Optimally, however, it’s nullification Forchion says he’s after, which wouldn’t knock New Jersey’s marijuana laws off the books but, as Conrad explains, it may make them more difficult to enforce both in New Jersey and other states. “Especially if this case gets a lot of attention—and seeing as it’s Ed, it probably will—and the next jury says, ‘Well, we’re just gonna do the same thing as what happened in that other case.’ Eventually, prosecutors start to lose enthusiasm for the law and the legislature determines the law is useless when the public doesn’t support it. That’s how Prohibition was ended.”
The trial could go yet another way: The prosecutor could decide to bump the charges down to simple possession, and in that case, says Forchion, he’d take a guilty plea because it likely wouldn’t mean any jail time. “I’ll pay the fine, get some probation, and hop on a plane right back to California,” he says. Russell thinks that scenario is unlikely, however: “My brother’s made a lot of enemies [in the New Jersey court system] over the years and I think they’re really out to nail him this time,” he says.
If Forchion’s under any illusions that the state might cut him a break, a concurrent Burlington County marijuana case involving his brother and one of his longtime friends, outspoken New Jersey medical marijuana activist Colleen Begley, appears to illustrate otherwise.
According to a Burlington Township Police Department report, detectives learned from a confidential informant that a package of marijuana was being shipped from California to a house in Burlington via UPS this past Feb. 11. Cops staking out the residence saw Russell Forchion’s green Jeep slowly drive past the house several times that morning, then observed Begley, 30, arrive at the house in her Jeep, pick up the package that had been left on the porch by UPS, and drive away. Following a brief chase—during which Begley crashed her Jeep into a building—Begley was apprehended with two-and-a-half pounds of weed. At the same time, other officers stopped Russell Forchion at gunpoint at a nearby stoplight. “When they pulled their guns on me and dragged me out of the car, they thought they were arresting my brother,” says Russell. “When I was out of the car they said, ‘That’s not the Weedman.’”
Begley was indicted on possession with intent, eluding police, and resisting arrest charges, while Russell Forchion was hit with a conspiracy charge. Investigators traced the shipment back to a UPS store in Hollywood just two blocks from the Weedman’s Liberty Bell Temple. That’s where the trail ended. “They didn’t connect the dots, and I’m glad they didn’t connect the dots,” says Forchion, who will neither confirm nor deny that he sent the package. Both Russell Forchion and Begley say Luciano, who’s also prosecuting their case, has already offered them deals to flip on the Weedman. “They want me to rat him out so badly, but it’s a really go-nowhere attempt,” says Begley. “I don’t understand why they’re not happy just prosecuting the hell out of me, but [Forchion] is the target here. They seem to be willing to give up everything they have on me just to have double what they have on him.”
Russell says Luciano offered him four years, with parole eligibility after one year. “I’m not taking any kind of a plea, I’m going out kicking and screaming this time.”
Begley’s retained the services of a high-powered, high-priced attorney who plans to use some of the same arguments as Forchion—although not, as per the rules, a jury nullification defense—to gain an acquittal or reduced charges for his client. A trial date hasn’t been set, but for a while this summer it looked like Begley’s might happen before the Weedman’s. And so sure is he that he’s going to win his own case, Forchion’s most pressing concern of late was that Begley would win her case first, and the history books might show that “Begley vs. New Jersey,” was the pivotal decision in the long fight to legalize marijuana.
"I've put 15 years into this!" Forchion says. "Someone's gonna be the person that changes the law, and I wanna be that dude."
"I just hope they call it 'Weedman vs. New Jersey,'" he laughs.
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