INTERVIEW: Ed Forchion “NJ Weedman” on Civil Rights, Chris Christie, and CBD

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PHOTO: Diane Fornbacher

I’m doing a phone interview with Ed Forchion – otherwise known as NJ Weedman – as he navigates New Jersey’s public transportation system during the evening rush hour. As Forchion walks through Trenton, moving from bus to train and back to bus again, I quickly realize I’m not the only one who wants to talk with him. “Excuse me a moment,” he tells me politely as I hear voices yelling “Weedman! Weedman!” in the background.

Ed Forchion has fans. They want his autograph, his picture, his website information.

What was originally intended as a brief Q & A about the upcoming 4/20 event Forchion is planning turns into an hour-long conversation about legalization, New Jersey’s failed medical marijuana program, civil rights, and hemp pyramid schemes. Rather than condensing it into a few soundbites for an event promo, I’ve decided the whole shebang is worthy of sharing.

Vanessa Waltz: So the recent Trentonian article talking about cops wanting your autograph was pretty true-to-life: you’ve gotten a lot of media coverage and you’ve become somewhat of a folk hero to many marijuana consumers.

Ed Forchion: They always have my picture in the paper so I’m a very recognizable person. And the crazy thing – the article proves my point – every police officer I encountered today talked to me. They read the article – everyone knows about this article, and they know about the 4/20 event.

To be honest with you, I don’t want to call it “Ed Forchion’s 420 Smokeout” – that’s what people are calling it. I got event permits under the name “Cannabis Consuming Citizens of New Jersey” – that’s the name of the organization. This isn’t about me, it’s a community event about calling out Governor Christie.

Image: Rob Gnarly

Image: Rob Gnarly

VW: For readers who don’t know all about Christie, can you sum up what he’s done to interfere with progress in New Jersey?

EF: The governor has drawn a line in the sand – he’s been on national tv saying there won’t be legalization in New Jersey on his watch, and he’s said that he won’t expand the medical marijuana bill anymore. That’s the purpose of the rally – to bring the public out to protest his disregard of this.

This whole 420 thing is being presented to the press and the public as a way to confront him and his policies. If Bridgegate didn’t get him for sure on his presidential aspirations, his cannabis policies do. If people know about this, no one out west will vote for him – he’s not electable by west coast standards because of his cannabis policies.

I want to get mainstream attention on his policies. The medical marijuana argument has done that already – the kids here with epilepsy that made big news, Brian Wilson confronting him made big news. His cannabis policies are disastrous for his presidential aspirations and at this 4/20 event I just want to highlight that this guy is out of touch and out of tune with the nation’s feelings on cannabis.

VW: Who do you hope will show up?

EF: I hope everyday potheads will show up – I hope it’s legalizers, people who are in support of legalization. That’s not to diminish the medical marijuana patients, but that’s not what this is about. I’m specifically in support of Senator Scutari’s legalization bill, which includes (recreational home) growing. So at this protest, I’m also trying to get the politically minded potheads to support Scutari.

VW: I’ve heard you talk in the past about the racial disparity of marijuana arrests. How does New Jersey fare in this regard?

EF: Black people represent 17% of the population here in New Jersey but are close to 80% of the marijuana arrests. And the number of black people arrested for marijuana who actually end up in prison is astronomically disproportionate.

I have just as much compassion for white people who are arrested under the racist drug laws as black people. I believe the laws really are racist-inspired, racist-created, racist-enforced – and white people who’ve been arrested for smoking marijuana in the last 40 years are the collateral damage of a racist law.

I was in prison with white people who had marijuana arrests. A white man in jail for marijuana is just as persecuted as I am; there are just fewer of them. Their lives are just as ruined if they’re prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Photo: Akari Imaging

Photo: Akari Imaging

VW: You’ve often said that the War on Drugs is a War on Civil Rights. Can you explain your views on that?

EF: I’ve always looked at the War on Drugs as a civil rights issue, largely because of the racial disparity component, but also because I’m a nonviolent person. I look at the civil rights movement of the 60’s as a nonviolent movement that created huge social change. And I look at this whole entire War on Drugs as just as bad as segregation, just as bad as Jim Crow laws. That’s why I support the whole idea of non-violent, civil disobedience type of protest against the War on Drugs – we can create change and raise awareness.

To fight the War on Drugs, you need public awareness – so I dragged things into court and had boycotts, and smoke-ins. Some people in the movement, especially the suit-and-tie types, looked at me as a wild man, or some kind of loose cannon. But we looked at the war on drugs differently.

As a civil rights thing, it’s affected me directly a lot more than it’s affected most of them;  there are lot of activists who have never been arrested. To them, it’s a theory, a concept that affects society that they’ve never been victims of. I’m glad those people support legalization. But I think people who have been arrested – black or white – that their motivating factor in being activists is being arrested…That or being stricken with a disease. I have both, and I really have 3 motivating factors, actually – I also have “doing drugs while black.” Not that I even want to call marijuana a drug, but you know what I mean.

VW: So knowing how many people of color have been directly affected by the war on drugs, why do you think the reform movement is made up primarily of white males?

EF: At the beginning of my activism in the 90’s, I felt like the team didn’t want to play with me. I felt like I was 100% down and trying my best and that I could represent an aspect that the suit-and-ties can’t: I can speak from a black experience. I was bringing something to the table and I wanted to play – and they didn’t want to play with me. And that used to aggravate me, and I felt blackballed a few times.

But the thing is: these white males who have joined the reform movement? I’m not going to knock them for that, because they’re on the right side. I think though that there have been times when they should have been more inclusive. Sometimes it seems like a club that doesn’t accept everyone. I still don’t really know why that is.

VW: I know you’ve said this 420 event isn’t about medical marijuana, but you’re a medical marijuana patient, right? Are you registered with the New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program?

EF: I got diagnosed with bone cancer in 2001. I pretty much kept my medical history to myself until I was prosecuted in 2010, and I became public with it. I didn’t want to be known as “the guy with the bone cancer.”

You can only be sympathetic to a kid who has cancer or epilepsy, and accepting that marijuana can be good for them. That point of view can’t be challenged anywhere…But governor Christie did – he challenged it in numerous ways. Personally, I’ve had a couple surgeries to have tumors removed, and I have another surgery coming up on April 29. I am just as much a medical marijuana or a cancer patient as any other medical marijuana patient in the country, but I refuse to participate in New Jersey’s medical marijuana program because it sucks. I find it way easier to just go back and forth to California and get my marijuana.

New Jersey’s program is so bad. Not only has the program failed for these kids, it’s failed for me. Four years after the program was initiated, there’s still less than 2,000 people who have actually gotten New Jersey medical marijuana cards. And I’m not sure how many people in New Jersey have actually gotten medical marijuana – I think it’s still less than 500. That’s horrible. The number of people who are in New Jersey’s program shows that there is something wrong with the program. Comparably populated states have thousands and thousands of people in their programs. Anyone in New Jersey who has another means to get marijuana is doing so.

Legislatively, for New Jersey’s program, Christie added that marijuana has to have less than 10% THC. Who wants to buy $450 ounces of marijuana that has less than 10% THC in it?

All the CBD conversations and shilling that everyone’s doing? Christie is eating that up, to be honest with you. There’s a very limited number of people who CBD works for.

CBD works for some people and I’m really happy for them – but this whole CBD-only everywhere thing? I think it verges on being like a snake oil. I don’t really want to call it that because I don’t want the parents who have these sick kids to think I’m attacking them, so I’ve been quiet on all of that. But it’s actually undermining the argument for legalization or medical marijuana for a person like me who needs more THC for pain and cancer.

Photo: Diane Fornbacher

Photo: Diane Fornbacher

VW: I can only imagine what you must think about Kannaway and hemp-derived CBD products

EF: This is how I feel: it’s bull. Those companies are sharks, bullshit, fraudsters.

And you know what keeps happening to me because I’m so public? Every person who decides to get hoodwinked into doing that decides to send me something to join. I take it easy on them the first time they send me something – I say no, I’m not interested. If I wanted to join a Ponzi scheme I’d be better off sending money to Madoff in prison.

That campaign is unbelievable – who’s putting all that money into it is what I want to know. It’s crazy – there’s so many people falling for it, they act like your head’s on backwards if you say something about it.

VW: As a cancer survivor myself, I am a strong supporter of medical marijuana in addition to legalization. People sometimes say to me that legalization trumps medical marijuana and the focus should only be on that. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly right – because that would leave out sick kids. Under straight legalization, it’s never going to be legal for minors to have it without a medical program.

EF: Well, there needs to be medical marijuana programs – I do understand that. But legalization wipes out 90% of the issues for 90% of the people. I’ve always called myself a legalizer. That’s why for 10 years when I knew I had bone cancer, I didn’t come out and talk about it. I know how many people don’t like me because of that. But ultimately, legalizing will help normalize marijuana and help medical programs work better to help these kids.