Pubdate: Sat, 29 Aug 2015
Source: Trentonian, The (NJ)
Column: Passing the Joint
Copyright: 2015 The Trentonian
Author: Edward Forchion, For The Trentonian


Last Thursday I put out my joint, stepped out the door of my Joint, 
and crossed the street to pay a formal visit to City Hall. After 
meeting the City Council members I realized I shouldn't have put that 
joint out - I should've brought it with me and passed it to them. 
First impressions are lasting, and mine will always be how tense the 
Council members were. I remember thinking, they should keep calm and 
smoke weed.

The City Council meets every other Thursday, so I took a petition 
full of citizen signatures and a group of medical marijuana patients 
and Joint staff with me to 1. introduce myself; and 2. ask the 
Council to consider an "initiative" that would put Trenton at the 
forefront of NJ marijuana law reform, alongside Asbury Park, which 
recently came out of the cannabis closet as a town thanks to the 
efforts of marijuana activists within the Libertarian Party. The AP 
City Council even passed a resolution calling on Governor Christie 
and the State Legislature to tax and regulate!

The petition and proposal I was armed with is a variation of the 
initiative that was presented in Asbury Park that I'd repurposed 
specifically for Trenton (per state statute N.J.S.A. 40:69A184).

Before reaching Council Chambers our group bumped into the Mayor in 
the parking lot, as well as his Deputy Mayor Andrew Bobbitt on the 
way in. Upon hearing my intentions, Deputy Mayor Bobbitt asked if I 
was there to "poke the bear," but I assured him the real purpose of 
my visit was actually to offer peace.

I was going to formally introduce myself and my business to Council 
members as well as deliver a petition asking them to lower the 
priority of marijuana arrests in Trenton - by adding Section 420 to 
the city code.

And this isn't just for me, though I did let them know now that I'm 
in Trenton this issue - this initiative - is very personal to me. But 
it also hits home for countless people in Trenton, in New Jersey, and 
across America: Getting busted is the most harmful "side effect" of 
marijuana use. It's a big LIE that causes a black mark against 
anyone's record, but the futures that are most jeopardized are those 
of the people who have the deck most stacked against them in the 
first place: underprivileged youth of color.

But back to the point of this JOINT: It was good to come out and 
attend the meeting, and I might do it regularly.

After all, I consider Trenton my city now, I have a lot of love for 
it and its people so I ought to know what's going on. But I was in 
for quite a shock, because it wasn't just business as usual.

Before we reached the "public comment" portion of the meeting - when 
I'd get to address the Council - there was a matter on the agenda 
that fully consumed the Council's attention.

At first I didn't realize what was going on - I thought I was just 
high. But soon it became clear that there was a significant 
disagreement between Council members over a text message that 
accidentally got sent out to unintended recipients. The outbreak of 
anger began with talk about the renewal of an IT contract.

Tension ran high as tempers flared.

I just watched it all snowball and thought: Man, these people could 
really stand to smoke a joint!

In fact, I think it's possible all City Councils should do so 
together from time to time. It's conducive to social cohesion and 
helps us be more calm and understanding, coming at a problem in a 
creative and collaborative way. It's why we Stoners are so good at 
"thinking outside the bun."

When that part of the meeting concluded (little did we know it would 
later flare up again), it was time to speak.

I began by greeting the Council and introducing myself, saying I'd 
just recently joined the Downtown Trenton business community and 
relating that I was very pleased to have done so after years of being 
in and around Trenton during the course of my activism and legal battles.

I elucidated the nature of my business, which is a restaurant on one 
side and a Sanctuary, what I referred to as a temple, on the other 
where the congregation smokes sacramental Ganja.

The blunt admission of cannabis consumption across the street from 
City Hall isn't something you'd expect to hear at a normal City 
Council meeting, but as I mentioned, this was no ordinary meeting! 
Nonetheless, the main purpose of my visit was to present an 
"Initiative and Referendum petition" to the City Council members 
asking them to add a newly created Section 420 to the municipal code 
of Trenton by adopting an ordinance that would lower the priority of 
marijuana arrests in the city.

Big ups to the first Council member to ask a question after I 
concluded my remarks, Marge Caldwell-Wilson, who indicated she was 
amenable to the possibility of reducing the sting of criminal 
penalties for young people.

Councilman Alex Bethea followed up by asking me about the conditions 
that qualify a person to use marijuana medicinally, and during my 
response I also talked about my own issue of bone cancer, which I 
admitted is recurring now. The major symptom of my large-cell tumors 
is pain, but I refuse to take opiate painkillers - instead I medicate 
holistically with cannabis.

I also refuse to be a part of the state's program. I informed the 
Council that not all medical marijuana users are card-carrying 
members of the state's medical marijuana program because it is 
prohibitively expensive and notoriously difficult to access - a 
sentiment echoed by Lefty Grimes, a medical card holder and patients' 
rights advocate who detailed some of the harrowing experiences 
well-known medical marijuana patients have had in New Jersey. He is 
among the steadfast individuals who come out to the medical marijuana 
protest at the State House every Thursday from 12 to 2 p.m.

The Joint's General Manager, Phil Charles, rounded out the speakers 
by citing statistics about the high number of homicides in the city 
and asserting that Trenton has great potential with regard to arts 
and music culture and that my establishment is a positive step in 
that direction, as is calling for the removal of marijuana from the 
black market and thereby diminishing the harms to society that the 
marijuana laws create.

As I mentioned, the proposal was a variation on a similar 
presentation created by the Libertarian Party for the Asbury Park 
City Council that convinced them to declare support for cannabis 
legalization. Proposals will soon be presented to the municipal 
governments of New Brunswick and Camden. All this is taking place on 
the heels of the success achieved in Philadelphia, which 
decriminalized cannabis in 2014 thanks to a dedicated group of 
marijuana activists there.

After we left, the Council came close to fisticuffs: Councilman 
Muschal and Council President Chester nearly came to blows and had to 
be restrained. So really, chill out, elected officials - next time 
you're feeling a little rambunctious, come across the street and I'll 
pass you a joint over at NJWeedman's Joint.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom