"I'm not a weirdo anymore; I'm a hero," a jubilant Forchion said after the jury found him not guilty of possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute. "Other patients should use the Weedman defense."
The prosecutor's office had no comment on the verdict.
Forchion was being retried after a jury in May deadlocked on the drug-distribution charge. That jury convicted Forchion of a lesser charge of possession, but he says he plans to appeal while he is out on bail.
In January 2010 - three months before Forchion's arrest - a law was signed in New Jersey allowing marijuana to be sold to patients who have certain serious illnesses, including cancer and multiple sclerosis. The law restricts the drug to state residents who are issued special identification cards after their doctors certify they have such ailments. Only licensed dispensaries may sell the drug.
After several false starts in launching the program, the state this week began mailing out ID cards. No dispensary has yet opened for business.
Forchion, 48, a Rastafarian and a longtime Pemberton resident who had moved to California, was visiting family when he was stopped for a traffic violation. He said in an interview that he thought the New Jersey law would protect him because it recognized medical marijuana.
Prosecutors, however, say that the state has a criminal law that prohibits marijuana possession with intent to distribute and that it applies to all situations outside the medical-marijuana law.
"It's straightforward," Assistant Prosecutor Michael Luciano said during this week's three-day trial.
Forchion defended himself, with the assistance of public defender Don Ackerman. Forchion tried to argue that the criminal-marijuana law conflicted with the medical-marijuana law and was unjust.
When he began to tell jurors they had the power to nullify the criminal law by acquitting him, Superior Court Judge Charles Delehey stopped him. The judge said jurors could rule only on the facts of the case, not the law, and warned Forchion he could be held in contempt if he continued.
Luciano asked jurors to honor their oath and not use their verdict to demonstrate their "opinion on the war on drugs."
The jury of 10 women and two men deliberated roughly two hours before returning its verdict.
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