Pubdate: Tue, 23 Aug 2016
Source: Trentonian, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2016 The Trentonian
Author: Isaac Avilucea


TRENTON - Ed Forchion wants to film a reality show chronicling the 
impact of the country's so-called War on Drugs on his life.

He has a couple titles in mind: "The War on NJ Weedman." Or perhaps 
even better, "Marijuana Martyr."

Forchion pointed to prosecutors' desire in a drug case in Trenton 
that could land him in prison for years to protect the identity of a 
confidential informant who allegedly purchased weed from him several 
times at his downtown city business.

Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Katz cited in court papers a series of 
undercover "controlled buys," but didn't say when they allegedly 
occurred, as part of what authorities contend was a two-month 
investigation centered on drug-dealing at Forchion's businesses.

The marijuana activist's restaurant, smoke shop and cannabis church 
were raided in April, leading to the roundup of Forchion and 10 others.

Katz has asked a judge for a protective order to prevent Forchion 
from disclosing or publicizing the informant's name.

Prosecutors have turned over 168 pages of records related to the case 
and a DVD with photographs from the raid but want the informant's 
name kept secret.

In her papers, Katz said she fears the cooperating witness could be 
in danger if his or her name is revealed. She said Forchion hasn't 
been shy about publicizing his case and the protective order is 
needed to "ensure the integrity of the judicial process."

Prosecutors are willing to have a judge meet with the witness in 
chambers before issuing a ruling.

"The defendant has spoken on the radio, to various media outlets and 
used YouTube and other social media to publicize his version of this 
case," Katz wrote. "The state's concern is that similar publicity 
targeting the witness will subject the witness to danger."

Forchion said he never sold marijuana to anyone, only shared it, and 
his seized video surveillance tapes will prove it.

Whoever authorities sent into his place to purchase weed is a "rat" 
who is likely fabricating the allegations to get out of trouble, 
Forchion said. He said Katz's request demonstrates the lengths 
prosecutors will go in order to protect "coppery."

"This is cop robbery - coppery," the marijuana activist said by phone 
Monday from the Seattle Hempfest. "They have secret grand juries. 
They have undercover unnamed informants and then they say it's a 
public trial and everything is transparent. The American people have 
gotten so used to the non-transparency on the War on Drugs. I want my 
intellectual property back, and I can do with it what I want. I think 
a production company should help me get my reality show footage back 
and help me edit it and call the episode, 'When coppery goes bad.'"

Forchion is being arraigned Tuesday before Judge Anthony Massi in 
Mercer County criminal court. He is expected to plead not guilty to 
11 drug-related charges.

Prosecutors are expected to extend Forchion a 7-year plea offer, 
three and a half years which he would have to serve before coming up 
for parole.

Edward Heyburn, Forchion's lawyer, said the offer is "ridiculous." He 
compared Forchion's case to one he represented in Philadelphia in the 
1990s, when vice squad cops were brought up on disciplinary charges 
for fabricating a story about an informant named "Happy Gomez" who 
they claimed routinely tipped them off about alleged drug houses.

Heyburn said the informant did not exist and the cops made him up to 
get around not having justification for drug raids.

In Trenton, "Happy Gomez" is "Happy Gonzalez," referring to Trenton 
Police Capt. Eldemiro Gonzalez, Heyburn said.

Gonzalez is a key figure in Forchion's federal lawsuit. The police 
captain submitted an affidavit, claiming 30 people were involved in a 
fight outside Forchion's months before the raid, that the marijuana 
activist and his lawyer said is false.

"This case is about protecting Captain Gonzalez from me going to the 
U.S. Attorney and asking them to prosecute him for perjury," Heyburn 
said. "This case isn't about marijuana."

The outspoken weed advocate said he will fight the drug charges at 
trial by using a tactic known as jury nullification, aiming to 
convince jurors the state's drug laws are unjust and should not be enforced.

The 12th District congressional candidate has been critical of New 
Jersey's drug laws, pointing out that prosecutors charge people for 
using and selling marijuana while ignoring federal drug laws by 
operating medical marijuana dispensaries.

Forchion believes he is being targeted because he sued the city for 
trying to enforce a curfew on his downtown businesses. He believes 
the city's 11 p.m. curfew is discriminatory and violates his 
religious freedom to operate a cannabis church.

Forchion filed the lawsuit in March, and a month later, his 
businesses were raided.

Police said they seized $19,000 worth of marijuana from his joint, 
including weed edibles. Forchion has also been accused of 
"fortifying" his downtown businesses, prosecutors said.

Forchion plans to sue the city over his "false" arrests. After he 
posted bail in the drug case, Forchion was hit with charges for 
allegedly bullying a city cop by calling him a pedophile.

Weedman said he has a right to know the identity of the alleged 
confidential informant. And he shouldn't be stopped from outing that person.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom