The State’s Most Passionate Marijuana Rights Activist Celebrates What May Be NJ’s Last Illegal Stoner Christmas
By: Ryan Hosey
The Man, The Myth, The Legend(ary): NJ Weedman
I first heard about Ed Forchion, better known as NJ Weedman, through my boss, NJRR’s own Heather Warburton. When I had my internship interview with her earlier this year, she mentioned how she was working on coordinating a backup interview with him for our Community Cannabis Forum we had hosted in Pleasantville earlier in April. She mentioned how she needed to take this precautionary measure incase Weedman got arrested for protesting New Jersey’s first failed attempt at legalizing marijuana back in March.
I remember thinking in my head: “Damn, that guy has balls.”
Luckily, Ed wasn’t arrested, and I was able to meet him at our forum that night, as he was a keynote speaker. He was about as polite and professional a gentleman as anyone could be, and he gave me some great advice about shipping pot via USPS.
Yeah, he’s the real deal.
The myth of NJ Weedman and the man NJ Weedman are two of the same: Ed is about as hardcore a marijuana rights activist as anyone can find anywhere. A former convict who was busted for pot in the late 90s, Weedman has since become a local and national hero for marijuana enthusiasts of all kinds, as well as a passionate fighter for social and criminal justice reforms involving pot.
So, when I heard that NJ Weedman was holding a pop-up 4/20 rally outside of the Statehouse annex in Trenton, as well as a 4/20 celebration at his famous Trenton Joint, on what may be the state’s last illegal stoner holiday, I was more than enthused to join in.
NJ Weedman’s Joint
I had heard about NJ Weedman’s Joint, his Trenton restaurant which is also a popular meet-up site for the local marijuana community. The Joint is located right in front of the Trenton Municipal Building on East State Street, and right down the road from the headquarters of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
I honestly had no idea what to expect when I showed up for the event joined by my mom, Kim, who also served as my photographer.
We were both greeted by a very polite lady named Laura. She spoke to us about what it’s like to work at the Joint, and says it’s pretty much like home.
“We’re all pretty much family here,” Laura says. “It’s a very cool, chill spot. Everybody gets along, it’s a good place to be.”
As we settled in, we couldn’t help but take in the positive vibe of the Joint, which feels less like a pothead’s munchie pad and more like your favorite neighborhood diner. It has a charming quaintness to it that immediately puts a smile on your face. It’s the kind of spot that you want to keep coming back to again and again.
The Joint serves all kinds of munchies, from chicken to burgers, pizza, you name it. When we arrived, the crew and Weedman himself were busy preparing last minute details for the event, including a buffet for the after-rally celebration, which lasted until midnight.
Ready to Roll Up… to the NJ Statehouse
We began to walk from the Joint to the NJ Statehouse annex a little after 3pm. A confident Weedman lead the way as supportive passerby shouted support and drivers honked their horns in solidarity. While walking, I was offered a hit from a marijuana vape pen from a generous sage driver. Being the responsible journalist I am (rolls eyes), I respectfully declined, albeit momentarily.
Our walk to the Statehouse and the ensuing rally was made even better by the picturesque weather. It was about as beautiful a late April day as anyone could expect, and the atmosphere was absolutely as positive as it could be. The group was supportive and friendly, as I especially found out when a fellow marcher advised “safety in numbers” when I tried to cross a busy crosswalk too quickly. Yeah, yeah, I’m a South Jersey boy, but I digress.
The Status of Legal Weed Legislation and Medical Pot in NJ
Governor Phil Murphy campaigned for his seat in 2017 on a progressive agenda that included legalization of marijuana. The proposed legislation, officially the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act, or S2703/A4497, failed to garner enough votes in the state Senate in March and was pulled, in a process that Senate President Sweeney called, according an article in Rolling Stone, “Brutal.”
The failure of S2703 was also a setback for Governor Murphy, who, according to The New York Times, was disappointed, but remained optimistic. “Justice may be delayed, but justice will not be denied,” he said.
After the Legislature, including Sweeney, floated holding off on another vote on the legislation until after the November elections, Murphy intervened with his own deadline, coupled with an ultimatum: He wants weed legalized by the end of May, and if there aren’t enough votes, he will use executive action to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, which is due for some upgrades.
According to the Asbury Park Press, The Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, which was included in the failed S2703, would direct the licensure and opening of more medical pot dispensaries, and would increase the legal amount patients could purchase to 3 ounces per month. It would also legalize edible forms and phase out the state sales tax on medical purchases.
Some members of the Legislature are weary of linking medical expansion with full-scale legalization. State Senator Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, says it is a “moral problem” keeping patients from expanded access in an attempt “to twist the arms of people who might not inclined to vote for recreational marijuana”. State Senator Nick Scutari, D-Union, supports legalization and notes the importance of expanding the medical program, but also expressed caution: “If you proceed in an aggressive fashion, you’ll give people a reason not to vote for cannabis legalization,” he explained.
Love Your Weedmen and Weedwomen!
Once the group made it to the front of the Statehouse annex, Weedman began to talk to those gathered. He carried a white plastic shopping bag filled with (what else?) plastic medicine vials filled with weed, that he would occasionally throw to a few lucky group members. But since this is NJ Fucking Weedman we’re talking about here, there was no schwag in sight. “I have to uphold my standards,” he jokes.
“For as long as I’ve been living,” Weedman said to the crowd, “there’s been a war being waged on us. A declared war by the government against us. And I never, ever expected one day to read in the paper: ‘The Government Has Won its War on Weed.’ Never. But I did think plenty of times, that one day there’d be headlines saying: ‘Marijuana’s Now Legal’, meaning that we the people won.”
As he spoke, Ed mentioned that even though he may be called NJ Weedman, there is a “weedman” or “weedwoman” in every single community in the country. “Who doesn’t know a weedman? Or a weedwoman?” he asked to the crowd, “And the weedman or the weedwoman is the good guy in the neighborhood. Always has been. How come nobody’s speaking up for us?”
Weedman continued on about how grassroots support for legalization has conquered the opposition. “We’ve won the war,” he said. “The prosecutors didn’t win, the attorneys general didn’t win, we the people have.” He also questioned why the “losers” of the fight, namely the prosecutors, are “divvying up the spoils of war.”
Putting Murphy, the Legislature, and Cannabaggers on Notice
There was a common theme amongst Ed and members of the crowd: They all want legal pot, but they want it to be fair for everyone, and not just the wealthy few with power and influence. They take issue with S2703’s lack of social justice provisions, and say the law doesn’t look out for the little guys, meaning the common social marijuana user and the black-market community. Some of them just want politicians like Phil Murphy and Steve Sweeney to get their acts together.
“Please legalize it,” says Brandon, 22, “It’d be so much easier for everyone and the jails would be way less overpopulated.”
Ward Smith, 40, was also present at the rally. He holds a sign that says “Cannabis Heals”, along with a Bernie Sanders fan face. He said he’d much rather talk to the people who voted for Phil Murphy instead of admonishing the man himself.
“Phil Murphy does a couple commercials, gets a couple signatures about what’s he’s going to do, and where are we at now?” Ward asks. “How many governors have we voted in based on cannabis?”
Edward “Lefty” Grimes, of the “Sativa Cross Podcast”, was also in attendance. He had a very straightforward question for Murphy and the Legislature: “I would ask them: How long should a cancer patient go to jail for, for growing his own medicine?”
We also spoke to Colleen, 38, of Morristown, New Jersey, who was at the rally with her baby daughter, Katrina. She says she wants to see legislation that is fairer to the black marketers. “We really feel like we aren’t included in this new legislation. We feel like we’ve been left out, and the corporate interests of those we call the ‘cannabaggers’ have totally influenced how this law is written, and it’s got a fake social justice component to it.”
Sanjay R. Chaudhari, founder and soil master at Sweet Virginia Soil, is a proponent of home-growing for medical marijuana patients. He says he doesn’t support the establishment politicians behind the legislation. “The bills are great, and there’s a lot of good stuff there, but they’re putting it ahead of patients again. That’s what they did ten years ago when CUMMA (Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act) was passed. Now it’s ten years later, they haven’t given us home-grow still.”
While they may not all have the same grievances, one thing is for certain: This group of marijuana enthusiasts will never stop fighting.
Weedman: “Legalization for All”
At 4/20 on the dot, a confident Weedman sparked up, as did the rest of the crowd. “We’ve won, we’ve won,” Ed repeated. “It’s obvious they lost. Look at us, we’re standing in front of the statehouse smoking weed and there’s not even a state trooper here. There’s always a state trooper sitting there.”
As we began our walk back to the Joint to begin more festivities, we were again greeted by enthusiastic passerby. Feeling inspired by Weedman’s winning message, I stopped to give a few guys on a corner a couple hemp cigarettes. Hey, it’s stoner Christmas, man!
The Joint was packed with people in line for the buffet. I saw Laura again, and she very graciously gave me a bottled water to quench my cottonmouth. Before our trek back to Cumberland County (hilariously described by one gentleman in attendance as “The Gulags of New Jersey”), I knew I had to get a statement from Weedman himself.
A very busy Ed made his way to the front of the Joint, and I was able to grab him for a few quick comments. He says even though he doesn’t support the proposed legislation, he still thinks it will pass.
“It will pass because there’s going to be a few more checks passing hands. Like I’ve said to everybody, I’m down for legalization, I just don’t like this bill, SB2703, I don’t think it goes far enough. It’s not inclusive enough, it does not include home-grow, there is no job protection.”
Even with all the flaws in S2703, and even though it seems more likely than not that weed will become legal in New Jersey sooner rather than later, Weedman says he’s never giving up the fight. “Ima keep going until it is legalization for all”.