BY S. FITZGERALD LODWICK Friday afternoon was April 20th, or to those in the stoner community 4/20, aka the Fourth of July for those who get high. In the name of the holiday, Edward Forchion, aka the NJ Weedman, organized a marijuana rights rally at the Independence Visitor Center. It was supposed to be at the Liberty Bell, but the location changed due to construction. I arrived around noon, as per the instructions in the ad in City Paper the week previous. Upon meeting several people looking for the same event, we were guided by Rob Dougherty of Philly NORML to the lawn outside of the visitor center. At its peak there were around fifty of us, yet no Forchion. (He is a truck driver and he was late getting back from Richmond, VA. Apparently, they were not able to unload his truck until around eight or nine that morning, when he had thought they were going to unload on Thursday night.)
The event was able to proceed, even in Forchion’s absence. Philly NORML co-chair Derek Rosenzweig bellowed into a megaphone facts about marijuana and marijuana culture. Independent videographers recorded the event, with aspirations of posting the footage on youtube.com. A young activist named Steven handed out DIY flyers with facts about marijuana. The video teams started interviewing citizens walking around the historic area about their feelings on marijuana. Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly at all, most everyone, young or old, they talked to were greatly in favor of marijuana rights. Still in the Weedman’s absence, a march around the city was organized, mainly too keep everyone interested until Forchion’s arrival.
After a march of chants and megaphone-amplified declarations of stoner freedom, the group arrived back at the Visitor Center lawn. And at long last, The Weedman cometh. After greeting us and apologizing for his tardiness, Forchion got down to it. He began to explain to us how he was arrested for conspiracy to purchase marijuana, some nine years ago. The incident, he told us, left him with virtually nothing left to his name. He said after nine years he was finally getting back to the quality of life he enjoyed before the incident happened. Forchion then moved from his story to the issue at large: How come one in eighteen people who smoke marijuana get arrested, especially when over forty percent of the nation admits to having smoked it at least once? In response to this Forchion explained what steps he takes to force this issue into the current political debate. Not only does he consistently run for public office (often more than one office at a time) under the Legalize Marijuana Party, which he founded. He has staged several acts of marijuana-related civil disobedience, including smoking joints in front of the Liberty Bell and on the floor of the New Jersey State House. These ballsy acts of civil disobedience might explain why the police, who had pretty much left us alone all afternoon, started to surround our group once Forchion arrived and started taking photographs of all our faces. I smiled proudly for mine. As the cops snapped away, The Weedman explained to us that in most states on the East Coast you cannot get ballot referendums put to public vote by petition. Only a State Legislator majority can place referendums on the ballot. As such, our marijuana laws cannot as easily be put to the same test of public confidence that, say, California voters routinely vote on. So he encouraged us to get organized and run for office and to call and petition our state legislators and make our voice as voters heard. Bottom line: the only way to reform the system is from within. We need to get organized and legit. And then maybe, just maybe, some 4/20 in the future we can all get together — all of us, The Weedman, the cops, the protesters — and spark up Mother Nature’s goodness, not in anger, paranoia or fear, but in peace and brotherhood, with liberty and justice for all. The war on marijuana is over if you want it.