Image via NJ Weedman
Longtime cannabis activist Edward Forchion, a.k.a. NJ Weedman, has had a terrible 2016. His Trenton, N.J. restaurant, The Joint, and cannabis sanctuary, the Liberty Bell Temple, are nearing failure after being repeatedly harassed by the police who succeeded in scaring away customers.
A year ago, Forchion thought he was in a great place. The Joint was not only a popular restaurant, provocatively located directly across the street from City Hall and down the block from the U.S. District Courthouse in the heart of Trenton, but the Liberty Bell Temple next door also served as a public sanctuary where ganja smokers could toke in peace, away from the crime-ridden streets. Forchion received a lot of publicity with features in the Wall Street Journal and Vice, and he wrote a regular column in the Trentonian newspaper.
But the police did not take kindly to Forchion’s high-profile activities. Early in the year they began enforcing an 11 p.m. curfew on the restaurant, coming in and telling everyone to leave, even though the restaurant is located in a business district and the curfew rules did not apply. During the day, the police would routinely park their patrol cars out front with their flashing lights on and this put a major chill on the restaurant’s business. Much of the clientele was government employees, and they became afraid of being seen in the restaurant.
In March, Forchion filed a lawsuit, arguing that that the police were interfering with the lawful right to assemble and freedom of religion. The police responded by opening an investigation into drug dealing and, on April 27, raided the temple. They seized a sophisticated audiovisual setup, including 28 cameras and computers which were set up to film a reality TV show, as well as hard drives containing all of Forchion’s writings going back years. The police also claimed to find $19,000 worth of marijuana.
Image via Gannett
In the ultimate insult, the police seized and then crushed the NJ Weedman’s iconic Weedmobile, a custom van painted with murals celebrating ganja that Forchion had driven cross-country multiple times.
Forchion was arrested and faces multiple charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and maintaining a drug facility—even though the City Clerk announced that the police had been wrong all along about the curfew. And while Forchion openly admits to possessing cannabis and smoking it every day, the restaurant and temple has a “bring your own weed” policy and he claims no dealing ever took place on the property. It was wired up with cameras after all.
In a bizarre turn, Forchion was charged with “cyber bullying and harassment of a police officer” after he publicly berated a Trenton cop for being a pedophile and the video was posted to social media.
The NJ Weedman has a long and colorful history of cannabis activism. He has successfully challenged his marijuana arrests in court and pioneered jury nullification as a tactic for avoiding conviction. He has run for office as part of the Legalize Marijuana Party. Forchion owned a prominent medical marijuana dispensary and Liberty Bell Temple in Hollywood, Calif., but it was shut down after a federal raid in 2012. Forchion also has bone cancer and is a legitimate medical marijuana user.
Forchion got in trouble back in 2002, which led to a long-running feud with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. While on provisional release from jail on possession charges, the NJ Weedman continued his activism by advocating for marijuana legalization despite being warned not to by state officials. Forchion filed a complaint with then-U.S. Attorney Christie defending his free speech rights and state officials responded by arresting Forchion and putting him back in jail for encouraging criminal behavior. Officials were specifically upset about a series of TV commercials Forchion filmed calling for legalization. After five months in jail and a hunger strike, a federal judge ruled that state of New Jersey was wrong because Forchion’s activism had been within his free speech rights and he was released.
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After getting out of jail, Forchion filed another complaint with U.S. Attorney Christie and began picketing his office repeatedly. Police detained Forchion and ticketed him every time. Forchion went back to federal court, where his right to free speech was upheld and the case was dismissed.
In 2015, Forchion caught up to Gov. Christie again in the Weedmobile and Christie spoke about their history at a press conference. Christie showed the NJ Weedman some begrudging respect before giving a prohibitionist sermon about how marijuana is a gateway drug.
Forchion has been one of the most outspoken cannabis activists in the USA in the last 15 years and he has suffered repeatedly for his beliefs. Right now, his once thriving business is all but out of business due to the police harassment campaign. He needs people to come back to his restaurant while it remains open and he needs a new Weedmobile. Forchion was not shy when he placed his cannabis temple right across the street from Trenton City Hall and parked his Weedmobile out front. They say you can’t fight City Hall but the NJ Weedman sure has tried.
If you want to make a donation to Forchion’s cause, you can do so here.