Hollywood, CA – The campaign to legalize marijuana has been an ongoing one for decades now. Cause celebs like the recently departed Jack Herer, the recently imprisoned Eddie Lepp and the incarcerated Mark Emory are men who sacrificed their lives and livelihood for a vision that now boasts 14 states where legalization is in some shape and form a reality. Agree or disagree with the ritual of partaking in the plant commonly known as marijuana, the argument for legalization is not going away any time soon. Popular shows like ‘Weeds’ on Showtime, songs like Dr. Dre’s new single ‘Kush,’ and even a recent report from the CA NAACP exemplify that cannabis is an accepted part of popular culture.
Another individual has emerged on the campaign trail and his efforts are making new ground in the ongoing battle for legalization. Ed Forchion aka the NJWeedman is perhaps the first recognizable African American publicly forging the national effort for legalization. His ongoing efforts have accrued international headlines and as 2010 winds down, his recent victories will one day be recounted as historical.
Forchion, a New Jersey native, has the unique distinction of actually fighting court cases coast to coast. On April 1, 2010, Ed Forchion was arrested in Mount Holly, New Jersey with a pound of cannabis in the trunk of his car. A Burlington County grand jury indicted Forchion in August on a third degree charge of possession with the intent to distribute and a fourth degree charge of possession of drug paraphernalia. In October he pleaded not guilty.
Just recently on December 7, 2010 however, Superior Court Judge Charles Delehey allowed that Forchion will have the opportunity to submit a brief challenging the constitutionality of the state’s criminal code, which makes pot possession illegal, in part, because it has no medicinal value, while New Jersey is working to roll out a medical marijuana program for the treatment of certain conditions. Forchion has until April 15 to submit his argument that the two laws are contradictory and therefore unconstitutional. New Jersey became the 14th state to legalize the use of medical marijuana when the legislation was signed into law in January.
In addition, Forchion has now twice rejected the Burlington County prosecutor’s office plea deal to resolve the criminal matter. The original offer was six years, including three without parole; the new offer was reduced to an 18 month prison term in exchange for a guilty plea to the possession charge.
“The state of New Jersey has made a mistake in classifying marijuana as just a criminal substance,” avows Forchion. Forchion says he uses marijuana for medicinal and religious purposes. Marijuana is frequently used for healing and ritualistic purposes in Rastafarianism, a religion he practices. Forchion plans to utilize jury nullification to fight to not only have his charges dropped, but he also plans to file a lawsuit against the state to overturn the medical marijuana law. Forchion believes the New Jersey law is unconstitutional for allowing terminally ill people to possess marijuana while state criminal law prohibits anyone else from possessing pot.
This will be Forchion’s second bid to bring the issue of jury nullification to the forefront of the judicial system. He faced up to 30 years in prison back in 1997 when he was arrested and charged with conspiracy and possession of over 40 pounds of marijuana. He acted as his own defense counsel then, with a defense of religion, medical and open advocation of jury nullification. The issue of jury nullification so rattled the courts back then that he was offered a plea bargain, which he took, avoiding a possible lengthy jail sentence. To this day, he regrets that decision. Calling the prosecution’s plea offer a bribe, he admits he was lured out of his right to a trial. He envisions this case as another opportunity to bring jury nullification back to the forefront.
On the west coast his crusade continues to develop as well. On July 14, 2010 Forchion’s Los Angeles based Liberty Bell Temple, a state registered medical marijuana dispensary and Rastafarian Temple was raided by the local police. The raid was based on a new ordinance the city enacted which attempted to close many of the marijuana dispensaries /collectives. On December 10, 2010, in another victory for the man known as the “Superhero to the Potheads,” California State Judge Moher ruled the city ordinance “unconstitutional.” Forchion has a million dollar lawsuit pending against city for raid.
Considering that a recent report conducted by the CA NAACP found that “in the last twenty years, California made 850,000 arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana, and half a million arrests in the last ten years and that the people arrested were disproportionately African Americans and Latinos and overwhelmingly young people, especially young men” Fochion’s efforts for legalization take on huge political, social and racial ramifications.
As Alice Huffman, president of the CA NAACP stated in the report, “Marijuana law reform is a civil rights issue. For decades, law enforcement strategies have targeted low-income people of color who bear the disproportionate burden and stigma of arrest, prosecution, and permanent criminal records for marijuana possession and other minor drug offenses. As is well known,” she adds, “many prominent and successful individuals – including business leaders, public officials, and our current President – have admitted using marijuana. But they were not targeted by the police, were not frisked and searched, did not get arrested, and have not faced the stigma of criminal records that affects so many young people today. This double standard of justice must not be allowed to continue.”
Ed Forchion aka NJWeedman might be viewed by some as a “crazy pothead” but his efforts are paving the way for future legalization which appears inevitable. As he continues to ‘fight the powers that be’ one day his efforts will be acknowledged as more than a battle that ended ‘up in smoke.’”
“Marijuana is mainstream now. The media knows and readily purports it. Everyone is openly discussing it now. There’s a reefer revolution going on and yes, I am proudly and undeniably part of if,” cites the man known as NJWeedman. “When I first began demonstrating a few decades ago, folks thought I was a nutbag. But not anymore. I’m driving a full bandwagon now and the support is growing by leaps and bounds.”
To read more about Ed Forchion aka NJWeedman and support the cause, go to http://www.NJWeedman.com.