A Burlington County jury deadlocked Wednesday over whether to convict a Los Angeles man on charges he planned to deal marijuana that he said was intended to relieve pain he suffers as the result of bone tumors.
Ed Forchion, a longtime marijuana activist and former New Jerseyan who calls himself NJ Weedman, will be retried this month for allegedly planning to distribute a pound of pot that police found in the trunk of his car in 2010.
Forchion acknowledged possessing the drug, which was confiscated after a traffic stop in Mount Holly. But he argued in Superior Court that it was for his therapeutic use and that he had a medical-marijuana patient card issued in California.
He was arrested shortly after New Jersey became the 15th state to allow medical marijuana, but his California patient card was not valid in the Garden State. Two years later, New Jersey's program still has not been implemented. The law creating it was signed shortly before Gov. Christie took office in January 2010, and the Republican initially was reluctant to launch the program because the federal government viewed the drug as illegal. Federal officials had offered assurances that they would not prosecute when states' medical marijuana laws are obeyed.
Forchion, 47, said he was disappointed by Wednesday's verdict. "I'm not happy. ... I'm supposed to have this treatment, this tumor out, and, instead, I'm stuck on this marijuana case," he said.
Forchion, whose physician testified he discovered "giant cell" cancer tumors in the defendant's right leg in 2001 and 2002, said he intended to return to California as soon possible for pain relief and treatment. He had been visiting relatives in Pemberton, his former home, when he was arrested. A month ago, he traveled across the country in his gaily painted "Weedmobile" to face trial.
After deliberating about three hours, the jury of six men and six women convicted the Rastafarian of marijuana possession but said it was deadlocked on the more serious charge.
Forchion, who represented himself during the three-day trial, said Judge Charles Delehey later informed him the panel voted, 7-5, for acquittal on the distribution charge. Had he been convicted, Forchion could have faced 10 years in state prison. Simple possession carries up to 18 months in county jail.
"I only needed one [juror] to get a hung jury, and I got seven," he said. Forchion said he was surprised when Assistant Prosecutor Michael Luciano said in court that he planned to retry the case.
The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office declined through a spokesman to comment. During the trial, Luciano called Forchion "a charlatan in hemp clothing" and said he chose to disregard New Jersey's statute because he believed he was "above the law."
Ignoring the advice of Don Ackerman, a public defender who assisted him, Forchion asked the judge for a speedy retrial. Ackerman said he needed time to get a transcript and to file a motion for acquittal, but Forchion said he wanted to move forward right away.
"I need to get back to California. ... I'm sleeping on the couch of a relative," he said later.
The retrial is scheduled for May 22.
The case took on a larger dimension when Forchion used his medical condition as a defense. He said he brought enough of "his medicine" from California to get him through a month or two in New Jersey.
During deliberations, jurors came back with several questions about what was required to convict Forchion of drug distribution. The judge told them a defendant had to possess the drug "knowingly or purposely" with the intent to share it with or sell it to others.
The jury also asked for permission to view Forchion's NJWeedman.com website. The judge said no.