'New Jersey Weedman,' high and dry after L.A. raid, ready for legal fight back home

Posted: January 02, 2012

Ed Forchion, widely known as the New Jersey Weedman for his advocacy of marijuana legalization, had a real bummer of a holiday.

Federal drug enforcement agents last month raided his 600-plant pot farm, medical marijuana dispensary, and apartment in Los Angeles, he said, and destroyed or confiscated all of his possessions.

"I had my whole little empire smashed," Forchion said last week from California. "They took all the weed, all the money, smashed all the cameras, took all the computers, the scales, everything." His four pit bulls were taken to a pound.

Forchion faxed a copy of a Dec. 13 search warrant, which listed his three California properties and the numerous assets that a judge said could be seized.

Now Forchion is worried about how he'll pay for a plane ticket to get back to New Jersey for a pretrial hearing Tuesday. He faces jail time if he is convicted on charges of possessing a pound of "California Kush" cannabis in Mount Holly on April 1, 2010.

At the hearing, he hopes to persuade a Burlington County judge to allow him to "exercise his rights" to represent himself at trial in April. He wants to argue to a jury that New Jersey's marijuana laws are illegal in the hope the panel throws out the charges against him - and possibly sets precedent. He says he smokes marijuana to alleviate pain caused by benign bone tumors he has in one leg and his shoulders.

"I haven't called my mom to buy me a plane ticket, but in the worst-case scenario, I will have to call," he said, noting that he never misses court hearings.

Forchion, 47, a former Burlington County resident, was tried in Camden County for drug possession a dozen years ago. Then, he defended himself against charges of possessing 40 pounds of pot. Halfway through the trial, he accepted a plea bargain to serve less than two years in prison.

In 2008, he moved to Los Angeles. He said he began carrying a card issued by the State of California that allows him to smoke marijuana and to operate a medical marijuana dispensary.

California and 13 other states, including New Jersey but not Pennsylvania, allow pot farms and dispensaries but restrict sales to those with specified medical conditions.

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Justice has issued directives saying marijuana use and sales are illegal, but the department will not "waste resources" prosecuting sick people and dispensary operators who comply with their state's laws. It will go after only those operations that smuggle drugs across state lines, launder money, or break drug-trafficking laws.

Barbara Carreno, a DEA spokeswoman in Washington, did not have information about the raid on Forchion's property but said the agency focuses on operations that "violate both state and federal laws."

"We're big-picture people," she said.

The probable-cause affidavit filed with the search warrant says a Federal Express package containing $22,980 in cash was shipped to Forchion from a New Jersey sender in February 2009. It was believed to be payment for marijuana. Forchion agreed to forfeit the cash.

The affidavit also noted that a DEA agent had discussed Forchion's pending drug charges with Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Luciano in September. Luciano also told the agent that Forchion may be prosecuted for "mailing vials of suspected marijuana to several New Jersey state officials" last year.

Luciano could not be reached for comment.

First Assistant Burlington County Prosecutor Raymond E. Milavsky confirmed Forchion had mailed packages of marijuana to 15 officials.

"He's been flagrant about it because he doesn't believe the law applies to him," Milavsky said, adding that Forchion could be prosecuted for the mailings.

Forchion said he shipped "some seeds" to Gov. Christie, Luciano, the attorney general, the speaker of the Assembly, and others to urge them to "relax and have a smoke" and to realize the hypocrisy of marijuana laws.

In October, Christie said he had not received the cannabis from Forchion and joked about having his staff tested for drug use. Forchion has criticized Christie for dragging his heels on implementing New Jersey's medical marijuana law.

Forchion hopes he will be acquitted at his trial, scheduled for April 10, and said it could be "like Roe v. Wade for the marijuana issue."

Though Forchion says he is a legal user in California, New Jersey's yet-to-be-implemented law does not recognize his ailment as one that can be treated with cannabis. The Garden State law specifies cancer, multiple sclerosis, and several other serious diseases among the afflictions that can legally be treated with cannabis.

Forchion said he was in New Jersey in 2010 visiting his children and friends when a state trooper pulled him over and found his stash of pot in the trunk of his rental car. He said it was meant for his personal use.

"I'm stuck in the middle," he said.

Last month, Christie appointed former State Police Lt. John H. O'Brien Jr. to oversee the medical marijuana program and conduct background checks of all operators and employees. So far, no dispensary has opened. Christie has said he wants tight controls to avoid becoming "like California," where he said regulations are lax.

Forchion could not be licensed as an operator in New Jersey because he is a felon.

But Forchion says he's happy in L.A., and his only interest in New Jersey is to get marijuana legalized. He has run for various public offices - governor, and seats in the Legislature and Congress - on a marijuana platform.

"I am the New Jersey Weedman," he said.

Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224, jhefler@phillynews.com, or @JanHefler on Twitter. Read her blog at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz.

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