'Weedman' can defend self at N.J. trial but can't call for legalizing marijuana

"NJ Weedman" Ed Forchion asks a judge to let him represent himself at his April drug trial. He agreed, reluctantly, to limits. Story, B3.
"NJ Weedman" Ed Forchion asks a judge to let him represent himself at his April drug trial. He agreed, reluctantly, to limits. Story, B3. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 04, 2012

Ed Forchion, who calls himself "NJ Weedman," will be allowed to act as his own lawyer at his drug trial in April as long as he doesn't argue that marijuana laws should be decriminalized, a judge decided Tuesday.

The longtime marijuana activist said he wanted to try to persuade a jury to reject the legitimacy of "New Jersey's goofy marijuana laws" while throwing out the marijuana charge against him. But Superior Court Judge Charles Delehey, sitting in Burlington County, said court rules did not permit the defense to put a law itself on trial.

In October, he ruled that Forchion could not represent himself, but he reversed himself Tuesday after Forchion reluctantly said he would limit his arguments.

"I'm going to abide by your rules," Forchion said after a long pause.

Forchion, 47, a Camden County native, now lives in Los Angeles, where he ran a pot farm and a medical marijuana dispensary for the last four years. On Dec. 13, federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents shut down his operations and confiscated his marijuana, he said.

Without revenue from his business, he said, he had to ask his mother to pay for his $600 plane ticket to New Jersey for the hearing.

"I didn't want them to issue a warrant for my arrest," he said.

While visiting family and friends in New Jersey in April 2010, Forchion was arrested in Mount Holly when a state trooper allegedly discovered a pound of marijuana in his car trunk during a traffic stop.

He was charged with possession of the drug with intent to distribute.

Forchion carries a card issued by California that allows him to use marijuana to help with pain from benign bone tumors in a leg and his shoulders, he said.

He had planned to argue at trial that New Jersey has conflicting laws about marijuana.

The state recently became the 14th in the nation to allow marijuana to be sold for the treatment of specific diseases and conditions while continuing to outlaw other uses.

Under New Jersey law, benign bone tumors are not eligible for marijuana treatment.

Delehey said it was "not the jury's function" to determine whether the state's laws were valid; the jury's job was to hear the facts of the case and decide what is true.

At first Forchion would not back down. "I totally disagree," he said, insisting that he had the right to tell the jury that the laws were hypocritical and then let "we the people decide."

"You leave me no alternative," the judge barked, warning that he would not permit "a disorderly trial."

After consulting with Assistant Public Defender Don Ackerman, Forchion said he would follow the rules. He said he would argue that he possessed the drug for his own medicinal use and had no plans to sell it to others.

Assistant Burlington County Prosecutor Michael Luciano objected, saying that he did not trust Forchion and warning that the trial might have to be redone if Forchion "should run afoul" of the judge's orders. Forchion has been "clear about making this a social argument rather than just a criminal trial," Luciano said.

Last year, Forchion mailed to Luciano, Gov. Christie, and several other officials small vials with marijuana seeds. He tucked in messages urging them to consider decriminalizing marijuana.

The judge warned that if Forchion stepped out of line, he would instruct the jury to disregard Forchion's comments and inform the panel that Forchion violated an agreement he made in court.

Ackerman will be permitted to assist at trial.

Forchion said after the hearing that he was pleased at being allowed to participate in his defense.

"I'm disappointed the judge won't let me openly argue for jury nullification [of the law], but there's a subtle way to do that," 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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