The “Liberty Bell Temple III” in Trenton, NJ, is a religious cannabis temple run by NJWeedman, right next to Weedman’s restaurant, “NJWeedman’s Joint.” Weedman had no problem with the police from when it opened in June 2015 until January 2016. Trenton and the city’s police department claimed to have started receiving complaints about Weedman’s place on January 17, 2016, about “excessive noise emanating” from his place. The same complaint was filed again on February 7. On February 28, the TPD sent numerous officers to Weedman’s place due to complaints of fighting outside the building. Trenton police captain, Edelmiro Gonzalez, Jr., later testified that 30 persons were standing outside Weedman’s building when police arrived. However, Weedman had on tape the evidence that proved the supposed “fight” happened down the street, not at Weedman’s place like the police said. The tape also showed that there were not 30 persons outside when police arrived, as claimed by the city. One person was arrested and charged with resisting arrest. On March 2, Weedman called police to report the theft of his Ipod. (Weedman claimed police came on March 4, 5, 7 & 8.)
On March 5, 2016, between 2 & 3am, about a dozen Trenton officers shut down Weedman’s temple and sent home several hundred “congregants” due to a curfew enforcement of the city’s hours-of-operation ordinance that required restaurants closed by 11pm. “They came out here like it was a shooting,” Weedman told the Trentonian. “The only thing that was missing was yellow tape.” Weedman responded that his restaurant side was closed, and congregants were in the cannabis temple celebrating midnight mass. Police didn’t know what to make of this and closed Weedman’s place down for the night. Weedman claimed police violated his first amendment rights by shutting down a church. “You have freedom of assembly. That’s what we were doing last night: Assembling,” Weedman was quoted saying in the Trentonian on March 5. “I formed it as a church for a reason: I have alternative thoughts and beliefs. Marijuana is a sacrament.” He called it a “church-state” issue: “I decided to open a church here in the city, and they are trying to hold me to their business hours. I registered as a cannabis temple. Can the city regulate my church per the business rules? I don’t think so.”
On March 9, Weedman filed a civil complaint against the city and their police department in U.S. District Court, requesting a preliminary injunction against the agency, a jury trial, and $1 million in damages.”Our temple is an alternative religious organization that keeps night hours – we cater to a late night congregation,” Weedman wrote in the complaint. “We are not a business, but a temple. We are open 24 hours.” Weedman registered the Liberty Bell Temple III as a cannabis Temple with NJ in June 2015.
“The police are creating the problem, I am not creating the problem,” Weedman was quoted saying in NJ.com‘s March 10 article, “‘NJ Weedman’ claims police are unfairly closing his pot temple.” Trenton police spokesman Lt. Stephen Varn told NJ.com: “As far as his claim into the location being a church or a sanctuary, we are currently investigating those claims.” He gained national media attention by landing an article about him on U.S.A. Today.com on March 9, titled: “‘Weedman’ says closing pot temple violates religious freedom.”
On March 20, Trenton police observed a lit up “open” sign on the restaurant window at 1am. Officers allegedly witnessed people walk in and out of the restaurant, and a woman who walked around with a container of chicken. When Weedman witnessed the police he ordered everyone into the temple and shut off the lights and the open sign, and refused to come to the door when police knocked. But the goofy Weedman stuck his head out the door as the police were walking away, and said: “You’re wasting valuable resources.” Weedman was later issued a summons for violation of the City Ordinances regarding the hours of operation of a business.
On April 1, the city and police department filed a motion to dismiss Weedman’s claims and his request for an injunction. The motion stated Weedman didn’t fit the requirements for injunctive relief, and it questioned the validity of the cannabis church. The motion raised issue with Weedman representing himself. The city claimed the Temple must be represented by an individual. Weedman could only represent himself in court, and therefore he could not represent the church, which was a separate entity. Attached to the motion was a sworn Affidavit from Trenton police captain, Edelmiro Gonzalez, Jr., which set out a list of complaints about Weedman’s temple from January-March. This included Gonzalez’s accusation that there was a fight outside Weedman’s place on February 28 and that there were over 30 persons outside.
Weedman’s pro se response motion was submitted April 6 and was received on April 7. He filed a Civil Action for “Fraud upon the court”: Motion to Vacate Defendants Brief. Weedman charged that the affidavit signed by Officer Gonzalez was “false” and that he could prove it because he captured what really happened on February 28 on his Digital Video Recording System. Weedman sent a Youtube video from February 28 showing only five people outside and that the fight took place “500 feet and around the corner” from Weedman’s building. Therefore Weedman accused Gonzalez of creating a false police report, and accused Democratic Senator Lesniak’s law firm of submitting this “fraud to the court.” On April 8, Jacqueline A. DeGregorio, TPD attorney, sent Weedman a Notice to Preserve Evidence including hard drives and storage media.
On April 19, NJWeedman was arrested at the Trenton DMV due to mixed up insurance issues and was held for several days. On April 27, Weedman’s place was raided by the TPD in tactical gear, and Weedman was arrested with 10 other persons. Police seized the DVR’s and hard drive which contained “exculpatory evidence, evidence for the civil rights case and evidence of Captain Gonzalez’s perjury.” He accused the TPD of carrying out the raid to steal the evidence on the videos. At 2:00 P.M. on May 13, several police officers arrested NJWeedman at his restaurant and led him to a police vehicle outside. He was charged with a complaint-warrant for “cyber bullying” and using “offensive language” toward a police officer at his restaurant, when he called the officer a “pedophile” on May 10.
NJWeedman gained more fame for the case on May 3, when he spoke on the “Deminski and Doyle show” on NJ 101.5 radio. He repeated his claims that the raid was orchestrated by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union). Lesniak’s law firm is defending the city of Trenton against the lawsuit filed by NJWeedman for the invasion of his church by police in March. He therefore accused the raid as being a form of “retaliation” for filing the lawsuit. Weedman announced on the radio:“I really and truly believe I am conviction-proof on this. I am taking it to a jury. I don’t want the prosecutor to try to bribe me with some plea of leniency. I want a jury trial as is my right.” NJWeedman was also quoted saying about Lesinak:”He’s opposed to legalization.” Sen. Lesinak denied the claim on NJ 101.5. “I think he’s been smoking too much weed. These are the rantings of a raving lunatic,” Sen. Lesniak reported. “Weedman’s comings and goings are not at the top of my list of things to pay attention to.”
NJ.com reported on the radio interview that same day:“NJ Weedman Takes To the Radio, Blames Raid of His Joint On Retaliation.” NJWeedman explained he had no problems with his business until February. “I was told that this came down from high above,” he said as he explained his “retaliation theory,” blaming the prosecution and the police over the raid. For this reason he personally invited Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri to handle the prosecution side of the case so that NJWeedman, who plans on representing himself pro se, can personally duel with him in the court of law. NJWeedman, who previously defeated Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Luciano for his 2010 arrest, is positive he can win the case:”I want you to do this… I want you to take this beating.” NJWeedman wrote about his upcoming battle with Prosecutor Onofri on his website njweedman.com on May 3. NJWeedman pleaded Onofri not to “pass this trial off to an assistant – do it yourself, ‘hero’.”
NJWeedman wanted a speedy trial for his case. He opened a letter on May 20 from the Superior Court of Mercer County dated from May 13, instructing him to appear in court at 9 A.M. on June 8 for a pre-indictment conference. NJ.com released an article on May 20 titled, “‘NJ Weedman’ Welcomes His Upcoming Day In Court.” Casey DeBlasio, spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, said the case “is pending presentation to a grand jury and will proceed through the system in its normal course.”
In May, Weedman received summonses in the mail for smoking inside a Trenton public building in violation of a city ordinance, and smoking in public in violation of state law. This was for his smoke-out stunt at the Trenton City Council meeting on November 5, 2015, when he lit up a joint with several others at City Hall in protest against the City Council refusing to vote on a non-binding resolution in support of marijuana legalization. NJWeedman famously called all the city council members “cowards” before he was excused from City Hall. No one was charged or arrested that night for smoking inside the building, but, as the Trentonian headline read from the May 19, 2016, article: “Trenton Police Charge NJ Weedman Six Months After City Hall Smoke Stunt.” Trenton Police Captain Edelmiro Gonzalez, who apparently witnessed NJWeedman smoking at City Hall six months earlier, signed the summonses against him. NJWeedman reported to the Trentonian that this served as another example of “harassment” from Trenton police. “I am under siege by the police department,” he said. NJWeedman, who was unaware about the smoke-out summonses until he was informed about it that week in court for his cyber-bullying case, thought the purpose was to make him unaware of the court dates for the summonses, which would lead to a warrant out for his arrest for not appearing in court. NJWeedman was quoted by the Trentonian again on May 20:“I’ve been in and out of the court system for 20 years and I completely understand how it works.” He continued: “If I missed court, there would’ve been a warrant from the City of Trenton.” NJWeedman’s attorney, Ed Heyburn, called the city out for applying “selective prosecution” against his client.
Weedman and his attorney Heyburn filed a “Demand for a Probable Cause Hearing” on May 21 and June 3. On June 28, Weedman’s attorney filed Criminal Action “Notice of Motion to Return Property.” Attached was an Affidavit by Weedman. Weedman claimed he still didn’t receive the Affidavit of Probable Cause presented to the Honorable Anthony Massi at the time the search warrant was requested, and that the court did not respond to his hearing requests. He also listed all the reasons for why he wanted his DVR equipment, claiming it held family pictures, manuscripts of unfinished books, hundreds of documents, 20 years worth of ideas and journalism, and all his legal documents. He concluded the Affidavit by requesting a “preliminary injunction” enjoining the TPD and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office from erasing anything from his hard drives. On June 29, NJ.com released the article, “NJ Weedman tries to get key evidence back after police raid.” Attorney Heybern said Weedman needed the videos for his civil rights case against the city, and said he filed a preliminary injunction to prevent police from erasing any of the evidence on the hard drives.
On Tuesday, July 12, 2016, Federal Court Judge Peter Sheridan denied the city’s April 1 motion to dismiss the suit. This was a victory for Weedman.”We now get to perfect our arguments and pursue our rights in the federal realm,” Weedman wrote in an email Tuesday night. NJ.com wrote on July 13: “Sheridan denied the city’s primary motion to dismiss the suit, but agreed with them in regards to Forchion’s preliminary injunction request, which he denied.” Heyburn, Weedman’s attorney, told NJ.com:”Now I get to amend the complaint.” The city’s attorney was unable to be reached by NJ.com.