New Jersey Governor-elect Phil Murphy is determined to make recreational marijuana legal in his state. While marijuana advocates around the country are celebrating Murphy’s win, New Jersey’s loudest marijuana advocate is shaking his head at the hypocrisy while he sits in prison.
Ed Forchion has been taking big risks for well over a decade trying to change New Jersey’s perspective on marijuana, and those risks landed him in jail. You may hope that legalization of cannabis would lead to Forchion getting some clemency, but he is not so hopeful.
It was another arrest, on Nov. 23, 1997, that started him on his seemingly quixotic campaign. “I was so angry because I was arrested for weed,” he said from the Mercer County Correctional Facility recently, drawing out the word. Forchion said he spent four days in a Bellmar police station cell, and came out “determined to change the laws.”
Forchion, now 53 and a twice-divorced grandfather, smoked marijuana cigarettes during Statehouse protests. He mailed lumpy packages of joints to lawmakers, prosecutors, and the governor. He accosted Gov. Christie. “When are you going to stop arresting people for marijuana?” he asked, drawing the governor into a cordial exchange. Christie suggested that Forchion’s problem was with federal laws, not state.
Forchion’s “acts of civil disobedience … kept marijuana in the news a long time,” says State Sen. Nick Scutari, sponsor of the leading legalization bill. “Attitudes are slowly changing, and … people are starting to realize we have a failed war on drugs, and he’s not doing harm to anyone by smoking marijuana.”
Charges of selling marijuana last year at his Trenton restaurant, NJ Weedman’s Joint, could disappear if the marijuana bill is approved, Forchion says. But looking beyond that, he sees flaws in the proposal.
“Legalization is coming, but the people who are the victims of the unjust laws are being shut out. I’ve been the biggest advocate, and I can’t get into this multi-billion industry that’s coming because of laws that say if you are a felon, you can’t be part of it,” he said in a nearly two-hour phone conversation from jail.
“Because I’m a loudmouth advocate of marijuana, I’ve created a lot of enemies,” he said. Last month a jury acquitted him of one of two counts of tampering, but was hung on the second. Prosecutors said they will retry him on that charge.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is fighting for national legalization of marijuana for people just like Ed Forchion. If a state legalizes recreational marijuana, should anyone that has been convicted of a marijuana related crime be granted clemency?