A grand jury just saddled New Jersey’s best known weed activist, Ed Forcion, with an 11-count indictment on drug charges — but he’s not too worried.
In fact, Forcion has called upon Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri to “present this case and take this ass whooping himself,” according to the Trentonian.
Forchion’s charges are the result of an April 27 raid on his restaurant and adjacent cannabis church, both of which are located directly across from City Hall in Trenton. Ten other people were also arrested for various offenses after police seized $19,000 worth of pot from the establishments.
A passionate marijuana legalization advocate, Forchion opened up the weed-themed restaurant in 2015 after years of activism. “NJ Weedman’s Joint” became a hit in the Trenton community, with Yelp reviewers calling it “a little oasis of freedom” and the “dopest restaurant in New Jersey!” Next to the restaurant is Liberty Bell Temple III, a cannabis church that provides a “sanctuary” for medical marijuana patients to relax and light up.
But the restaurant experienced a slight setback in April after a swarm of police officers descended upon the eatery in response to rumored marijuana distribution. Police had received a slew of complaints that Forchion, aka “NJ Weedman,” was selling marijuana out of his East State Street restaurant and church, in addition to “constant foot traffic” at all hours.
Onofri announced Tuesday in a press release that a grand jury returned the indictment charging “NJ Weedman” with numerous drug offenses, indicating that the dispute will continue on its way to court. Onofri usually only issues statements for murder cases, although Forchion presents a special exception.
The 52-year-old has become well-known in the state of New Jersey after several stints in prison and years of protest. His decades-long fight has landed him on the front pages of newspapers, in jail cells and classrooms, and he has run for elected office on all levels of government.
Forchion received 9,138 votes in the 2005 New Jersey gubernatorial election, running under the slogan “Legalize Marijuana (G.R.I.P) – Get Rid of Incumbent Politicians.”
Despite Forchion’s acclaim, his relationship with the police has remained turbulent. He was arrested in May for harassment of a Trenton police officer outside his restaurant, and he spent 17 months in prison in the early 2000s. But Forchion is not worried about this latest raid, which he calls unconstitutional.
“I think they have selectively targeted Ed Forchion from the beginning,” his attorney, Edward Heyburn, told the Trentonian. “They’ve enforced statutes against him that they haven’t enforced against any other business.”
The police also seized the restaurant’s surveillance system, which allegedly contains evidence proving Forchion’s innocence, Heyburn said. “I am concerned that the prosecutor’s office will mishandle the video and delete important aspects of it for their convenience,” he added.
In response to the seizure, Forchion sent Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson a letter explaining that he would accept a $150,000 settlement rather than filing a lawsuit.
“I would most likely prevail in a federal civil rights lawsuit,” Forchion stated in the letter. “Mr Mayor, Expect to be subpoena’d (sic). I’m sure with an attorney and a couple years of billing time and publicity, along with the anti-police sentiment prevalent now — a jury would bless me with a great 6 figure compensation.”
“NJ Weedman” has yet to hear back from the mayor, but he is scheduled for his first appearance in court on Thursday. Among other charges, Onofri will likely discuss the 1,055 grams of marijuana found in the restaurant.
“I truly believe I am conviction proof,” Forchion told the Trentonian. “I don’t believe Mr. Onofri will get 12 people to say I’m guilty of violating the laws, the marijuana lies that we call laws.”
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