Ed Forchion, also known as the NJ Weedman (http://www.njweedman.com), just got off parole, and he's ready to roll. Forchion endured 20 months in prison for marijuana trafficking and another six as a parole violator when New Jersey parole authorities jailed him for trying to run TV ads advocating marijuana legalization. He was only freed when a federal judge forced the state to recognize his First Amendment rights.
A little more than two weeks after his parole ended -- bad weather forced a delay from the original December 6 date -- Forchion declared his candidacy for the US House at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia in front of about 50 supporters and a couple of dozen cops. Running as the candidate of the US Marijuana Party (http://www.usmjparty.org), Forchion offered up a prayer for the nearly 700,000 marijuana offenders arrested each year and the thousands of more jailed for other drug crimes, then fired up a joint with comrade in arms Patrick Duff. They didn't get to finish -- 17 US Park Service rangers promptly swept in and detained them -- but they got what they wanted: An arrest that will serve as the basis for a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claim that their Liberty Bell pot-puffing is protected as religious expression under federal law.
There is legal precedent for such a claim. In May 2002, the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the RFRA precluded the US government from prosecuting people who possess marijuana on federal lands for religious reasons. Unfortunately for the plaintiff in that case, Bennie Toves Guerrero, who was caught carrying five ounces into Guam, the court also found that the RFRA didn't block him from being prosecuted for importing marijuana.
And it all ties together, Forchion told DRCNet. "I'm running for the House to expose the issue," he said, "but by doing so, I will be able to make Comcast run my ads. They will be political campaign ads now. In fact, I'm going to being submitting the same ads, except at the end they will say 'paid for by the US Marijuana Party.' What Comcast is doing is outrageous. The largest cable provider in the country has decided what political viewpoints are acceptable."
Forchion, who for years has headed his own Legalize Marijuana Party, is ready to be part of something bigger, he said. "I've been a one-man gang for the last few year," said the Weedman, "and I have no problem becoming part of something. My ego is not that big, and I've found that people find it difficult to latch onto the Weedman. Maybe I'll be more effective as part of a group." With chapters in 25 states, the US Marijuana Party is a group that fit the bill.
As for the RFRA challenge, said Forchion, "You can't challenge a law unless you have standing. By going to the Liberty Bell, which is federal property, and holding a prayer service, a non-denominational religious service and smoking marijuana as part of it and being ticketed, I now have standing. I will challenge the constitutionality of my arrest on the basis that I was exercising my religious freedom as guaranteed by the RFRA," he said. "They'll find me guilty, but it should be thrown out. I'm not trying to make the Liberty Bell a smoke-in place," he laughed, "but you can be sure if we get a favorable ruling, there will be people there doing just that. They're already talking about it."
He will be represented by prominent Philadelphia civil liberties attorney Michael Coard, he said. He and Coard will also be in contact with the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project, which was involved in the ground-breaking Guam case. "I hope we can at least get them to submit an amicus brief," he said.
He and Duff were not mistreated by the Park rangers, Forchion said, although he noted that he was strip-searched while Duff, who is white, was not. The Weedman was threatened with another arrest when, as part of the strip-search, he removed his jacket and shirt to reveal a t-shirt picturing a large, extended middle finger. "They threatened to arrest me for obscenity," he snorted, "but I said no, it's political expression and it represents my displeasure at government actions, specifically the war on drugs." Forchion emphasized his feelings by giving the officers a live two-handed demonstration of the one-finger salute to the cheers and laughter of videotaping onlookers.
Forchion, a resident of Browns Mills, NJ, is running in that state's Third Congressional District against incumbent Republican Jim Saxton. The district includes Burlington and Ocean counties and some Camden County neighborhoods. Pat Duff, 27, a former radio personality and self-described "renegade car salesman" arrested along with Forchion, will run as the US Marijuana Party candidate for Philadelphia City Council.
"I just can't go back to being incog-negro," said the Rastafarian former truck driver. "This prohibition is wrong!"
Welcome back, Weedman.