NJWeedman, the medical marijuana activist and self-described “superhero to the potheads,” can represent himself in his upcoming criminal trial, a Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge Charles Delehey’s decision came after a hearing at which Ed Forchion, 47, reluctantly agreed that he would abide by the judge’s earlier ruling in the marijuana possession and distribution case.
Last fall, Delehey took away Forchion’s right to represent himself, finding the longtime activist would not follow the court’s rulings and would be disruptive to the trial while serving as his own attorney.
Forchion, who claims dual residency in Pemberton Township and California, was indicted in August on third-degree possession with the intent to distribute and fourth-degree possession of drug paraphernalia.
He readily admitted that he had about a pound of marijuana in the trunk of his rental car on April 1, 2010, when police stopped him on Route 38 in Mount
Holly for rolling through a red light. The Rastafarian said he had the drugs for his own spiritual and medicinal purposes.
Again in court Tuesday, Forchion told Delehey that his position is that the state law that criminalizes marijuana possession and distribution is unconstitutional now that New Jersey has a signed medical marijuana law that recognizes its medicinal value.
Delehey last year considered Forchion’s motion for dismissal on that argument and denied it, finding the activist was properly indicted on the charges under state law.
Forchion, despite the ruling and the judge’s repeated and specific instruction prohibiting the argument at trial, wants to put the issue before the jury.
Delehey again asked Forchion if he could abide by the ruling in court Tuesday before reconsidering whether the defendant could represent himself.
At first, Forchion remained defiant, saying he wanted to present his jury nullification argument and “tell the jury how I’m a victim of the state’s goofy marijuana laws.”
“I’m going to beg, plead and tell the truth and explain how the state lies about marijuana,” he said.
Delehey reminded Forchion that the law would not be an issue before the jury at the April 10 trial.
“That is not the jury’s function, to determine the law,” he said “If you cannot abide by the ruling, you leave the court no choice than to not allow you to represent yourself.”
Delehey said Forchion would be permitted to present a defense that the marijuana he possessed was for his own personal use and not for distribution.
He said evidence that Forchion is a licensed medical marijuana user and grower in California, where he runs his own dispensary, would also be allowed.
“The law will not be the issue. The issue will be the facts in the case,” the judge said. “The court will not allow a social type argument as a defense.”
After a short break in the hearing at the request of Forchion’s public defender, Donald Ackerman, Delehey again asked if the defendant would abide by his ruling.
“At the advice of my attorney, I was told to say yes,” he said.
Delehey questioned him further.
“Sure, your honor, I’m going to abide by your rules,” Forchion said.
Delehey, finding Forchion to be “obviously intelligent, knowledgeable and experienced in the courtroom,” reversed his earlier decision and will now allow the defendant to represent himself.
Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Luciano opposed the motion, saying he was concerned with the “orderly administration of justice” and Forchion’s “desire to make this into a social or political” debate.
“I don’t believe, as we are sitting here today, that he will follow your rules,” Luciano said. Delehey said he expects “clashes,” but will deal with them.
As Forchion prepares for his trial, he will also have to decide if he will reopen his medical marijuana dispensary, the Liberty Bell Temple in California, which was raided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency on Dec. 13.
Federal agents raided his home, business and the warehouse of his growing operation, seizing and destroying about 600 plants and freezing his bank accounts, he said.
“They shut my shop down, took all my weed and all my money,” he said. “They destroyed and took everything.”
Forchion said he believes he was targeted by the DEA after sending pot to New Jersey officials last year, including Gov. Chris Christie. He wasn’t charged after the Dec. 13 raid, but was left shaken.
“They left me with a message to basically stay closed,” he said.
Forchion has grabbed headlines for years in New Jersey and nationwide as a leading advocate for the legalization of the medical and spiritual use of marijuana.
The founder of the Legalize Marijuana Party of New Jersey, he ran unsuccessful but highly publicized campaigns for governor, U.S. Senate and Congress, the state Legislature, and the Burlington County Board of Freeholders.
In the past, he has found himself in trouble with the law after smoking pot at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, inside the Statehouse in Trenton, and outside the Burlington County courts complex in Mount Holly.
In 2008, Forchion moved to California, calling himself a political exile from New Jersey and opening a state-registered medical marijuana clinic, where he legally sells pot.
Forchion, who has achieved cult status in the medical marijuana community, made national news when he produced a flier for his “Obama One Year in Office Celebration” with a doctored photo of the president smoking a joint.
He also released a memoir, “Public Enemy 420: NJWeedman SuperHero to Potheads Volume 1.” “420” is slang for smoking pot.
Forchion also served 16 months of a 10-year sentence for distributing and possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute for a 1997 offense. If convicted in his current criminal case, he faces a state prison sentence.