Ed “NJWeedman” Forchion got his day in court to argue against New Jersey’s adult-use cannabis legalization efforts in favor of legacy operators last week.
He claims legalization “deprives him of equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as it subjects him to selective prosecution.”
The lawsuit claims state legalization is illegal.
NJWeedman might have inspired many who pushed for the legalization referendum in 2020 but he voted against it. He does not like the distinction between street marijuana sold in the legacy market versus cannabis bought from a licensed dispensary.
Every state-legal cannabis market has this dichotomy.
Forchion argues voters were duped into believing they were voting to legalize marijuana while approving an industry that only grants legalization to White-owned corporations while still criminalizing legacy operators who are often People of Color, he argues are not being granted access to grow, sell, and distribute cannabis.
“The now legalized cannabis industry is run by predominantly Caucasian owned corporations who are benefitting and stepping on the backs of legacy market vendors like myself,” he said. “The community that paved the road for legalization and paid the price with incarceration and felonies, are being locked out of the ‘new’ industry.”
While former Governor Chris Christie set up a medical cannabis program that did indeed seem to only favor White-owned companies, the NJ Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) has set up rules for the adult-use market that prioritizes giving licenses to the type of people NJWeedman is advocating for.
The problem is that the delays due to politics and COVID have made New Jersey’s cannabis industry and community very frustrated and skeptical.
The interim regulations have yet to go into effect as no adult-use cannabis license holders have been announced. The application process began for adult-use cultivators and manufacturers on December 15th while companies can apply for a dispensary license on March 15th.
The State is once again seeking dismissal of the case. Governor Phil Murphy (D), represented by the Attorney General of New Jersey, initially requested the dismissal last year.
“The State isn’t really arguing the content of my argument. They’re just trying to get the case dismissed. We’ll see what the judge says,” NJWeedman said.
NJW lamented so few licenses are owned by Black cannabis companies after the successive rounds of licensing that ended last December.
“I wish I could have applied for that,” he said.
Those with marijuana convictions were excluded from applying for a license previous license rounds while their applications are being given priority going forward.
“I am going to apply for the rec license but that’s still in the future but who knows?” he said. “The politicians are using that law and they’re trying to eliminate the black market, guys like me.”
“We’ll see,” he says about social equity.
NJWeedman is not wrong that politicians would prefer legacy operators apply for licenses and go legitimate and not operate in the shadows. This was a stated goal during the legalization debate.
Incessant court battles has become an accepted feature of cannabis legalization.
Fighting for Legacy Operators in the Courts
The stakes of Forchion’s allegations are substantial. New Jersey made national headlines just recently for their limited awarding of medicinal licenses. Heady NJ was the only publication that found any owners. Heady NJ has now reported there is more than one New Jersey Black cannabis license holder.
NJWeedman has been one of the few open gray market operators who has expressed hesitancy about applying for a license in the developing regulated market and complying with regulations.
“I’m arguing for the inclusion of everyone,” he said. “I don’t like any of this licensing.”
“Considering the state’s longtime racial disparity in marijuana arrests which have taken an unfair toll on its minority communities, this current filing against the governor is sure to set a benchmark as all eyes are currently on New Jersey,” said NJWeedman’s attorney John Saykanic.
“The State does not want to argue the merits. “They’re afraid to challenge my legal arguments,” Forchion said. “I don’t know if the judge is going to go for it or not.”
“If the judge throws it out, I will appeal,” he said.
NJWeedman is eager to appeal if he loses the case since he has the funds to pay the lawyers necessary to continue it.
He would prefer a free market system where underground cannabis entrepreneurs are allowed to operate.