420 Magazine Background

Jury Nullification Trial,Despite a judge's order

Thread starter #1


[font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED BY AUTHOR ON Sep-27-00 AT 01:28 PM (EST)[/font][br&] Edward Forchion plans to bring up jury nullification. Jury selection is to begin today.

Barred from trying to convince a jury that the government's
marijuana laws are unconstitutional, Edward Forchion - an
advocate for the legalization of marijuana who is to go on
trial this week on a charge of conspiracy to distribute 40
pounds of cannabis - has vowed to press on anyway.

Yesterday, Judge Stephen Thompson of Camden County Superior
Court reaffirmed another judge's ruling to bar Forchion
from introducing the concept of jury nullification to his

John Wynne, assistant prosecutor, successfully argued that,
although a jury has the power to nullify a law, the right
should not be advertised.

Jury selection is to start today for Forchion, 36, of
Browns Mills, in a case that stems from a 1997 arrest in
Bellmawr. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in
state prison. He has been out on bail since his arrest.

He said yesterday that he would try to use jury
nullification despite the judge's order.

"This is a nightmare for me," Forchion said. "I'm hoping I
get a jury that understands and sees how ridiculous these
laws are."

Police say Forchion and his brother, Russell, arranged for
a large shipment of marijuana from Arizona to the Bellmawr
Industrial Park. Eric Poole, who signed for the Federal
Express delivery, also was arrested. Poole and Russell
Forchion pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served short

According to court documents, Russell Forchion testified
that he and his brother had helped arrange the delivery.

Edward Forchion, who used to maintain an apartment in
Tucson, Ariz., when he was a cross-country truck driver,
said that he had no part in arranging the shipment and that
he had never sold drugs.

In the past, he has acknowledged doing some eccentric
things to make his point that marijuana laws are unjust.
Calling himself "NJweedman," he has fired up marijuana
cigarettes in the chambers of the state legislature, in
front of the Liberty Bell, and in the offices of U.S. Rep.
Rob Andrews (D., N.J.).

He also has entered politics and is running for Burlington
County freeholder and the First District congressional seat
on the issue of changing marijuana laws. Forchion said he
equated laws on drugs to statutes that affirmed slavery.

"I know the truth," he said. "It's a stupid law, so I plan
on continuing to openly advocate marijuana."

He said he took satisfaction in the fact that a few elected
officials have begun talking about the need to
decriminalize marijuana, among them independent Gov. Jesse
Ventura in Minnesota and Republican Gov. Gary Johnson in
New Mexico.

On a personal level, Forchion, who is a Rastafarian, said
marijuana laws violated his freedom of religion. He said
smoking marijuana played an important role in his worship.

Beyond religious grounds, Forchion said, it is wrong to
criminalize marijuana when other drugs, such as alcohol and
tobacco, are legal.

"The difference is tobacco is the product of rich, white
men, and so it goes untouched by the government," he said.

By Aamer Madhani
Marijuana candidate pleads guilty

By Mike Mathis
BCT staff writer

CAMDEN - Ed Forchion admits he likely won't be elected a
county freeholder or congressman, but he considers himself
a winner nonetheless.

His trial in state Superior Court here on charges of
conspiring to distribute 40 pounds of marijuana ended
Wednesday after Forchion pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
Forchion, 36, of Pemberton Township, pleaded guilty to
charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and
possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He also
pleaded guilty to charges in two unrelated cases. In
exchange, he received a sentence under which he could spend
as little as six months in prison and be subject to
supervised parole for up to 27 months.

Had he been convicted of the more serious distribution
charges, Forchion could have been sentenced to more than 20
years in prison. Forchion will be sentenced on Dec. 1, well
after voters decide whether he should serve on the
Burlington County Board of Freeholders or represent the 1st
District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Forchion is running in both races on the Legalize Marijuana
Party ticket.

"I pleaded guilty but I feel like a winner," Forchion said.
"(Prosecutors) offered me so much, (but) they wouldn't just
drop the charge. They didn't want me to win this case on
jury nullification." Forchion's defense strategy was jury
nullification, when a jury decides not to enforce a law out
of sympathy for the defendant.

Forchion, a former truck driver who has been an outspoken
advocate of legalizing marijuana, was charged with helping
his brother and another man pick up a shipment of 40 pounds
of marijuana at the Bellmawr Industrial Park on Nov. 24,
1997. The marijuana was shipped from Arizona via Federal

Russell Forchion and Eric Poole pleaded guilty to lesser
charges and served short jail terms.

"To be consistent and fair, this was a responsible plea,"
said John Wynne, a Camden County assistant prosecutor. An
observer of the Rastafarian faith, Forchion has said he
smokes marijuana for religious reasons as well as to help
ease back pain.

While Forchion conceded he is not likely to win at the
polls this year, he believes voters can cast ballots for
him to protest the country's marijuana laws.

Wynne said Forchion is permitted to remain on the ballot.
His conviction won't be official until he is sentenced, and
that will be after the election.

In addition to the marijuana charges, Forchion also pleaded
guilty to possession of a stolen shotgun in Ocean County
and stealing $500 worth of chips from a table at the Taj
Mahal casino in Atlantic City.

The charges, which date to 1996, will be consolidated with
the drug charges, Wynne said.

Forchion ran unsuccessfully against incumbent U.S. Rep. Rob
Andrews, D-1st of Haddon Heights, in 1998 on The Legalize
Marijuana Party ticket. He also ran unsuccessfully last
year to represent the state's 8th Assembly District and for
the Camden County Board of Freeholders.