Ed “NJ Weedman” Forchion opened his restaurant “NJWeedman’s Joint” on June 15, in Trenton, NJ. The “Joint” is the restaurant side of his new business, which was packed opening day with fans, friends, activists, cops, journalists and politicians. They all came to see the legendary NJWeedman, who was once again conducting a jaw-dropping stunt by opening his store directly across the street from City Hall.
NJWeedman did not, however, launch the “Liberty Bell Temple III” – the religious temple side of his building, where Spiritual services will be held and where the sacred herb can be absorbed. If the Catholics were afforded religious protection to drink Communion wine during alcohol prohibition, NJWeedman remarked, then religious cannabis users deserve the same religious freedom.
The LBT III will officially open on July 1, 2015, a date destined to be historically significant for the Cannabis Movement. On that same day the exuberant Bill Levin will launch Indiana’s “First Church of Cannabis” under the protection of the state’s controversial “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” a law that condones discrimination based off sexual orientation. Levin is opening his Church on July 1 because that is the same day the RFRA will be implemented. Both the LBT III and the Cannabis Church will encourage congregates to smoke in their places of worship, but, unlike the LBT III (as of now), only Levin’s Indianapolis Church has been threatened by a police raid on the opening day if anyone is seen smoking. Nevertheless, Levin still intends to smoke and will risk being arrested in front of his congregation. Levin, much like NJWeedman, has a taste for theatrics, and is using the opening of his Church to expose the loopholes in the state’s religious protection laws. This method is not new to NJWeedman, who has been voluntarily arrested numerous times in order to go to court and defend his right to smoke from a religious standpoint.
NJWeedman chose the name of the “Liberty Bell Temple” in honor of a series of monthly “Smoke-Outs” he held at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia from December 2003 – August 2004. NJWeedman’s end goal (other than trying to turn Independence Park into “Peace Pot Park”) was to get a court case and challenge the federal marijuana laws using The Religious Freedom & Restoration Act of 1993 as a defense. The Act was originally passed to protect the usage of peyote by Native Americans, but NJWeedman used this loophole to protect his own “religious use” of marijuana. Since the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 provides exemptions based on other federal laws, NJWeedman invoked the federal RFRA, which defends the religious use of substances. Regarding his charges for smoking at the Liberty Bell, NJWeedman explained how each smoke-out was preceded by a “Spiritual religious service.” But in court Judge Rapoport didn’t recognize the RFRA and found NJWeedman guilty. NJWeedman appealed to the 3rd circuit court of appeals in Philadelphia and won. The case was sent back to Judge Rapoport. Judge Rapoport then dismissed the case, preferring to dismiss the case rather than let NJWeedman debunk the marijuana laws all the way to the Supreme Court.
After being arrested and harassed along the east coast for nearly a decade, NJWeedman exiled himself to California in 2008, where he could run his own business and practice his own religion without being persecuted (or so he thought). It was here that NJWeedman opened the first Liberty Bell Temple with a partner in February, but after going separate ways in August, NJWeedman opened up the “Liberty Bell Temple II” in September 2008 on Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA. Operations ran smoothly until the DEA raided LBT II on December 13, 2011. The DEA cleared out the Temple, emptied NJWeedman’s bank account, and shattered his growing operation by confiscating over 600 plants.
NJWeedman was ruined financially by the raid, but there was a silver lining hidden underneath this tragedy – “NJ” Weedman returned home from exile. Like all great legends, NJWeedman was forced to return to his origins. Even he was aware of this at the time. “People keep asking me if I’m going to become the LA Weedman,” he relayed with a scoff during a 2009 interview for the “Philadelphia Inquirer.” “I’m from New Jersey… No doubt I’m going to be back,” he replied. Once the NJWeedman, always the NJWeedman. More importantly, NJWeedman correctly predicted that he would return back to NJ to open another Liberty Bell Temple. In his 2010 biography “Public Enemy 420: NJ Weedman Super-Hero to the Potheads,” NJWeedman concluded the book with this passage: “I expect to come back to New Jersey one day and open a Religious Temple in Camden, New Jersey, where I will provide marijuana to my congregants like I do now here in California and my Liberty Bell Temple.”
The launching of the Liberty Bell Temple III is only the beginning. It is the Call to Potheads to congregate at the New Mecca. The senseless Drug War has gone on too long, but the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter and brighter each day. Men like Weedman and Bill Levin have already begun to ‘part the waters’ by establishing religious homes for their lost congregates.
With dozens of police officers surrounding Bill Levin’s Church on opening day, the religious sacrament was not absorbed by any of the hundreds of congregates. Levin didn’t want to risk arrest because he aims to file a civil lawsuit over the issue, and not have to fight it through criminal court. Regardless, Levin’s stunt – and the threats made by police – helped gather national attention for Levin’s Cannabis Church, including coverage by New York Times, Time, Fox, Yahoo, Indianapolis Star, Salt Lake Tribune, Huffington Post, Miami Herald, Aljazeera America, and many more.
In contrast, NJWeedman’s launching went off without a hitch, despite being only down the block from Gov. Chris Christie’s office at the State House. Hundreds of people smoked inside the Liberty Bell Temple III throughout the day, and 50 people signed up as religious members by paying the yearly fee of $42.00. More importantly, the State Assembly passed a Joint Resolution in honor of NJWeedman, which was presented to NJWeedman by State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora. Suffice to say that NJWeedman’s LBT III is here to stay.