Pubdate: Thu, 16 Jun 2016
Source: Times, The (Trenton, NJ)
Copyright: 2016 The Times
Author: Anna Merriman


TRENTON - In the sticky heat of his downtown restaurant, Ed "NJ 
Weedman" Forchion sat at a table and wiped the plastic cloth covering 

He had three things on his mind - first his broken air conditioning, 
then the broken plumbing, then the cops.

Money is tight at the Trenton staple, which is aptly named "Weedman's 
Joint." Months ago a series of police raids and activity at the 
combination restaurant and "pot temple" scared many of his customers 
away, Forchion said.

But Wednesday, on the one-year anniversary of the establishment, 
there was little - apart from the lack of air conditioning - that 
would reveal their financial struggle.

The walls were still adorned with a series of paintings and 
photographs of marijuana activists. Paint covering the siding still 
showed bright yellow and green and above the door, thick black 
lettering read "peace and love."

 From the kitchen, John the cook, wearing an, "I smoked with the 
Weedman" t-shirt, yelled that he was making the world's best turkey 
burger. He's the only one who knows the restaurant's secret tangy, 
"bumblebee sauce," recipe, Forchion said.

But even John had to take a financial hit. He's one of the few 
employees left after their financial difficulties started in March.

"I was doing everything by the books," Forchion said. But after 
police raids caused customers to start leaving, Forchion found that 
he didn't have enough money to pay all of his workers.

His cook and his manager got a chunk of the business and they stayed 
on but other employees couldn't make it work.

Creating a community

For Forchion, the recent loss of business is just a bump in the road.

He chooses to look instead to the regulars who still loyally frequent 
his restaurant and his "congregation members"  a community of young 
men and women from the greater Trenton community who spend most of 
their time at Weedman's Joint.

"It's a safe haven," one said Wednesday.

Another, a Philadelphia rapper who goes by the name "Triple Action," 
said he spends nearly every day at the temple.

Triple Action joined Forchion at the restaurant Wednesday. With 
headphones around his neck and a bright red hat bearing his stage 
name, he looked at home in a budding Trenton music scene.

He sat down and smiled sweetly before pointing at a worn black 
composition in his lap.

"(Forchion) lets me do my music here," Triple Action said, adding 
that he held his first show at the joint and immediately grew a 
following from inside the community. "We talk to each other about music."

Weedman through the years

Ed Forchion, aka NJ Weedman, has been a protestor, candidate, 
restauranteur and defendant since the 1990s.

The young rapper said he remembered the first time the joint opened 
up a year ago.

"Everyone was telling me about it," he said. But it wasn't until he 
walked past the East State Street establishment himself that he felt 
compelled to go in.

And, Triple Action said, he's never really left.

"You see these fights breaking out (in Trenton)," he said. But 
Weedman's temple and restaurant are different. "Everybody is 'one' (here)."

Forchion nodded - he often refers to the establishment as a haven for 
young men and women who want to get away from inner city violence.

"In this city every one of these kids knows someone who's been killed 
or murdered," he said.

But in his joint?

"Our biggest threat is the police," Forchion laughed.

Dispute with police

Though he's upbeat about the future of the establishment, Forchion 
can't shake the constant worry about a growing dispute between his 
establishment and the police.

It all started, he claims, in March when police tried to enforce a 
city ordinance, which states some establishments need to close by 11 p.m.

Forchion argued that the initial police presence scared some customers away.

Others were scared away later when the dispute between the two groups 
bubbled to the surface, resulting in a raid on his establishment in April.

After that, many of the city workers and even police who used to eat 
at his restaurant, were gone for good.

As he spoke, sirens wailed past the closed temple door but Forchion 
didn't flinch.

"I thought I was going to go out of business two months ago," he continued.

Since then, he's seen some new and old customers trickle back in - 
but nothing to rival the number of customers he had a year ago.

At least part of that, Forchion said, has to do with race.

"If a white guy were doing what I'm doing he'd be called 
'innovative'... 'Ahead of the curve'," Forchion said.

"But instead I'm thrown into the criminal (category)," he said.

"The war on drugs in these communities - it's a mirror," Forchion 
said. He believes the arrests of black men and women in Trenton for 
minor offenses like marijuana possession could be seen as a microcosm 
for a larger national issue.

"Cities like this are under siege by the police department," he said. 
Police in predominantly white communities like Princeton or 
Robbinsville are not going after low-level drug offenses in the same 
way, he said.

A representative from the Trenton Police Department said police could 
not comment on the issue because of ongoing litigation involving Forchion.

Forchion pointed to studies done by the New Jersey chapter of the 
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on racial disparities in 
arrests for minor offenses.

One such study, which was published in December, looked at four New 
Jersey cities and found that black and hispanic people were two to 10 
times more likely to be arrested for minor crimes than white offenders.

One of the minor crimes they examined was marijuana possession.

The study prompted the ACLU to call on the state attorney general to 

For Forchion, who's been an outspoken marijuana activist for years, 
the evidence was always there.

"(Marijuana laws) are the oldest lasting Jim Crow laws in America," he said.

But the arrests won't keep him from moving forward.

"I'm not a quitter. I'm not quitting," Forchion said. "I keep telling 
people the police will only win if they stop coming in."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom