said he believed Forchion was sincere in his advocacy for reform of marijuana laws. But he noted that Forchion did break the law.
"Your beliefs at this juncture are misguided," Thompson