NJWeedman Fights Back in NJ Court

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Cartoon of NJWeedman up against (left to right) a Swat officer, Mercer County Angelo Onofri, Uncle Sam, and Officer Flowers.

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 registered the LBT-III as a cannabis Temple in June 2015.  Weedman had no problem with the police from when it opened in June 2015 until January 2016.  Trenton 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.

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.”

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 (DVRS).  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 DVRS 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 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.”

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, who 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 DVRS 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.”

A NJ.com article from August 5 was titled, “NJ Weedman going to court to fight 50 tickets from police.”  This discussed his upcoming “probable cause” hearing. On August 9, Weedman was indicted by a Mercer County grand jury on 11 drug charges related to the April 27 raid. NJ.com released an article that day, stating that Weedman was free on bail but expected to return to court on August 11. Also on August 9, NJ 101.5 fm radio listed the exact charges in it’s article:

  • Four counts of possession of a controlled dangerous substance
  • One count of distribution; one count of possession with the intent to distribute
  • One count of possession with the intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a school
  • One count of distribution within 1,000 feet of a school
  • One count of maintaining a narcotics nuisance
  • One count of possession of drug paraphernalia with the intent to distribute
  • And one count of maintaining a fortified structure
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Weedman in court August 11.  Photo from NJ.com August 11.

Weedman wore a fancy purple suit to his hearing on August 11. Superior Court Judge Peter Warshaw denied Weedman’s motion to reclaim his cameras, videos and computer hard drives that were confiscated by police during the raid in April. “It’s another blow for Ed “NJ Weedman” Forchion,” began the NJ.com article on August 11. Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Katz said at the hearing that the evidence would be returned once they were done processing all of the information. Heybern responded that Weedman was “entitled to that property,” especially since those videos could prove police were lying about the February incident. Weedman emerged from the court house along with his supporters, and defiantly smoked a mini-bong.

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NJ.com August 11.

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NJ.com August 11.

Weedman appeared at the Trenton Municipal Court on August 17, but his case wasn’t on the trial list, and it was postponed to September 28.

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August 17 Municipal Court hearing.

Weedman’s arraignment hearing was held Tuesday, August 23, before Judge Anthony Massi in Mercer County criminal court.Just as Weedman wore a fancy purple suit to court on August 11, he once again looked dapper in a “tailored gray pinstripe suit” at his arraignment on August 23.  He expanded the outfit by wearing a weed necklace around his neck, which had a nugget of marijuana attached to it.  As usual, Weedman showed up to his arraignment 17 minutes late.

He plead not guilty to the 11 drug-related charges and rejected the prosecution’s plea deal of 7 years in prison (which would have required him to serve 3 and 1/2 years before being considered for parole).Heyburn raised concerns at the hearing about the secret identity of the unknown informant. The indictment revealed that the informant purchased marijuana at Weedman’s Joint on March 15, March 22, March 30, and April 15. “There was weed there,” Weedman said. “I’d be embarrassed if there wasn’t.” Heyburn reported to the Trentonian that the prosecution’s case was “crumbling” and he swore to reveal the identity of the informant.

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Weedman, August 23, 2016.

In early September, Weedman figured out on his own who the “rat” really was. Weedman contended the rat was exposed by the police search warrant, and by the rat’s insistence on having a picture drawn of him and hung up on the wall at Weedman’s place.  “He posed for pictures right in the middle of his rat finkery,” Weedman said. The warrant showed that the informant allegedly bought $300 worth of weed in March, and that detectives spied on Weedman’s place for weeks, “secretly tailing him during all hours of the night – to a home in Hamilton and a Quick Check,” wrote the Trentonian on September 14.  “If you ask me straight up would you do seven years or let this guy get shot in the head, I’d let him get shot in the head. My concern is beating this case, by any means necessary,” Weedman said. “You can call me Marijuana X right now.” Weedman posted the picture of the rat on Facebook.  A loyalist who said that if he saw the alleged rat he would “knock his f—— teeth out.” Weedman told the man not to “punch him in the mouth on my behalf.”

The search warrant stated that the “CI was instructed to make a controlled purchase of CDS marijuana from Ed Forchion.”  Weedman called this entrapment. “The Rat can come testify about it because he committed the crime,” he said. “The police sent him on a mission to give me money. That’s classic entrapment.”  Police were posted outside of Weedman’s place to keep tabs, and recorded a conversation between the CI and the chef John about getting the CI his “medicine.” They also recorded the CI speaking with L, who left soon after and drove down the road, unknowingly losing the police who attempted to follow him. According to the warrant, on March 15 Weedman spoke with the CI and offered to sell him an ounce for $300, saying his weed was “cheaper and better than” NJ’s dispensaries. The warrant stated that the CI waited in the café until Weedman returned and made the transaction, and Weedman told the CI, “You didn’t get that from me.”

Weedman told the Trentonian that the warrant did not accurately portray the transaction, although he admitted he was walking a fine line between donation and distribution. He reportedly asked the CI to donate to the church, which he did. Weedman reported: “He was saying he was trying to get some medicine, but nobody would help him because he was white. I felt bad for him for a little bit and whatever. Now I regret it. Look what happened.”

 

 

 

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