Written By Diane Moxley #NJRR
Ed Forchion, also know as NJ Weedman, is a well-known figure in New Jersey for his position on the legalization of Marijuana. He has run for state assembly and U.S. congress on a “legalize it” ticket. Over the years he has had his ups and downs, run-ins with the law, even a battle with cancer. When he opened his restaurant, NJ Weedman’s Joint, in downtown Trenton across from the Trenton City Hall in May of 2015 it was major news. Articles were published in the Wall Street Journal, The Trentonian, and other local papers. Ed was praised by local public officials for contributing to the revitalization of the downtown. All along he was an unabashed advocate for the legalization of marijuana. Now he was a different type of entrepreneur making a positive impact in a troubled neighborhood.
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All this changed in early 2016 when the Trenton police told Ed that he was in violation of an ordinance which required all businesses to close at 11:00 pm. This ordinance was a vestige of the tired old drug war that started in the 1980s, an attempt to clear the streets and suppress crime. A type of curfew. It would seem that this restriction did not help Trenton and may have even made things worse. Dark abandoned streets do not lead to a healthy urban renewal.
Ed objected because he did good business after 11pm. He went to City Hall and checked out the ordinance and the zoning map. It turned out that the ordinance applied only to residential zones and Ed’s restaurant was in a Business/Administrative Zone and was therefore not subjected to the ordinance.
The police ignored that significant detail in the ordinance and continued to harass him. Ed stood his ground on this issue and kept the restaurant open. He even went to other restaurants and tried to encourage them to stay open as he thought it could be a good thing for the area.
Ed has always been a fighter. Yes, for the legalization of marijuana, but also for justice. A police officer once told him he had a reputation for being litigious and that he would be retaliated against if he continued to “poke the bear.” He has a successful record for defending himself over the past 20 years, with a record of 4 out of 5 victories. These facts were not appreciated by the local law enforcement. Harassment, illegal search and seizure, and general abuse were common occurrences for Ed.
Still, the escalating police harassment of his new business was hard to take. Ed was subjected to sudden mass raids. On one occasion in February of 2016 20 officers showed up with police dogs. Ed’s customers were intimidated. The harassment ramped up further. The police sent in undercover officers. This began to intimidate his customers. Ed decided to file a complaint in federal court for harassment.
Just weeks after Ed filed the federal civil rights complaint he was arrested. Ed was certain that this was no coincidence. The arrest then led to a series of events so convoluted and absurd that you have to hear Ed tell it: “The police charged me with 41 phony charges and denied me bail for 447 days, in a failed attempt to close me. I’ve beaten 38 of these charges, got out of jail and reopened.”
Ed spent 447 days in jail for charges that were eventually dismissed. Once again Ed had won. Or so it would seem. As Ed puts it, “I feel like Muhammad Ali, who won his ‘thriller in Manilla’ fight against Joe Frazier, but got seriously beat up. I feel the same. I won, but I got beat up. I can’t catch up on the rent as a result of the beatdown. Patrons are still scared to come back.” We are on Grubhub.com, Ubereats.com and doordash.com so business is picking up, but people don’t come in.
THE POLICE ARE GONE, BUT SO AS THE PATRONS
“People are calling me a hero for beating the Government, Vice.com even did a series of stories on him calling him a local legend but NJWeedman’s Joint is on the rocks”. With the year long police harassment in 2016 and Ed’s 447 day absence the momentum was lost. The business closed shortly after Ed’s incarceration. In a herculean feat they did manage to reopen at the end of the summer 2018, but he is barely hanging on. His partner was able to pay the rent for a short time, but recently lost her job, and now Ed is three months behind on the rent and utilities due to lack of patronage. The business that received so much NATIONAL praise and good will upon its opening in 2015 is now in serious danger of shutting down. The police could not beat Ed in the courts , but now may still get their way, to shut Ed down, by underhanded means. This is why Ed deserves our support in this time of crisis, it’s not often a citizen resists and fights the corruption of Government by himself and wins.
It is ironic that Ed’s business is about to go under because of his advocacy for legalizing weed when weed is about to be legalized. Ed was always on the front line, not only fighting for the right to smoke weed, but also exposing the injustices of the drug laws and the impact of these laws on his community.
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