A federal court judge yesterday ordered the "New Jersey Weedman" be freed
from jail and returned to the early release program from which he was
booted last year for advocating changes in the state's marijuana laws.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Irenas, sitting in Camden, granted a
temporary injunction sought by Ed Forchion, also known as the New Jersey
Weedman, a self-styled marijuana activist.

John Vincent Saykanic, a lawyer representing Forchion, said efforts were
under way to get Forchion out of jail and home to his family.

"Ed Forchion is a true freedom fighter," Saykanic said. "He has been
fighting for what he believes in."

Edward Barocas, legal director of the New Jersey chapter of the American
Civil Liberties Union, said he was "extremely pleased" with Irenas' decision.

"It makes clear to state officials that they cannot retaliate against a
person under their control or supervision simply because they don't like
the position he is advocating," Barocas said.

Forchion had entered the Intensive Supervised Parole program last April
after serving 16 months of a 10-year sentence for possession of marijuana
with intent to distribute. He was kicked out of the program last August
for, among other things, advocating the legalization of marijuana.

In his ruling, Irenas said it was clear that the conduct that led to
Forchion's being kicked out of the ISP program and returned to jail is
constitutionally protected.

"Most of the infractions cited by the ISP officers involved (Forchion)
either speaking to the press, protesting and handing out pamphlets outside
of the courthouse, running a Web site, or producing and appearing in
television commercials," Irenas wrote. "This behavior is clearly protected
by the First Amendment, particularly since it primarily involved
(Forchion's) belief that marijuana should be legalized."

Irenas ordered that the ISP supervising officers be forbidden from removing
Forchion from the program for any future violations unless they first give
him 48 hours notice of their intentions. If there is possible immediate
harm to the public good if Forchion is not removed from the ISP program,
the ISP officers can make an emergency motion before Irenas.

Irenas also ordered that Forchion cannot promote the illegal use of
marijuana once he is released.

Forchion was returned to jail in August after allegedly violating terms of
his admission into the program by advocating the legalization of marijuana
when he allegedly filmed several public service announcements -- which
never aired -- favoring changes in the state's drug laws.

Forchion of Pemberton Township, Burlington County, pleaded guilty in
September 2000 after he was charged with helping his brother and another
person pick up 40 pounds of marijuana that had been shipped via Federal
Express to Camden County in November 1997.

Pubdate: Sat, 25 Jan 2003
Source: Star-Ledger (NJ)
Copyright: 2003 Newark Morning Ledger Co
Contact: eletters@starledger.com
Website: http://www.nj.com/starledger/
Author: Matthew Reilly