NJ Weedman says voters ‘hoodwinked’ by legal pot ballot question
TRENTON — Just as New Jersey's legislative leaders appear to have cleared another hurdle toward legalizing the sale of adult use marijuana, Ed "NJ Weedman" Forchion says he plans to start selling at his city restaurant on January 1, whether or not the state has regulations in place.
Forchion, a longtime activist for the legalization of marijuana, says NJ voters were misled about what they were actually voting for, regarding Ballot Question 1 in November. He has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Phil Murphy, which says what was really approved was "corporatization" of marijuana.
Murphy said Friday in a statement with state Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Senator Nicholas Scutari, & Assemblywoman Annette Quijano a deal was reached on legislation to set up the new recreational marijuana marketplace. No details of the bill were released.
"Last month, New Jerseyans voted overwhelmingly in support of the creation of a well-regulated adult-use cannabis market. We’re proud to announce today that we’ve reached an agreement on legislation providing the framework for legalization, which is a critical step in reducing racial disparities and social inequities that have long plagued our criminal justice system," according to the governor's statement.
"Most people thought they were voting to legalize marijuana when in fact if you read the amendment and our existing marijuana laws, marijuana will remain illegal and I think the state bamboozled the citizens, hoodwinked them in the voting to give certain people — these 'cannabis cartels' — the opportunity to make billions while still continuing to illegalize the masses of us," Forchion said to New Jersey 101.5.
Forchion owns a restaurant, NJWeedman's Joint, near the Statehouse.
The November ballot question was titled "Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana" and asked "do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of
marijuana called 'cannabis'?"
"The petition that most people signed, the amendment that we signed and approved of specifically does not legalize marijuana. It legalizes regulated cannabis and marijuana remains illegal. But that's not what people thought they were voting for and this is the question I am presenting to a federal court on the clarification of this," Forchion said.
The interpretative statement of the question explained that the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which already oversees the state medical marijuana program, would also be in charge of a new adult cannabis market as "detailed in laws enacted by the Legislature."
Since the Nov. 3 election, state lawmakers have been tackling separate legislation aimed at decriminalizing minor marijuana offenses.
Senate and Assembly committees both endorsed marijuana legalization bills, but then the measures stalled over a few differences, including whether to cap the number of marijuana cultivators and what to do with proceeds of a "social equity excise fee" on sales.
On Nov. 25, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a directive to all prosecutors to put low-level marijuana possession cases on pause until at least late January.
Although it remained unclear as of Monday whether the legislative framework would be in place for legal sales of marijuana as of January 1, Forchion said he plans to openly begin selling it at his restaurant at that point.
"The everyday Joe now thinks that marijuana is legal. That's what they're thinking because of the wording of the question — when it is not," Forchion said.
"I plan on having a grand opening. I'll be the first citizen dispensary," Forchion said, while also noting he expects to be arrested for his actions. He also said he thinks he would come out the winner in such legal action.
"I don't think the people can get twelve people to put me in prison for violating laws they don't agree on," Forchion said.
Forchion also believes the state has created a conundrum for itself by allowing the sale of marijuana, which is still illegal for use by federal law, through medical dispensaries.
"When I start openly selling marijuana just like them it will be unconstitutional selective enforcement which could rain down on me which I am probably daring them to do anyway. I want that to happen. I want this big conundrum that state has created for itself," Forchion said.
Forchoin said that the state has not yet responded to his lawsuit and expects they will move to dismiss but he is confident a judge will agree with him on the wording.
"It's not really about marijuana. This is going to sneak up on people. I believe the judge is going to rule on the wording," Forchion said.
The governor's office did not return a message on Sunday, asking for comment on Forchion's lawsuit.
Forchion ran an unsuccessful political campaign this year as an independent in the 12th Congressional district.
Incumbent Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman won re-election with 65% of the vote, or 230,883 votes.
Republican challenger Mark Razzoli had nearly 33%, or 114,591 votes — while Forchion accounted for 1.3%, or 4,512 votes.
With previous reporting by Dino Flammia and Michael Symons