Pubdate: Wed, 24 Aug 2016
Source: Trentonian, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2016 The Trentonian
Author: Isaac Avilucea


TRENTON - Wearing a tailored gray pinstripe suit and a ganja chain 
dangling from his neck, Trenton's well-known marijuana activist 
showed up more than 15 minutes late to court Tuesday for his 
arraignment where prosecutors formally extended a plea offer that 
could send him to prison for years.

Ed "NJ Weedman" Forchion pleaded not guilty to 11 drug-related 
charges and was offered a 7-year plea to admit guilt to distributing 
drugs within 1,000 feet of the Daylight/Twilight School in Trenton. 
Forchion would have to spend three and a half years in prison, 
prosecutors said, because his past drug convictions make him an 
"extended-term" offender.

Forchion and his attorney, Edward Heyburn, called the offer 
"ridiculous," saying they don't believe the charge will hold up 
because of the distance between the school and Forchion's downtown businesses.

The indictment says the school sits on the 500 block of Edgewood 
Avenue, about a mile and half by car from NJ Weedman's Joint at 322 
East State Street, according to Google Maps. Daylight/Twilight is 
actually located at 135 East Hanover Street, which is less than a 
quarter mile from Forchion's restaurant.

"I wanted to fall out laughing," Forchion said. "That's absurd."

Forchion said after the hearing in front of Judge Anthony Massi that 
he will not accept any offer from prosecutors and plans to convince a 
jury to acquit him by arguing the state's drug laws are unjust.

The tack is known as jury nullification and was unsuccessfully 
employed by a Mays Landing man who was sentenced this year to 17 
years in prison for growing 17 marijuana plants.

Jon Peditto's case drew attention from marijuana activists like 
Forchion, who showed up to support him at sentencing.

Forchion says he feels his case is different from Peditto, who had an 
"image" problem with the jury.

Forchion admits he "can be an a-hole," turning to his girlfriend and 
life partner for confirmation, but he knows when to turn on the charm 
for the jury.

"I am not being bribed out of my right to a fair trial with a plea of 
leniency," he said. "I have a right to face a jury of my peers. The 
prosecution in this state cannot put me in prison without the 
authority of a jury. I absolutely do not think a jury is gonna 
convict me of these marijuana charges in this day and age."

At the hearing, Heyburn addressed several issues, specifically 
Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Katz's request to keep secret the 
identity of a confidential informant who allegedly purchased 
marijuana from Forchion at least four times at his business.

The indictment reflects purchases on March 15, March 22, March 30 and April 15.

The last "controlled buy" took place about two weeks before the April 
27 raid of Forchion's restaurant, smoke shop and cannabis church.

Forchion said he never sold weed to anyone and contends patrons at 
his businesses shared weed.

"There was weed there," he said. "I'd be embarrassed if there wasn't."

Forchion points out police didn't start making a case against him 
until after he sued the city and accused a high-ranking police 
captain of lying in an affidavit, claiming 30 people fought outside 
his East State Street joint months before the raid.

Heyburn said prosecutors' case, which hinges on whether police had 
probable cause for the raid in which authorities said they seized 
$19,000 worth of marijuana, is already "crumbling." He plans to 
vigorously fight for the name of the undercover informant.

Heyburn has filed numerous filings in civil and criminal court, 
contesting various aspects of the case.

Forchion intends to sue the city for false arrest and is also 
fighting forfeiture of more than $400 seized from his businesses 
during the raid.

Heyburn said prosecutors must show the money was from illicit drug 
proceeds if they want to keep it.

For his part, Forchion has criticized the state's forfeiture laws, 
which one libertarian think tank said were some of the worst in the 
nation, after his iconic Weedmobile was crushed.

Of the ardent marijuana supporter's problems, showing up to court on 
time might be the biggest.

Free on bail, Forchion walked into court "beyond fashionably late," 
wearing a suave tailored ensemble from Byer's Men's Shop in Trenton.

Forchion hopes to break out the "ganja green" suit at a later court 
appearance. He is scheduled to return to court in October, if he can 
make it that long.

Forchion sauntered in around 9:17 a.m. for a 9 a.m. court hearing.

"Apparently Weed Time is different than Eastern Standard time," 
Heyburn said in the hallways after calling his client to see where he was.

Forchion, who was also late for a court appearance earlier this 
month, apologized when he walked into court.

Massi waited patiently in chambers for the Weedman's arrival. He came 
out several times to say he "was ready to go at 9 o'clock."

The judge did not issue a bench warrant for Forchion, sternly warning 
him to be on time or call ahead if he is late.

"I feel like an idiot," Forchion told his attorney. "We left in 
plenty of time and hit traffic."
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