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No Freedom of Speech for Ed "NJWeedman" Forchion

by Preston Peet- for Drugwar.com


Ed "NJWeedman" Forchion

August 20, 2002

Political candidate and outspoken marijuana legalization proponent Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion is under arrest again in New Jersey. He was picked up by police at his weekly parole meeting and booked into the Burlington County Jail sometime between 3 and 11 PM on Monday, August 19, 2002. Apparently the arrest was for violating his parole agreements by filming a series of pro-marijuana and First Amendment commercials. Under the terms of his parole, Forchion is not allowed to publicly discuss marijuana in any way. Ironically, the commercials, which had been slated to run in four counties in New Jersey on the Comcast Cable Company, were barred by Comcast management before they aired.

At this time details about his charges are still a bit sketchy, as the Burlington County jail refuses to divulge any information about the case other than that he is in the jail, alleging that they are not allowed to "release any information to civilians.” (The Burlington Co. jail later amended this statement, telling Drugwar.com that we were entitled to have this information, but only from the warden, who has not returned repeated calls.)

Forchion has a long history of fighting for the right to use marijuana, and of paying the consequences for battling prohibition. He’d had a couple of minor brushes with the law over petty offenses in his early years (but compared to many of the corporate crooks still sitting pretty without seeing the inside of a jail cell, he’s an angel of propriety). In November of 1997, having built up a thriving marijuana smuggling business while working as a truck driver driving his own rig, he was arrested in a sting operation as he and his brother were trying to pick up a FedEx package containing 40 pounds of marijuana. This lead to both brothers, along with a third friend, being the first people tried in New Jersey under the then-new Omnibus Crime Act, which allows for anyone convicted of trafficking over 20 pounds of pot, even their first offence, to do 20 years in prison.

While awaiting trial, Forchion undertook a campaign to bring marijuana reform into the public consciousness, as well as the right to Jury Nullification (which is illegal in New Jersey) running unsuccessfully for office in the US congress and for the office of Burlington County Freeholder, as the sole member of the Legalize Marijuana Party. Forchion also undertook civil disobedience, lighting up joints in the New Jersey State Assembly and at the Liberty Bell, among a dozen or so very public places. Two years, 15 hearings, and three judges later, Forchion accepted a plea bargain of 6 months in jail and 27 months in New Jersey’s Intensive Supervised Parole program, after refusing to rat out his marijuana connections. Reporting to the Riverfront Prison in Camden, NJ, on Jan. 12, 2001, (where prison guards immediately found 10 joints secreted within the sole of his sneaker), Forchion was informed he was not yet eligible for ISP, due to his “extensive” criminal history. He did 15 months inside before finally getting released on April 3, 2002 into ISP. He almost immediately filed an appeal of his sentence, which if he looses he faces up to 20 years in prison.

“I'm still fighting this conviction,” Forchion wrote Drugwar.com in an email a few hours before his arrest Monday. “My parole officer (Tom Bartlett) also ordered me not to talk to the press. Which I regarded as a illegal order. Because I knew such a order not to talk to the press was illegal I gave a few interviews anyway. On May 27th, I stood outside the Burlington County Courthouse and protested my not being able to see my daughter because of the Religion [Rastafari] I have chosen. I passed out fliers and was interviewed by the Burlington County Times and the Trentonian.” On the following day he was placed under house arrest, then was arrested on June 6 and sat in jail for four days for speaking to the newspapers.

“I was livid,” writes Forchion, “this was totally un-American. So I contacted Peter Christopher of www.nextplayvideo.com (Activist video) and asked him if he could help me by making a couple of First Amendment commercials for me. He did, we made three. I went to Comcast here in Mt Laurel, NJ, and presented them. They (Comcast NJ) accepted them, had me sign a contract and I gave them a deposit. The office manager actually liked them.”

“In our standard advertising contract, there is a paragraph that prohibits habit forming drugs and illegal products from appearing in advertising spots. so it is a cut and dried situation for the company,” said David Shane, Comcast's vice-president of corporate communications. “The spots clearly violate the agreement that he signed, so as a result we returned his $100 deposit, and the company is not running the spots.”

When it was noted that Comcast takes money from, and airs commercials by both the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s National Anti-Drug Media Campaign, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Shane said, “They don’t promote the use of habit forming drugs or drug paraphernalia. Let me read you the contract, the clause in the contract. ‘The following material is explicitly prohibited. Drugs/illegal products, including habit forming drugs, drug paraphernalia, or establishments that promote these products. Also included is advertising for a product of service which is illegal or has no legitimate use in the country, state, or municipality where systems franchise area [sic] are located.' So it’s pretty clear these spots violate that portion of the contract.”

Although it is clear that marijuana has many different legitimate uses despite the US prohibitionist rhetoric and laws to the contrary, and may or may not be habit forming for some people, Shane stuck to his guns, but did not mention whether or not pharmaceutical companies which market habit forming drugs on Comcast have to abide by this same agreement. He did note that “Anybody who advertises on Comcast signs this standard advertising contract. Again, anything promoting the use of habit forming drugs or drug paraphernalia are prohibited on Comcast.”

“I’m so fucking mad I could spit,” Peter Christopher told Drugwar.com when contacted about Comcast‘s decision and Forchion’s subsequent arrest. “We’re trying to get activists to do stuff like this. Sponsor some public access, shoot their own video. It took about 4 hours one afternoon at Ed’s house. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you how quickly I edited them. We wrote them for 30 seconds slots, timed them, and tried them. Actually the commercials were written and edited by a friend of mine. We’re trying to influence people to come out and work with us. I think they will.” Christopher points out how the system has really gone after Forchion, because he represents the counter-culture, he is very loud about his beliefs, and is not afraid of the repercussions that have resulted for standing up for what he believes is right.

“These things go unchallenged every day,” says Christopher. “Guys get tossed around, nobody does anything about it. Why? I think a lot of it is fear. I’m going to tell you this, and you think about it. It may have never occurred to you. The problem is the system has turned too many people. Four out of five people tell them everything they want to know. How can you go from that situation to being an activist? How can you look other people in the face and help them change the laws when you’ve told on them? Eighty percent of the people arrested tell all. Those are the statistics, they don’t lie.” But Forchion himself refused to roll over and tell all.

On Monday night, Forchion reported for his weekly parole meeting. At the end, everyone was told they could go except Forchion, according to Christopher, who spoke at length with Forchion later that night. Forchion was taken into custody, during which his new commercials were mentioned as the reason his parole was being violated, then taken to the Burlington County jail where he now sits.

Forchion does not yet have a lawyer assisting him. He is also seeking help in obtaining enough money to run the commercials in any venue he can get them on.

“The War on Drugs is being fought by two sides, the Government side and the winning side,” Forchion points out. “Apparently Comcast only wants the government side’s opinions expressed. This is absolute censorship. Yes, I had a shirt on with a "weed-leaf". Comcast airs far worst! They aired my campaign commercials three years ago and in those I had a bong and a fake weed leaves hanging out my suit jacket pocket. It wasn't the shirt, it was the words they didn't like. I was questioning the War on Drugs and what it is doing to the principals of freedom this country was founded on. This is an example."

For more information about Ed "NJWeedman" Forchion at Mapinc.org, click here

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