Pubdate: Thu, 18 Aug 2016
Source: Trentonian, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2016 The Trentonian
Author: Isaac Avilucea


TRENTON - Ed Forchion once brought new meaning to the words "high culture."

The down-with-earth marijuana activist last year opened his own 
restaurant, NJ Weedman's Joint, providing Trenton with a unique blend 
of cannabis and cuisine.

Now, NJ Weedman is coming down from a bad high  and looking for the 
courts to save his life and keep alive his once-bustling downtown 
Trenton businesses.

Forchion and attorney Edward Heyburn have put the city on notice of 
their intent to sue over Forchion's "false arrest," which he says 
tarnished his reputation and cast a police-produced pall over his 
restaurant, smoke shop and pot temple, according to a tort claim 
notice obtained by The Trentonian.

In the notice, Forchion said city police and the county drug task 
force used excessive force during his arrest and "illegally invaded" 
his businesses during an April drug raid. He was also arrested about 
two weeks after the raid for alleged cyber-bullying after calling a 
city cop a pedophile.

Seeking a million-dollar payout, Forchion estimates in the tort claim 
notice he has lost about $200,000 in revenue following an April 27 
drug raid of East State Street businesses, which are across the 
street from City Hall.

The raid culminated in the arrest of 11 people and the seizure of 
$19,000 worth of marijuana, officials said.

"It went from a gold mine to a money pit," Forchion told The Trentonian.

Forchion must wait six months before he can formally bring a lawsuit, 
which is expected to name the city, its police force, city police 
director Ernest Parrey Jr. and police captain Eldemiro Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is a key figure in a separate federal lawsuit with Forchion 
that is being litigated with the city.

Forchion sued in March - a month before the raid - accusing the city 
and police of violating his religious freedom by forcing his pot 
temple to obey curfew by closing by 11 p.m.

Forchion has mockingly started a social media campaign on Twitter 
under the hashtag "No chicken wings after 11."

He believes his cannabis temple, the Liberty Bell Sanctuary, is 
exempt from the city's curfew, which he says is an antiquated law put 
in place to help deal with the crack epidemic that swept the county 
in the early 1990s.

Dozens often gathered at the pot temple after 11 p.m. for smoking 
sessions and it became a target for police.

Forchion faults the city and police for "ruining" his businesses, 
which local legislators hailed just last year in a joint resolution 
presented to the marijuana activist symbolizing the "innovation and 
dedication" that "have been the cornerstone of America's free-market society."

Since that Kumbaya moment, Forchion said he has experienced a wave of 
police harassment. He said police targeted his businesses since raid, 
pulling over people leaving his place to check for drugs. Others had 
their cars towed or were ticketed for petty things like spitting on 
the sidewalk, Forchion said.

Forchion said his girlfriend and life partner has shelled out more 
than $7,000 the last two months to pay for rent. He has considered 
closing his doors multiple times.

A self-described peaceful pothead with Rastafarian roots and 
political aspirations, Forchion is a celebrity in the cannabis community.

Looking to parlay his bi-coastal following into a successful venture, 
Forchion took after other famous people who opened restaurants.

His inspiration came from visiting a now-shuttered New Jersey 
restaurant and sports bar owned by former Giants star linebacker 
Lawrence Taylor.

Forchion's first mandate as restaurateur in Trenton was all his 
employees had to fail a drug test.

His stoner crew of seven - laid off or now volunteering because of 
stagnate business - once served up everything from turkey burgers to 
veggies dishes during the hopping lunch hour, appealing to those with 
the munchies as well as health-conscious vegans.

While his business once thrived, racking up more than $1,500 during a 
busy lunch hour, Forchion estimates he lost about 90 percent of his 
business after the raid.

Just like the once-beloved NFLer Taylor, who has been dogged by 
well-documented problems with drugs and tax evasion, Trenton's 
marijuana activist cannot outrun his past.

He believes his stance on marijuana is consistent with how most 
Americans view the drug.

He hopes his drug case in Mercer County, which has the potential to 
be the "Roe vs. Wade case of marijuana," referring to the landmark 
Supreme Court decision on abortion, proves the hypocrisy of New 
Jersey's drug laws and paves the way for massive change.

Although many support Forchion's cause, they no longer support his 
businesses. And he said the city is to blame.

"I felt like I was the city's golden child," he said. "This ruined 
me. Now, it's taboo, and the city did it on purpose. Once you scare 
people, they don't come back. ... I feel like I'm in Selma, Alabama, 
in 1961. How come you can go to Taco Bell and get a burrito, but you 
can't come to Weedman's Joint and get a chicken wing after 11 p.m?"
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom