Free Speech: NJ Weedman Arrested at Statehouse Over Pot Leaf T-Shirt 5/20/05

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Veteran wild man marijuana activist Ed Forchion, better known as the New Jersey Weedman was arrested May 11 by New Jersey State Troopers as he attempted to enter the state capitol building in Trenton to deliver a press release to reporters in the building's press row. Forchion, who is running for governor as head of the Legalize Marijuana Party of South Jersey, was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan "Legalize Cannabis," and that was apparently too much for State Trooper Robert Rasinsky, who, according to Forchion, "took offense" at the shirt, told him he could not enter the building, then arrested him when he insisted he could.

Ed Forchion's censored TV ad
According to Forchion, it is common practice for interested parties to distribute press releases to the capitol's press row. "I've gone to press row dozens of times delivering press releases without incident," he said in a statement released after his arrest.

Forchion's account of press row's accessibility was backed up by the Times of Trenton. "Although the state police say press row is not a publicly accessible area, State House-based reporters say that members of the public routinely visit the area to pitch stories," the paper reported in its story on the incident.

According to Forchion, Trooper Rasinsky "falsely claimed the building was not open to the public and refused to allow me to pass. When I insisted that the building was public and I had every right as a state citizen to enter this building, Trooper Rasinsky hand-cuffed me behind my back and began to choke me by placing both hands around the front of my neck. As I struggled against this attack, the struggle was joined by another unnamed trooper who ended the melee with a swift kick to my groin."

State troopers, unsurprisingly, had a different take on events. "He actually came to the front entrance, signed in and asked to be allowed to go to press row to hand out fliers," state police spokesman Sgt. Gary Lewis told the Trentonian. "Troopers told him that the public is not allowed to access the area. The officers asked him if they could call someone to come and meet him and he refused."

Forchion was arrested on charges on resisting arrest, "defiant trespass," and "improper behavior." Bail was originally set at $40,000, but was reduced to $1,000, which Forchion was able to make.

The troopers are in "cover your ass" mode, over what amounted to arresting him because they didn't like his t-shirt, Forchion said. "The marijuana leaf is the symbol of my political party, no different than the elephant or the donkey of the Republican and Democratic parties. I have a right to express my political allegiance and views. Could you imagine the press reports of this attack had it happened to a Democrat or Republican? I did nothing wrong! I was simply expressing myself while on the way to the press. I can't believe the press has failed to report this story accurately! I was attacked!"

Run-ins with the law over marijuana and free speech are nothing new to the 40-year-old Forchion. After being arrested with more than 40 pounds of pot in 1997, Forchion got seriously active, running for a number of political offices. In March 2000, he was arrested for smoking marijuana in the State Assembly chambers during a session. After serving 17 months in prison over the 1997 bust, Forchion was released on parole in 2002, but then jailed for five months by parole authorities after producing a marijuana reform TV commercial that never ran. It took a federal judge to set him free that time.

Forchion isn't going to let another hassle at the hands of the authorities stop him, but he has expressed displeasure at the lack of support from other drug reformers. "This is just another example of that fact that I'm just a nigger with a big mouth to many white authorities," he said. "Things like this don't happen to white activists. There is no white activist in the country who has been jailed simply for wearing a t-shirt with his or her political opinion on it, yet the mainstream reform groups say virtually nothing about my constant abuse at the hands of state officials. I can't believe this happened to me because I'm just another nigger to many," he said, adding that he just may move to have his name legally changed to "Just a Nigger."

Forchion certainly can't be accused of mincing words -- his campaign slogan this year is "Fuck the Law, Smoke it Anyway."

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Issue #387 -- 5/20/05

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