Trenton crowd witnesses police raid on “NJWeedman’s Joint” and “Liberty Bell Temple III” on Wednesday, April 27, 2016. Photo from NJ.com.
NJWeedman opened “NJWeedman’s Joint” on June 15, 2015. His smile became contagious on opening day as he stared directly across the street at City Hall and welcomed every type of customer who entered – locals, fans, medical marijuana patients and City Hall employees. He had so much faith in the “Joint“, despite opening up shop in the deserted end of State Street, with both sides of his restaurant touching vacant, run-down buildings. NJWeedman’s fame and appeal, however, actually made it possible for a viable business to run smoothly in the poor Trenton area. A “joint resolution” was signed by state Sen. Shirley Turner, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora and Assemblywoman Liz Muoio, declaring in support of “NJWeedman’s Joint” opening: “The grand opening represents the culmination of an extensive planning and building process, which has been brought to fruition only through the extraordinary labors and efforts of a number of devoted people whose commitment to NJ Weedman’s Joint has been exceptional and unwavering.” Reed Gusciora made a statement that certain Trenton authorities ignored: “We want to do all we can do to support all businesses that open in the capital city.”
NJWeedman receiving the state’s “joint resolution” from Assemblyman Reed Gusciora. Photo from the Trentonian, July 4, 2015.
NJWeedman can always find the best in people and he willingly puts his faith in those around him. He quickly bought up two vacant sections of his restaurant building, expanding the restaurant to include a religious temple (Liberty Bell Temple III) and a recording studio. He hired half a dozen employees from the local area, who were provided a voice in the direction of the company that is not seen in many other careers. He recruited local customers by hosting open microphone events, where local artists of all types of music were provided a free stage to play and collaborate with other struggling artists – after a few months “The Joint” released a combined mix-tape of tracks written by all the local artists. He also recruited local artists and painters by allowing them to paint or draw free-style along the outside and inside of his building. In a highly black-populated city, NJWeedman allowed Black Lives Matter literature to be passed out in his restaurant, including flyers for protests against the NJ State Trooper shooting of 14-year old Radazz Hearns. NJWeedman also gained the trust of the homeless people on State Street by providing them work with outside duties. NJWeedman even provided them chairs to sit in next door to his place. NJWeedman invited #OpFeedTheHomeless to clothe and feed the homeless in Trenton during the winter 2015-2016.
Homeless and unemployed persons hanging out in their usual comfortable spot provided by NJWeedman, as Trenton police raided the person who treated them with respect. Photo by NJ.com, April 27.
A well-crafted and beautiful paint-job done by a local graffiti artist is set behind the two officers with semi-automatic machine guns. Photo by NJ.com, April 27.
Yet, certain powers-that-be in Trenton have nothing but disdain for NJWeedman, ignoring the economic services he provides to Trenton’s impoverished business sector and the humanitarian services he provides to Trenton’s lower-class. NJWeedman brought a peaceful vibe to the community, which a dozen Trenton police officers shattered during a “midnight mass” raid on March 5, 2016, kicking out hundreds of temple members. NJWeedman responded by filing an injunction in federal court to keep his religious temple open after business hours, commenting that the Trenton police “infringed on his religious rights.” Skip forward to April 18, when police investigated “NJWeedman’s Joint” backyard with shining lights, using the excuse of a “noise complaint.” Then on April 19, NJWeedman was arrested for a warrant issued over a missed court date. Curious that the police waited to arrest NJWeedman until only the day before his April 20 rally at City Hall and the State House, “Third Annual 420 Trenton Smoke-Out.” Perhaps it had something to do with NJWeedman publishing an article in the Trentonian on April 15 that mockingly invited Gov. Christie to smoke at the 420 rally. Due to this NJWeedman sat in jail on the day of the rally he was supposed to co-host, but luckily Trenton police did not arrest the hundred other persons who smoked at the State House. NJWeedman was released free around April 22.
Trenton Police “midnight mass” raid on NJWeedman’s Liberty Bell Temple III on March 5, 2016. Photo from the Trentonian Twitter page.
The Big Raid came on April 27, when dozens of Trenton officers dressed in full tactical gear, including machine guns and tear-gas masks, raided NJWeedman’s stores. Police brought in K-9 dogs and taped off the entrance to the store. NJ.com released an article about the 4:00 P.M. raid within the hour, which led to NJWeedman’s friends spreading the message on social network under the hashtag #FreeNJWeedman. NJ.com reported that the raid was conducted by Trenton police and the Mercer County Narcotics Task Force, and “a Trenton Fire Department ladder truck was called in so investigators could access a roof.” The Trentonian followed with an article that had pictures of the Trenton police dressed up like they were ready to go to war with the community. The Trentonian wrote: “Members of the crowd yelled with displeasure at the police. Some yelled that officers used cocaine, while others yelled ‘f**k the police, he’s legal.’” The state’s top radio show, NJ 101.5, mentioned the Trenton police were “armed with assault rifles and bullet-proof vests.” Numerous other journals and online websites shared articles, including Scoop Nest, In USA News, MyInforms.com, Latest US Extra News, Wopular.com, etc.
Trenton Police brought in K-9 dogs to sniff-out the “Joint.” Photo from NJ.com, April 27.
NJWeedman was arrested along with nine other employees, known as the “Joint Boys,” and were taken to the Trenton Police Department. NJ.com came out with a second article on April 28, listing for the first time the names of the “Trenton 10.” Those arrested and part of the “Trenton 10” includes NJWeedman (51), Tomas Geronmino (27), Shawn Hurley (45), Philippe Dume (28), Gregory Peterson (20), Nhuygel Green (52), Alfonso Clark (35), Brian Jones (46), Roderick McKinney (39), and Timothy Williams (27). NJ.com reported that NJWeedman faced “10 charges of marijuana possession and distribution, as well as distribution of drug paraphernalia, maintaining a narcotics nuisance, and for having booby traps in a manufacturing or distribution facility.” Out of the nine others arrested, two were charged with drug possession. The remainder were charged with outstanding warrants. Another NJ.com article claimed police seized $19,270. Weedman was busted with $330 on him and faces 13 charges against him, while being held on $70,000 bail. The most recent NJ.com article as well as the April 28 report of NJ 101.5 f.m. claimed that eleven people were arrested total, which would make it the “Trenton 11,” although the 11th arrest, according to NJ.com, took place during a “second raid” in Hamilton that led to a minor marijuana possession charge. The radio station reported that police seized $19,000 in marijuana during the raid: “56 grams of marijuana,” 32 grams of edible candy, a pound of marijuana butter, another 10 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of hashish, another 1,055 grams of marijuana, 5 ounces of promethazine, scales, $85 cash in a jar, $60 in cash and packaging materials in the office, and 28 grams of marijuana in the backyard. Another NJ 101.5 f.m. announcement was released April 28 about the raid: “Weedman’s Joint restaurant was raided yesterday and he and nine others were arrested. Do you really want your tax money going towards locking people up for something harmless like marijuana?” A.P. reports on April 28 also conveyed that 11 people were arrested in the drug bust, including articles of U.S. News, Philly.com, The Dispatch, ABC 7 Chicago Eyewitness News ,KSL.com, U.K. Daily Mail, and ABC News.
Arrest at NJWeedman’s Joint on April 27. Photo from NJ.com, April 28.
Two black men being arrested during the raid, April 27. One of them is a regular employee for NJWeedman. Photo from NJ.com
The police made a statement by having a quasi-military squad invade the “Joint,” driving fear into local people who side with NJWeedman over Trenton politicians and authorities. Even if “NJWeedman’s Joint” re-opened, those in power suspect that people will be too frightened to enter the business, and therefore NJWeedman will have to close shop. Victory for those in power; a big loss for Trenton’s economy and health as a community.
Trenton Police surround NJWeedman’s building with AK-47’s and bullet-proof vests. Photo from NJ.com, April 27.
A black man being arrested during the raid, April 27. Photo from NJ.com
It is too early to say who is in charge of these attacks. On April 28, Extract Sun Times released an article about the raid, quoting NJWeedman from a previous article last year, where he stated:“There’s still prejudice against marijuana when it comes to bureaucracy,” he said. “Family courts, state police, that sort of thing.” Possibly the Trenton police, who have known NJWeedman for a long time. Could be the state courts that have repeatedly dealt with NJWeedman and his tactics of jury nullification over the last 20 years. Perhaps Trenton politicians. On November 5, 2015, NJWeedman and others performed a smoke-in at a Trenton City Council meeting, after a resolution to legalize cannabis died on the floor, and NJWeedman repeatedly called the City Council members “cowards.” This act didn’t put many City Council members in NJWeedman’s corner. Gov. Christie is a big suspect in NJWeedman’s current despair. They became acquainted with one another in August 2003, when NJWeedman was arrested three times outside US Attorney for NJ Chris Christie’s office in Newark, for carrying a sign that called Christie a “hypocrite.” Since then NJWeedman has been a thorn in Christie’s side, leading to numerous smoke-outs at the State House from 2014-2016, and other forms of confrontation between the two men, like on March 23, 2015, when NJWeedman followed Christie to a radio station and confronted him in the parking lot, requesting that Christie “stop arresting people for marijuana.” Christie replied back:“Why don’t you go call President Obama?” Christie is currently placing his chips in the Trump campaign, and is doing all in his power to come off strong and competent, but unable to be either of these things at any given point, he has chosen to beat up on the underdog like the bully he is.
NJWeedman friends and fans in disbelief after the raid. Photo by NJ.com, April 27.
As of now, it is suspected that NJWeedman and the Joint Boys may have a hearing for bail at Mercer County Courthouse on Thursday morning, April 28. NJWeedman’s daughter informed the Trentonian that the charges against her father were possibly going to be “related to intent to distribute marijuana,” but she was unsure of the exact charges he faced. Bail for NJWeedman could be as high as $70,000, according to one source. It is still unknown of what will happen to NJWeedman’s businesses or what will happen to NJWeedman and the Joint Boys. But it seems the future will be faced with tons of jail support and protests over the injustice served on a daily basis in the world of marijuana prohibition.
Epilogue (Updated May 4)
NJWeedman was released in the evening on April 28, after paying a percentage of his bail. He immediately returned to the Joint and posted a Facebook video that night of himself rolling up and smoking a joint. “Fifteen years ago I said I was never going to take a plea,” NJWeedman said on the video. “Since then I’ve beaten the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office twice. And now Mercer County has lined up for their ass whoopin’.” News outlets like the Jersey Tribune covered this Facebook post. He interviewed with the Trentonian over the phone that night, which quoted him in an article the next morning: “They just gave me another platform to continue my goal.” He continued:“This is exactly what happened in Burlington County. I beat those prosecutors, and I’ll beat the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office too. They’re on the wrong side of history.” NJWeedman won his charge against marijuana distribution against Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Luciano in October 2012 through jury nullification, when the jury voted 12-0 to find him not guilty. The following day Jeff Edelstein titled his Trentonian article, “Jury upends marijuana law, NJWeedman walks free.”
NJWeedman complained about the charges against him and the reports issued by police. “It may have been worth a few hundred dollars, but $19,000 worth of weed…are they crazy?” NJWeedman said. “And distribution? What? They didn’t catch me selling weed to no one. Just about everyone here is a smoker. So yes, there’s weed here. But there’s no distribution going on. They exaggerated big time.” He argued he never sold marijuana to anyone:“I share because I care, and it’s wrong for them to criminalize that. A lot of people come in here with weed and we share. Sharing is not selling. We’re not running any kind of illegal enterprise out of here.” “This is the politics of pot in New Jersey,” NJWeedman said to the Trentonian. “This is about certain people refusing to accept that I have a church next to my other businesses. One of the police officers even told me the operation wasn’t initiated by the Trenton Police Department. They assisted in the investigation, but it was set in motion by someone else. Politics are in play here.” NJWeedman said he’s “looking forward to the trial,” and that he knows he has the public on his side in regard to marijuana laws.“I’m a proponent of jury nullification and I’m going to take this to trial,” he reported. “Once again I get to publicly argue my case in court and be David fighting the Goliath of government.”
“I’m out – I was released at 8:30 pm tonight – 29 hours after arrest,” NJWeedman wrote on Facebook Friday morning, April 29, reported NJ.com. “I read some of the press and I’m shocked the Police exaggerated and misconstrued the goings on at The Temple. I want to comment and respond in my own words.”NJWeedman reported he couldn’t wait for his case in two years, “NJ Weedman versus Mercer County.” That afternoon he held a Press Conference at his cannabis church, where he announced his intention to fight the case through jury nullification. “I told them in jail that I’m going to have a press conference,” NJ.com quoted NJWeedman saying at the press conference. He also announced he was “conviction proof.” NJ 101.5 radio also reported on the press conference. NJWeedman explained the paraphernalia charges were based on the items for sale in the smoke shop, and that the fortified premises charge against him was probably based on his surveillance-camera system. NJ 101.5 was also complimented the business production brought by NJWeedman: “But The Joint’s brick facade also overlooks the kind of boarded up and vacant buildings that pockmark much of the state’s struggling capital city.” It also mentioned he “opened up his doors to the homeless, offering them a safe place to sleep.” NJWeedman criticized the police reports that were quoted in the press. Debi Madaio, NJWeedman’s business partner, was quoted in a High Times special on NJWeedman on April 28: “We’re the center for activism here.” She explained the purpose of the business was to bring together the medical marijuana community: “I started this business from a medical point of view.”
NJWeedman at April 29 Press Conference at cannabis church. Photo in NJ.com, April 29.
NJ.com reported in another article on April 29 that the Joint restaurant was shut down for health code violations. The Health Department shut down the Joint on the day of the raid, showing the cooperation between government departments in bringing down the NJWeedman. Then on April 30, NJ.com continued its trail of articles on NJWeedman by writing an historical account of his marijuana activism. The press conference and his complaints about police officials “exaggerating” the charges was reported on by Associated Press, including NBC Philadelphia Channel 10, Channel 6 News, ABC 7 News, Courier Post, Yahoo, Boston Herald, New Jersey Herald, Yakima Herald, Hickory Record, Oklahoma NewsOk, Cherokee Tribune & Ledger News, KTAR News, South Carolina Morning News, U.K. Daily Mail, Naples Daily News, Newsday, Reporter News, Lancaster Online, Marietta Daily Journal, Atlantic Broadband, CBS New York Channel 2, California Appeal-Democrat, San Francisco Gate, Los Angeles Post, Texas Eagle, Dothan Eagle, Standard Journal, Argus Press, Daily American, Bowling Green Daily News, Bend Broad Band, Quixnet, Richmond Times Dispatch, Herald Whig, and Albany Times Union.
Jeff Edelstein released a Trentonian article on NJWeedman on May 1, comparing him to Henry Gunther, the last man to die needlessly in WWI. Edelstein, who has defended NJWeedman for over 15 years in the press, wrote these disparaging words: “And yet Forchion – who has a brilliant, sharp mind – keeps running into the buzzsaw, keeps Gunthering himself for no good reason.” Edelstein pleaded with NJWeedman to just wait for NJ to legalize marijuana, which he claims isn’t too far away. “So Ed, a direct plea here: After you clear up this latest brush with the law, how about putting down the bayonet. It doesn’t have to keep ending like this for you. There’s a happily ever after out there in Colorado or Washington, Oregon or Alaska. Move down to D.C. Or somewhere where marijuana is decriminalized. You won the war. Enjoy it.” Yet, Jay Lassiter wrote a warm piece about NJWeedman in the popular cannabis magazine Leafly on May 2, recording the history of victories in NJWeedman’s corner.
NJWeedman gained more fame for the case on May 3, when he spoke on the “Deminski and Doyle show” on NJ 101.5 radio. He repeated his claims that the raid was orchestrated by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union). Lesniak’s law firm is defending the city of Trenton against the lawsuit filed by NJWeedman for the invasion of his church by police in March. He therefore accused the raid as being a form of “retaliation” for filing the lawsuit. Moreover the lawsuit became more problematic when NJWeedman filed video proof from his $10,000 installed video cameras to prove that police harassed him during the March invasion. Weedman announced on the radio:“I really and truly believe I am conviction-proof on this. I am taking it to a jury. I don’t want the prosecutor to try to bribe me with some plea of leniency. I want a jury trial as is my right.” NJWeedman was also quoted saying about Lesinak:”He’s opposed to legalization.” Sen. Lesinak denied the claim on NJ 101.5. “I think he’s been smoking too much weed. These are the rantings of a raving lunatic,” Sen. Lesniak reported. “Weedman’s comings and goings are not at the top of my list of things to pay attention to.”
NJ.com reported on the radio interview that same day:“NJ Weedman Takes To the Radio, Blames Raid of His Joint On Retaliation.” NJWeedman explained he had no problems with his business until February. “I was told that this came down from high above,” he said as he explained his “retaliation theory,” blaming the prosecution and the police over the raid. For this reason he personally invited Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri to handle the prosecution side of the case so that NJWeedman, who plans on representing himself pro se, can personally duel with him in the court of law. NJWeedman, who previously defeated Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor Luciano for his 2010 arrest, is positive he can win the case:”I want you to do this… I want you to take this beating.” NJWeedman wrote about his upcoming battle with Prosecutor Onofri on his website njweedman.com on May 3. NJWeedman pleaded Onofri not to “pass this trial off to an assistant – do it yourself, ‘hero’.”
Despite all the positive press, NJWeedman was fired from his position as a writer for the Trentonian on May 4, 2016, a job he’s held since August 2014. His column was discontinued by the paper because of the “chaos” with the raid; and because of the “conflict of interest” with both the Trentonian and himself reporting on his case. First his church is invaded in March; then he’s arrested April 19; then arrested again during a raid on his business April 27; and now he’s fired from his job. When will the pain end for NJWeedman, and when will the prohibition of marijuana stop ruining lives like it did his?
NJWeedman edited this picture of Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri in front of NJWeedman’s Joint.
NJWeedman edited this picture of Prosecutor Angel Onofri in front of NJWeedman’s Joint.