Win for Weedman: He can argue ‘cannabis temple’ deserves religious freedom
TRENTON — Edward Forchion, the pro-pot activist best known as NJ Weedman, will be allowed to argue in court that Trenton officials are violating his religious freedom by trying to shut down the "cannabis temple" where, late at night, members "partake of our sacrament."
"They're thugs," Forchion's lawyer, Edward Harrington Heyburn, said of Trenton's police this week. "They shake down people and intimidate them."
Forchion, in a lawsuit filed earlier this year over just one of his several battles with Trenton and its police department, said the "Kannabosum Kourtyard" provides a sanctuary where members of his temple can relax "away from the government-inspired 'war on drugs' and the problems the government creates on the streets with its asinine drug policies."
Trenton and Weedman got mixed rulings from a federal court this week, as a judge ruled that he could proceed with his suit — launched in February and March after Trenton officials demanded he stop operating the "cannabis temple" at 11 p.m., sending police officers to enforce the edict. They said he was violating local codes limiting business hours.
The court denied Forchion the injunctive relief that would stop officials from enforcing the time restriction while the lawsuit progresses.
"Our temple is an alternative religious organization that keeps night hours," Forchion wrote in his suit. "We cater to the late-night congregation. We are not a business, but a temple."
Forchion operates "NJ Weedman's Joint" — a deli that, as per its website, caters to Trenton's "high society" and is located across from City Hall. Heyburn told New Jersey 101.5 this week that business is separate from the pot temple.
New Jersey law doesn't allow recreational marijuana use, and Forchion has long protested that prohibition. It does allow medical marijuana use for patients of doctors approved through a state program.
"There's nothing in the law that would recognize a cannabis temple as opposed to a normal temple," Heyburn said.
He acknowledged Trenton's planning department hasn't authorized Weedman's facility as a temple — and said he's seeking a planning board approval for a variance that would allow it to operate as one.
But, Harrington alleges, Trenton's police department have stood in the way — part of what he and Forchion alleges is a multifaceted campaign to harass Weedman and stand in the way of any of his plans.
When Heyburn was told by the planning board's chairman he'd need to provide parking for temple congregants, he and Forchion arranged for a commercial building next door to provide it, Heyburn said.
"They police went right over to this business and told them, if you let (Forchion) use this parking lot, we're going to be investigating you like we're investigating them," Heyburn said.
In his lawsuit, Forchion also alleges police have ticketed temple congregants to harass them. And he says a police captain lied in a sworn affidavit, saying that there was a large crowd at the temple when officers arrived for a noise complaint.
Heyburn said Forchion has video to prove there was no such crowd, and that attorney Jacqueline A. Degregorio — representing Trenton — sent him a lawyer saying it should be preserved. But then, Heyburn said, Trenton filed for a warrant saying it needed Forchion's DVRs and hard drives in connection with a police investigation.
"They used their police powers to confiscate evidence of their own perjury," he said.
Degregorio has not yet returned a call seeking comment.
(Story continues after gallery)
Forchion's battle with Trenton is occurring on multiple fronts.
In April, he and 10 others were arrested at his business, where, police said, they confiscated $19,000 worth of marijuana. He was hit with several charges:
- Six counts of distribution of a controlled dangerous substance
- Three counts of possession of a controlled dangerous substance
- Three counts possession with the intent to distribute
- Two counts of possession with the intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a school
- Possession with the intent to distribute within 500 feet of a park
- Fortified premises
- Two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia
- Maintaining a narcotics nuisance
In an interview with New Jersey 101.5, Forchion previously acknowledged he shares his pot with others, and promised to give the prosecutor on the case a legal "ass whooping."
He then faced new charges in May, after an altercation with one officer.
Days after Forchion stood outside his eatery and pot temple shouting “f— the police!” and calling one of the police officers a “pedophile,” he was charged with cyber-harassment and disorderly conduct.
The cyber-harassment charge, according to a copy of the complaint filed by Officer Herbert Flowers, was based on a Facebook and YouTube video of the confrontation in which Forchion is heard telling Flowers he’s a pedophile, while the disorderly conduct was for Forchion’s F-bombs against police “in public and social media forum.”
Cyber-harassment is a fourth-degree crime and disorderly conduct is a petty disorderly persons offense. Trenton police sent its Violent Crimes Unit Warrant Squad to arrest Forchion and take him away in a black unmarked car.
Forchion told New Jersey 101.5's Deminski and Doyle the charges were filed because the cop is a "tender butt."
Heyburn said his client is probably facing about 40 other municipal ordinance violations, mostly for allegedly being open after hours.
"They're trying to shut down his deli, because they know if they shut down his deli, that's where the money is coming from," he said.
Heyburn said no pot is being sold in either the deli or the temple — but that someone with a legal card to have marijuana is welcome to partake.
"He's open, but he's struggling, because people are nervous to come in there," Heyburn said. "When someone leaves the business at night, the police will stop and pull them over. This has got to come to a head."
More from New Jersey 101.5: