By: DANIELLE CAMILLI
Burlington County Times
MOUNT HOLLY – The Pemberton Township native long known as NJWeedman for his fight to legalize marijuana pleaded not guilty in Superior Court on Tuesday to drug possession and distribution charges stemming from a car stop in April.
Edward Forchion, now living and selling pot legally in California, entered the plea before Judge Jeanne T. Covert during his arraignment.
A Burlington County grand jury indicted him Aug. 31 on charges of third-degree possession with the intent to distribute and fourth-degree possession of drug paraphernalia.
Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Luciano said in court that the state’s plea offer, based on Forchion’s charges and criminal history, is six years in state prison, including three with no parole eligibility.
Court-appointed attorney Donald Ackerman said that he must review the tape of the police stop and that he could file a motion to dismiss.
Forchion, who is free on bail, said after his appearance that he is not interested in a plea and looks forward to taking the case to trial.
“I feel out of a jury of 12 and two alternates, at least four will have smoked marijuana and several others will have close friends or relatives who they know use marijuana. I will be counting on the potheads who end up on my jury for saving my life, my freedom,” he said.
Forchion acknowledged that he had about a pound of marijuana in the trunk of his rental car April 1, when police stopped him on Route 38 in Mount Holly for rolling through a red light. The Rastafarian said he had the drug for spiritual and medicinal reasons.
Forchion said he plans to file a constitutional challenge to New Jersey’s new medical marijuana law as part of his defense.
In January then-Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed legislation that would allow patients diagnosed with severe medical conditions, including AIDS, cancer, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease, to access marijuana grown and distributed through state-monitored dispensaries.
Forchion said he would challenge the law on the grounds that the state’s criminal code – the one he was arrested and charged under – reads that marijuana has no medicinal value.
Forchion has been in self-styled “political exile” from New Jersey since 2008. While he maintains a legal residence in Pemberton, he lives and works in California.
He runs the Liberty Bell Temple on Hollywood Boulevard, a state-registered medical marijuana clinic at which he legally sells pot and claims to run the only Rastafarian ministry in Los Angeles.
Before leaving for the West Coast, Forchion had fought for years in New Jersey to legalize marijuana for medical and spiritual purposes.
The founder of the Legalize Marijuana Party of New Jersey has run unsuccessful campaigns for governor, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, state Legislature, and Burlington County Board of Freeholders.
He dropped his formal bid for Congress this year but said he is still running as a write-in candidate.
He also lost his bids in New Jersey and California Superior Courts to have his name officially changed to NJWeedman.
Forchion served 16 months of a 10-year sentence for distributing and possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute for a 1997 offense out of Camden County. Judge Covert, a former assistant prosecutor in Camden County, said she would transfer Forchion’s current criminal case to another judge because of a conflict as a result of handling some of the defendant’s matters on appeal.
Contact: dcamilli@philyBurbs.com or 609-267-7586