X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Edward Forchion, a Rastafarian better known as “NJ Weedman,” has sought attention for the cause of marijuana legalization for years. Three years ago, for instance, he was arrested for smoking a joint on the floor of the New Jersey Statehouse. He has been a high-profile inconvenience to the legal system, producing off-the-record groans from judges, tears of pity from jurors, a large pile of press clippings and a lengthy rap sheet. On Friday, however, Forchion was finally handed a victory, as a federal judge ruled that the state courts’ Intensive Supervision Program cannot restrict his First Amendment right to advocate drug-law reform, Forchion v. ISP, 02-4331. The decision frees Forchion from Burlington County, N.J.’s lockup, where he was jailed for violation of ISP conditions, and allows him to continue handing out fliers in front of the county’s Superior Court. The most striking aspect of the ruling, though, may be U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas’ logic for intervening in the state program, which, if upheld, could open the door to federal review of ISP decisions. Federal courts are barred from reaching into state judicial matters by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, as outlined in Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). Although ISP is managed by New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts, and is carried out by panels of state Superior Court judges, Irenas declared that it is not a judicial function. “Simply because three judges sit on the ISP Panel does not mean the panel itself is performing a judicial function,” Irenas wrote. ISP’s rulings are not appealable and the panel looks more like the type of administrative function that would permit federal oversight, he concluded. “In reality, ISP is only partly a judicial program and the ISP re-sentencing panel performs a mixture of both administrative and judicial functions.” Deputy Attorney General James Harris, who represented the ISP, said through a spokesman that he would review the opinion and determine a response at a later date, declining further comment. Deputy Attorney General Christopher Josephson, who wrote the briefs, also declined to comment. Forchion’s lawyer, Clifton, N.J., solo practitioner John Saykanic, calls his client a “freedom fighter” for the First Amendment. Amicus attorney Ed Barocas, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, hails Irenas’ intervention logic. “ISP is not actually the judiciary. The function it’s performing is essentially that of parole.” He likens Forchion’s predicament to that of a parolee jailed for voting the wrong way in an election. “There is no appeal. You never get to have your claims before the Law Division, the Appellate Division or the state Supreme Court. If it was appealable, this might very well be a different matter.” Forchion had brought the habeas suit against the ISP officers and a three-judge panel supervising his early release from a 10-year sentence for a drug conviction. He claimed that he was jailed last August after he spoke to the media, created a Web site (www.njweedman.com) and made several TV commercials proposing the legalization of cannabis. The case goes back to November 1997, when Forchion was arrested for possession with intent to distribute 100 pounds of marijuana. In September 2000, he pleaded not guilty and defended himself at trial, where his opening statement caused a juror to burst into tears and announce she could not possibly send him to prison. Forchion then accepted a plea deal that required him to serve 16 months in jail and 27 months of intensive supervised parole. On his release from the Burlington County Jail in April 2002, two ISP officers told Forchion not to speak to the press or to advocate the use of marijuana. Nonetheless, by the end of May, Forchion became the subject of newspaper articles in The Burlington County Times and The Trentonian. A week later, Forchion was arrested and incarcerated for a brief period on a raft of ISP charges. In addition to allegations of breaking the media restrictions, Forchion was accused of nonpayment of various fines. He was released, but in August Forchion made three video commercials for public-access TV, demanding changes in state law to legalize marijuana use. On Aug. 19, 2002, Forchion was arrested again and has been in jail since. Hearings before the panel, which usually take an hour, dragged on over two days, Dec. 2, 2002, and Jan. 17, 2003. A third was scheduled for this Wednesday before Judge Edmund Bernhard and retired Judges Samuel Lenox Jr. and Kenneth Stein. However, following Irenas’ decision, ISP dropped the remainder of its complaints against Forchion, Barocas said. On Jan. 24, Irenas found that the timing of Forchion’s media exposure and his arrests were more than a coincidence: “[T]he sheer quantity of speech related complaints makes it obvious that the speech related activities were the substantial or motivating factors in the adverse action taken against him.” The state claimed that Forchion’s violations went beyond talking to the media and included failure to inform officers of his work situation, leaving his house after being placed on home confinement and nonpayment of fines. One aspect that appears to have clinched it for Forchion is that he did not advocate the use of marijuana — a crime — but merely reform of the law. Forchion, now back under ISP supervision, remains banned from encouraging drug use. He has consistently tested negative for drug use since his release from prison.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.