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Monica Yant Kinney: The Weedman roots down in L.A.

When the New Jersey Senate voted last week to legalize marijuana for medical use, the first person I thought of was Ed Forchion.

When the New Jersey Senate voted last week to legalize marijuana for medical use, the first person I thought of was Ed Forchion.

You may remember Forchion by another name: NJ Weedman.

He's that patriotic pothead prone to arrest for lighting up - and speaking out - in public. A Rastafarian rebel who has won court battles using a considerable intellect undiminished by his indulgence. A perennial political candidate on his own Legalize Marijuana Party ticket.

I used to talk to Forchion all the time. But we had lost touch since his 2005 promise to stop fighting The Man and start acting like A Man.

"My daughter just turned 10," the Browns Mills activist explained at the time. "Her whole life I've been the Weedman and we've been poor."

A trucker by trade, Forchion figured he'd improve his family's fortunes behind the wheel of his big rig. But then he saw the light.

Bright lights, to be exact.

Last year, the NJ Weedman moved to Los Angeles. Last week, I reached him at the legal medical-marijuana dispensary he runs on Hollywood Boulevard.

"In New Jersey, I got hassled, fired from my job, and attacked by police," Forchion recalled by cell phone. "Out here, nobody bothers me. I'm becoming a celebrity."

Like the rest of Tinseltown, the Weedman wants to be a star.

"I'm looking for great revolutionary people," producer Bobby Razak explained in a break from filming a reality-TV pilot at Forchion's pot shop. "Someone needs to show viewers what this guy is all about."

A passion for pot

In 1996, California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, allowing patients to obtain medical marijuana with a doctor's note. Since then, hundreds of dispensaries have opened up and down the coast.

One of the newest ganja marts has a primo location and a name honoring two of its owners' three passions: democracy and faith.

Liberty Bell Temple.

"I'm an employer!" Forchion exclaimed. "I'm the boss."

And a savvy one, judging by the deals listed on his Web site,

One free gram for new "patients." A 10 percent discount for folks with a disability. Twenty-five percent off for "life-threatening illnesses."

Boasting "nothing over $55," this temple is the Wal-Mart of weed.

Forchion's patients include entertainers ("rappers, ultimate fighters, B-list actors") and professionals ("postal carriers, schoolteachers, suits-and-ties").

They come heads held high, carrying state-issued medical cards.

"We have people with MS, people in wheelchairs, a kid with stomach cancer," Forchion explained. "Most customers, you can't see the problem. Here, if you think [marijuana] helps with headaches - and it does - you can smoke it."

Garden State roots

To stay on the right side of the law, Liberty Bell operates as a nonprofit. And yet, financially, Forchion is doing better than ever.

He has five employees and a boldly painted van he pays others to drive as a promotional tool.

"Call my ex-wife. Every Friday, I send $350 a week home," the divorced dad said proudly. (I did, and she confirmed that he does.)

"I'm not only providing for my kids. Now I spoil them."

Forchion is closely following the Garden State debate over medical marijuana. The Senate bill faces an uncertain fate in the Assembly, but Gov. Corzine has promised to sign it into law if it reaches his desk.

New Jersey's proposal would allow only severely ill people - those with cancer, AIDS, or chronic pain - to use the herb.

"Only a third of my customers here would qualify there," Forchion said, glumly.

And so far, the Garden State would bar people with felony records from selling medical marijuana. That would keep Forchion from opening an East Coast outlet - a slight he might fight in court just like in the old days.

"People keep asking me if I'm going to become the LA Weedman," Forchion relayed with a scoff.

"I'm from New Jersey," he said. "No doubt I'm going to be back."

Once the NJ Weedman, always the NJ Weedman.