Ed Forchion, aka NJ Weedman, has been an active presence in New Jersey’s legalization movement. Weedman recently made headlines again, and is ruffling the few feathers of those who still favor cannabis prohibition. In a somewhat alarmist article, The Trentonian recently reported that Forchion openly admitted to handing out flyers, which explained the rights of jury nullification. The New Jersey-based newspaper called Weedman’s jury outreach a “stunt” – implying that informing citizens and jurors of their rights to fight the prosecution of peaceful, non-violent people consuming a plant is somehow a dangerous or immoral act. Jury nullification is a little known and rarely exercised way that cannabis activists can push back against unjust laws. Thanks to Weedman’s case, more people are finding out about jury nullification.
The flyers encouraged jurors in Forchion’s case and other cannabis cases to vote their conscience and “acquit, even when the evidence proves the defendant ‘did it.’”
“I’m getting ready to put on another William Penn trial,” Forchion said to NJ reporters.
Weedman called on the help of the nonprofit group, the Fully Informed Jury Association, who came all the way from Montana to put together and hand out flyers to the jury and the public in front of New Jersey’s Mercer County criminal court. The court officials took notice, as one judge said the flyers sent a “chill up his spine”. A prosecutor also claimed the flyers were “anti-prosecutor”. That appears to be their goal in this story – to oppose prosecutors that criminalize harmless cannabis consumers.
Some police did try to force activists to leave the outside of courthouse, but they refused. At the very least, no one was arrested or confronted at the Mercer courthouse over the flyers – which would be a clear violation of the first amendment right to free speech. In several other states, jury nullification activists have been charged with tampering or obstruction of justice.
“This is protected free speech activity,” said Ed Barocas, of the American Civil Liberties group in New Jersey. “If there are concerns regarding how jurors feel about the information, I believe the court should handle it in ways that don’t restrict free speech.”
Forchion has also been accused of “cyber-bulling” for calling a Trenton cop a pedophile and was arrested for lighting up a joint at City Hall. He thinks his recent arrests were retaliation for a federal lawsuit he filed against the city, which challenges whether his cannabis church should be required by an ordinance to close at the same time as other area businesses.
Let’s make one thing crystal clear: jury nullification could definitely be classified as “chilling” in cases where actual crimes, with real victims, have been allegedly committed. Murders, rapes, assaults, theft, etc., would not qualify as cases where it would be morally acceptable for a juror to nullify. NJ Weedman’s case is not one of those.