Category Archives: Marijuana

A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say

Why does the Green Party elect so few people in the US while similar parties have elected representatives across the globe.  Some have suggested it is the way Greens organize or problems with the leadership.  While these may be contributing factors, they could hardly be a complete explanation since the Democrats and Republicans have elected thousands of incompetent, disorganized candidates.

A factor that may be far more important is the way the press defines non-corporate parties as unworthy of existence, even when they bring up the issues most on people’s minds.  Would it be fair to say that there is a conspiracy between big business, corporate parties and the press, or, does the word “conspiracy” imply a paranoid delusion?  My experience as a candidate may shed a bit of light.

In the first debate for Missouri State Auditor, I brought up the trial of Monsanto/Bayer which resulted in the jury’s awarding groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson $289 million in July 2018.  The jury determined that his terminal illness resulted from use of Roundup.  As the Green Party candidate, I am very aware of environmental dangers of herbicides.  I explained that the State Auditor should examine how much Missouri spends purchasing Roundup for use on state parks, roadways, and lands surrounding state colleges, universities and governmental offices.  After all, with over 8000 pending lawsuits against such a widely hated agribusiness, continued use of its poisons could put state finances at high risk.

After the debate, sponsored by the Missouri Press Association, I scrutinized articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kansas City Star, Columbia Daily Tribune, Springfield News-Leader, and West End Word.  Not one of them even mentioned Roundup.  So, what did they cover instead?

When current Democratic auditor Nicole Galloway described herself as a “watchdog” for the people, the Republican Saundra McDowell sneered, “you’re just a dog.”  That made it front and center in each of the five articles.  Constitution Party candidate Jacob Luetkemeyer, Libertarian Sean O’Toole, and I never impugned anyone and stuck to issues throughout the hour and a half.  And none of the issues we brought up were covered.

Though most Americans want Medicare-for-All, TV ads by Missouri’s Democrats and Republicans focus on legislative changes that allow health insurance companies to exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions.  Of course, health insurance is not the same as health care.  So, I pointed out that state audits should examine how many taxpayers’ dollars have been wasted by Missouri’s privatization of health care for Medicaid recipients and prisoners.  In both cases, state money is devoted to providing profits and covering overhead of insurance companies.  An audit would help in estimation of savings with a single-payer system.  None of the five papers mentioned anything about health care.

Instead, they all addressed how the Democrat attacked the Republican for lying about personal finances and the Republican’s describing a lawsuit against the Democrat for violating the state’s Sunshine Law.  Stories also included the fascinating discussion of whether or not the Republican had lived in the state for 10 years.

What the audience responded to most strongly was my comment that they had all smoked marijuana or knew someone who had.  Thus, a state audit should determine how much Missouri money is wasted policing, arresting, holding, trying and hiring parole officers for continued criminalization of marijuana.  That was the only time during the debate that the moderator instructed the audience to stop applauding.

Again, all five stories ignored a topic of clear interest to those present.  In fact, the stories from across the state were so similar that they could have been written by one person with the other four just rearranging paragraphs and rewording sentences.

Since the media was oblivious to issues that actually affect people’s lives, I wrote an op-ed and sent it to the three largest papers.  Two didn’t respond; but Tod Robberson, Editorial Page Editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote back that it was their “policy” to not run op-ed pieces by candidates.  Nevertheless, he invited me to trim my piece to under 300 words and send it to him as a letter-to-the-editor, which I promptly did.  It never ran; and, I felt like I had been played by someone contemptuous of candidates without big money to throw around.

Then, a few days later, the same Tod Robberson penned an editorial on “Choosing the Best Candidate” wherein he described the painstaking effort his staff goes through to interview candidates, how staff are verbally abused by candidates, and their internal struggles to be fair to all.  He even claimed that they “bring in as many candidates as we can” to interview.  What he did not say was that invitations only go to “viable” candidates, a press industry buzz word for those with corporate funding.

On October 11, 2018, the Post-Dispatch published its endorsement of the Democrat for a series of vacuous reasons.  That candidate is a Certified Public Accountant (not required for the office); “exposes corruption” (part of the job); and applies “consistently high accountability standards” (what State Auditor does not?).  The endorsement bemoaned the failure of the Republican to show up for an interview (thereby admitting that the endorsement was based on a single interview) but didn’t mention the paper’s failure to invite other candidates.

Also on October 11, I attended a forum for candidates of the US Senate from Missouri.  Only Green Party candidate Jo Crain and Independent candidate Craig O’Dear showed up.  In the audience, I recognized Don Corrigan, who wrote the article on the September State Auditor’s debate in the West End Word.  We know each other because he has invited me multiple times to speak about environmental issues to the class on Political Journalism he teaches at Webster University.

Afterwards, I went up to him, shook hands, and told him that “It might be difficult for you to write an article about the debate tonight.”

“Why’s that,” he asked.

“Because neither of the candidates berated each other; they responded to important issues; and, they are not from the moneyed parties.”  I let him know that I was quite disappointed at the way he said nothing regarding three candidates when writing about the auditor’s debate.

“There just wasn’t room.  I’m really sorry,” he apologized.

“Not room?  Instead of going into detail about the personal attacks, you might have given one sentence to an issue brought up by each of the other candidates.”

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.  “But we need to write about what interests our readers and they only want to know what the Democrats and Republicans say.”

Imagine that!  Those who read US newspapers in 2018 apparently have no interest in Medicare-for-All, being poisoned by Roundup, or whether their friends and family members do jail time for blowing weed.  Perhaps local reporters think readers are on the edge of their seats waiting to hear about residency requirements for their State Auditor.  Or, maybe they know that their editor will squash stories that give space to candidates who don’t buy expensive ads in their paper.

I just told him, “I feel the pain you endure.”  I’m sure that his students look up to him for displaying the journalistic standards he teaches.

NJ Weedman Versus the World

Through the metal detectors, past the indoor basketball court dotted with men in orange, and into a small, whitewashed room with six telephones, New Jersey’s resident marijuana activist sat behind a window. He sat at the fourth phone, his face framed by a thick border of blue paint around the polycarbonate glass, chipped in some areas. His dreadlocks were tied back and his calm, gray-colored eyes were underlined by dark bags. He was tired.

There is an irony unraveling inside this New Jersey jail. With the election of Gov. Phil Murphy, who campaigned on legalizing marijuana, the state is closer than it has ever been to seeing the drug become permitted. But at a time when activists are rejoicing the plant’s acceptance in the Garden State, New Jersey’s most ardent pot advocate is behind bars.

Edward Forchion, known ubiquitously as NJ Weedman, has been locked up at the Mercer County Correctional Center for more than a year with no conviction—and he could be in jail when his decades-long dream of legalization finally becomes a reality.

The man who spent most of his adult life advocating marijuana reform is now fighting bail reform.

In January 2017, New Jersey enacted the Criminal Justice Reform Act, referred to as the bail reform act, after the measure was successfully passed by New Jersey voters by a ballot question three years earlier. The law made the state’s bail system dependent on risk as opposed to money.

The Reform

Since its passage, the courts are now using a computer-based pretrial risk assessment tool, created by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, that considers a defendant’s criminal history to determine the risk of three components: failure to appear in court, new criminal activity and new violent criminal activity. With the bail reform also came a set of new standards. Defendants must have their first court appearance within 48 hours of an arrest, prosecutors have 90 days to indict a defendant, and, if indicted, a trial must be scheduled within 180 days.

The idea behind the state’s bail reform was to help low-risk, nonviolent defendants in jail simply because they could not afford to post bail. In many instances, the concept worked.

The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which played an important role in creating the bail reform act, said that within nine months of the law being enacted, the state’s pretrial jail population decreased by 15 percent. But changing the bail system created some obvious opposition. In September 2017, an insurance company with ties to the bail bond industry unsuccessfully petitioned a federal court for an injunction to stop the bail reform act.

Alexander Shalom, a staff attorney with the ACLU-NJ who was a member of New Jersey’s Joint Committee on Criminal Justice, the taskforce created to address the state’s bail system, applauded the federal judge’s ruling and said: “No system of pretrial release and detention, including this one, is perfect, but the last thing we need is to heed the bail industry’s desperate call to increase reliance on money bail.”

Despite the risk assessment algorithm, the decision to release a defendant on bail ultimately comes down to the judge.

Previously in New Jersey, bail was typically only denied for those charged with capital offenses. Under the bail reform act, even for crimes considered nonviolent, a judge may still institute a cash bail when no other release conditions could ensure public safety or the defendant’s appearance in court. In the most extreme cases, a judge can order a defendant to be held without bail pending trial, usually if prosecutors argue that the defendant is a danger to the community.

Forchion, who is facing a third-degree witness tampering charge and has never been convicted of a violent crime, is considered by the court to be one of those cases. His charge stems from posting the identity of a police informant online.

The pretrial risk assessment algorithm recommended Forchion’s release with the condition of weekly reporting to the court. Prosecutors, however, argued that if Forchion were released, he would pose a danger to the community and may obstruct the criminal justice process. They argued that despite the risk assessment’s recommendation of release, Forchion should be held in jail without bail awaiting his trial, and the judge agreed. That was March 7, 2017.

“For 230 years, we’ve had the right to bail in this country,” Forchion said in one of many phone interviews from jail. “Now, New Jersey passed this bail reform act and now things like this can happen.”

The Restaurant

Before Forchion ended up in jail, he owned and operated a restaurant and a “cannabis temple” in New Jersey’s capital city, Trenton.

Like many other cities that relied heavily on manufacturing in the 19th and 20th centuries, Trenton saw an economic downturn before the turn of the millennia, financially depressing the city whose slogan is still “Trenton Makes and the World Takes.” The once-thriving city is now littered with boarded-up windows and dilapidated street corners. In a city where news coverage has been dominated by crime and violence, Forchion’s restaurant and sanctuary stood out as a positive addition to the community, and it was less than a mile away from the New Jersey Statehouse.

In 2015, the Wall Street Journal profiled the restaurant and noted that Forchion’s business received an honorary proclamation from the New Jersey Legislature commending the establishment and welcoming it to Trenton’s business community.

The restaurant, NJ Weedman’s Joint, served health-conscious dishes with a soul food twist, and although the food did not contain marijuana, the names of the menu items did. A meatball sandwich was dubbed the “Meatball Joint” and a vegetarian wrap the “Reggie Special.” The eatery garnered a loyal following and, before its untimely closure, boasted 4.8 stars out of 5 on Google reviews.

Attached to the restaurant but operating as a separate entity was Forchion’s cannabis church, the Liberty Bell Temple, which he referred to as a sanctuary and allowed people to come and take part in its sacrament: marijuana. The temple, Forchion said, was a place for the people of Trenton to gather and express themselves through music, dance and art. Some people have referred to the temple as Rastafarian-like, but Forchion, who has identified as a Rastafarian in the past, has never given it a specific label because he wanted it to be inclusive of all backgrounds and beliefs.

“I call it a cannabis temple or a spiritual temple,” Forchion explained. The restaurant and cannabis temple, situated side-by-side, were located directly across from Trenton City Hall. “I was making a statement when I moved there,” Forchion said.

Reality TV

Forchion, who is 53, opened the restaurant and temple in June 2015 with his business partner and girlfriend, Debi Madaio. Shortly after its opening, he retrofitted the buildings with 28 cameras and began filming a reality television show.

According to an article in the Trentonian, Forchion, Madaio and two silent partners created a media company called NJ Joint Ventures with the hopes of producing a television show to pitch to various networks. Their goal was to showcase marijuana activism and the lives of medical marijuana patients.

Before long, though, Trenton police officers began coming to the restaurant and temple claiming that Forchion was unlawfully operating a business past the permitted hours of operation in a residential zone.

“Everything was going fine for about six months,” Forchion said. “Then the police started harassing me for being opened late at night—for being opened past 11 o’clock.”

By the end of December 2015, police were a regular occurrence at NJ Weedman’s Joint and Liberty Bell Temple. Forchion wrote a letter in February 2016 to the mayor of Trenton and the city police informing them that his establishment was in a business zone, not a residential zone. “It was bad for business,” he said. “I had cops who kept showing up at my door.”

Towards the end of February 2016, police came to the restaurant with canines and, according to Forchion, told everyone that they had to leave because it was past 11 p.m. In the beginning of March, Forchion said he was approached by a police officer and again instructed to close his restaurant at 11 p.m. When Forchion didn’t comply, more than a dozen police officers showed up at his establishment a few days later demanding his patrons leave.

The incident, which took place on March 5, 2016, was captured on video and uploaded to the restaurant’s YouTube channel five days later. In the video, there are more than a dozen police officers crowding around the restaurant’s front door. Police lights turned the night-time streets blue and red.

“I didn’t want it to turn into a massive arrest, so I wound up telling everyone to leave,” Forchion said. “And that was the first time I’ve capitulated, telling everyone to leave, and I’ve never capitulated about nothing, but I knew I was right and that I could be open past 11.”

It was at this point that NJ Weedman decided to file a lawsuit against the Trenton Police Department.

On March 8, 2016 Forchion filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Trenton and its police department, claiming his religious rights were violated when the police shut his business down after 11 p.m. For the next six months from March 2016 to September 2016, Forchion received 22 municipal violations from Trenton police for business-related infractions—more than half of the tickets alleging he was opened too late.

“OK fine, I’m a pain in the butt,” Forchion said. “I’ve made myself an activist, a protester, whatever you want to say, but at what point are the police allowed act like a gang?” The police presence began to scare his customers away. “It was a constant. Every couple of weeks they would do it.”

The Bust

Eventually, in April 2016, Forchion’s restaurant and temple were raided by Trenton police armed with assault rifles and tactical gear. He was one of 10 people arrested from the bust and is facing 11 marijuana-related charges. Since the arrest occurred before the bail reform act was enacted in 2017, he was able to post bail and was released.

“I was not selling weed,” Forchion said, “but OK, I have weed. Who doesn’t know that NJ Weedman has weed?” It’s been two years since his arrest and he has not yet been given a trial date for his marijuana-related charges. Forchion’s third-degree witness tampering charge that he is currently in jail for stemmed from the drug bust.

The police used a confidential informant to build a case against Forchion, and Forchion, mostly through social media, revealed the identity of the informant. He claimed it was within his constitutional right to gather information for his legal defense, and said anything he posted online is protected by the First Amendment. A conviction of third-degree witness tampering carries a penalty of three to five years in prison.

Originally, Forchion was charged with second-degree witness tampering in addition to the third-degree charge, but in November 2017, a jury found him not guilty of the second-degree charge. One juror, however, remained undecided on the third-degree charge. Prosecutors decided to retry him on the third-degree charge, and he has been in the Mercer County Correctional Center since.

According to the affidavit for the search warrant before the raid on NJ Weedman’s Joint, the police “initiated a narcotics investigation” on March 10—two days after Forchion filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and its police department. “Their investigation was retaliation,” he said. “That’s all it was; retaliation for filing a lawsuit.”

The affidavit also showed that the police used a confidential informant in building its case against Forchion.

“The Rat”

After finding out that a confidential informant was used, Forchion immediately had an idea of who the police had sent in. A man that Forchion had never met began to visit his restaurant and temple on a regular basis.

“He kept coming in and asking me for weed,” Forchion said, adding that it is not completely unusual for a random person to try to befriend him. “I’ve had this happen where people want to smoke with me, they want to hang out with me, strangers come and visit me,” he said. “Anywhere I go potheads know me all over the place.”

Each time Forchion declined to sell him marijuana, the informant would persist, Forchion said. That’s when he remembers the situation becoming a little “weird.”

“In fact, I was joking with my staff and I was calling him Barney Rubble because he kind of looked like him,” Forchion recalled. “He was following me around like a puppy dog like Barney Rubble does to Fred Flintstone.”

On one occasion, though, Forchion said he gave the informant some marijuana from his personal stash and “he left with some.” It was after the informant dropped $300 into a donation jar that he left at his temple, Forchion said. “We didn’t think he was undercover or anything like that,” he said. “We just thought he was a weirdo.” It was less than an ounce, according to Forchion. This led to his arrest in the drug bust on April 27, 2016.

It wouldn’t be for another year, however, that Forchion was charged with witness tampering.

“In April 2016, a month after I filed the lawsuit against the police for harassing me, they raided me based on the rat,” he said. “And then a year goes by and in March 2017 I’m arrested for witness tampering.”

Forchion has largely represented himself during much of his history in court. For his drug case, though, he had the help of an attorney. His goal was to get the government’s informant to testify in court in his drug-related case and he believed he could accomplish this by revealing the identity of the “rat,” which is Forchion’s choice noun for confidential informant.

“I started doing research—which is perfectly within my Sixth Amendment right to prepare a defense—to figure out who it was,” Forchion said. “I figured out who it was and I started blasting all of Facebook saying that there was a rat.”

This plan backfired and Forchion found himself charged with the two counts of witness tampering.

The idea of ousting the confidential informant was inspired by a Supreme Court of New Jersey case from 1976, titled State v. Milligan. The case considers the limits of the government’s privilege to protect the identity of police informants.

Milligan’s Case

In November of 1972, an undercover New Jersey State Trooper named Harry Roberson was involved in a Camden County narcotics investigation. Roberson was introduced to the suspected heroin dealer, Preston Milligan, through an informant, according to court documents. Milligan, according to the court’s opinion, informed the undercover cop that he had “good stuff” for sale at $8 per bag, and Roberson agreed to buy $88 worth.

Although the informant was present during the meeting, he did not negotiate the sale and was in the bathroom when the transaction took place. Six months later, Milligan was arrested for selling heroin. Before the case went to trial, Milligan requested through the lower court that the name of the informant be disclosed. Roberson testified during a hearing on the matter and the trial judge subsequently denied Milligan’s motion.

Not long after, Milligan was convicted of possession and distribution of heroin but appealed his case. The appellate court said that since the informant acted as a material of the crime, the state didn’t have much of a case without him. The court reversed Milligan’s convictions, therefore taking the case to the Supreme Court of New Jersey, which weighed the informant’s role in Milligan’s conviction.

“A consideration of the nature of the defense and of the informer’s role in the crime here alleged leads me to believe this is a proper case for either disclosure to the defendant of the informer’s identity or for an in-camera examination of the informer by the judge, alone, to investigate the possible helpfulness of the informer to defendant if called as a witness,” the Supreme Court panel wrote in its opinion.

Regardless of the case’s nature, the Supreme Court recognized the dilemma of setting a precedent where the identities of informants were allowed to be made known during the course of the trial.

“The dilemma is that ordinarily a defendant cannot know unless the informer is made available, while to require him to be made available will end the prosecution and deny society the services of informers,” the court wrote. “The defendant swore, in defense, that he had never encountered Trooper Roberson prior to the trial, or sold narcotics to him or to anyone on the date alleged by the State.”

The informant was Milligan’s “one material witness” and had “helped to set up the criminal occurrence and had played a prominent part in it.” Disclosure of the identity of the informer “is essential to assure a fair determination of the issues,” the court wrote.

“Perhaps a situation may arise in which some such procedure would be feasible and warranted,” the judges wrote. “At the moment a choice seems unavoidable between a disclosure of the witness-informer in all cases or in none at all. A policy-decision must be made and it must rest upon probabilities. In those terms the risk of loss to defendants is pure conjecture, while the loss to society in its efforts to cope with crime would be real and substantial.”

The balance was struck “in favor of law and order.” The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s judgment vacating Milligan’s convictions and agreed with the trial court, which found him guilty of the crime.

The affidavit for the search warrant of NJ Weedman’s Joint alleged that the informant had directly bought marijuana from Forchion. With the 1976 case in mind, Forchion began working to reveal the identity of the police’s informant, but instead of doing so through the courts, he took to the internet.

On his website, Forchion made many postings publishing the informant’s name. He posted photos of the informant, a home address, a phone number, his wife’s name and the number of children he had. Forchion argued that if an informant could make allegations against him, he should be able to use the power of subpoena to get the informant to testify in his drug case.

In August 2016, prosecutors filed a motion for a protective order of the identity of the confidential informant. The motion to keep the informant’s identity private wasn’t approved until February 2017, according to an article on NJ.com. By this time, Forchion had already posted the identity online of who he believed was the informant. He was then charged with witness tampering and was arrested after a SWAT team entered his girlfriend’s home in March 2017.

The court found that Forchion should be detained before his trial on his witness tampering charge because “no amount of monetary bail, non-monetary conditions, or combination of monetary bail and conditions would reasonably assure” the protection of the community. It was also determined, according to court documents, that if he were released, there would be no assurance the “defendant will not obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process,” according to court documents. Prosecutors did not comment for this story, but did provide copies of court orders regarding pretrial detention motions.

Although Forchion represents himself for the lion’s share of his legal troubles, he does have a standby counsel for his witness tampering case.

Christopher Campbell, Forchion’s standby, said that he believes the state’s case for the third-degree witness tampering charge isn’t strong since the second-degree charge was already dismissed.

“I really can’t speak for them as to whether they’re trying to punish him or not,” he said of the prosecutor’s office, “but he does make himself a very vocal advocate against the system. Whether that means he’s a target for that reason, who knows.”

The bail reform can complicate pretrial hearings, as Forchion’s standby counsel pointed out. “I have seen some surprising things happen with bail reform since its inception,” Campbell said. “Ed just wants to go to trial, but anytime he tries to do anything he gets excludable time.”

Excludable Time

One of the biggest arguments Forchion has against the bail reform act is the tenet of excludable time. It is what has caused him to remain in jail for more than a year pending his trial. Under the bail reform act, there is a wide variety of reasons a defendant may receive excludable time against his trial clock. The bail reform act makes clear that prosecutors must bring a defendant to trial within 180 days of indictment and within 120 days for a retrial. Certain events, however, can augment these deadlines and put a pause on the trial clock.

There are 13 instances when excludable time can be applied, according to a bail reform factsheet on the New Jersey’s judiciary website, and perhaps the most encompassing of all is the time it takes a judge to decide pretrial motions. For any motion a defendant or prosecutor submits before trial, a judge has up to 60 days to respond, and however many days it takes for a response to be rendered is considered excludable time.

“For filing a motion asking for something, you get punished. To appeal something, you get punished. It’s all a part of the law,” Forchion said. “This is the dungeon system.”

On Nov. 17, 2017, shortly after Forchion’s second-degree witness tampering charge was dismissed, he filed a motion for his release. Prosecutors filed its response to the motion on Dec. 11, 2017. On Jan. 12, 2018, the judge made his decision, denying Forchion’s release and ordering 57 days of excludable time to count against his trial clock.

On March 1, prosecutors asked for more than 20 days of excludable time because Forchion filed an appeal on a judge’s order denying his release, which the judge made on Jan. 12. Jan. 20, Forchion appealed this decision to the appellate court. He also filed an appeal to the Supreme Court on Feb. 26, but the petition was denied.

Forchion was also given 67 days of excludable before he went on trial in November 2017 where he beat the second-degree witness tampering charge.

“It’s like I wasn’t here, like it didn’t count, like it doesn’t count, but I’m locked in a cage,” he said. “It counts to me. Every minute of the day counts for me.”

The bail reform can hold defendants with no bail for months on end, sometimes the cases result in acquittals. In December 2017, the Asbury Park Press reported that two men were detained with no bail under New Jersey’s bail reform act and were eventually acquitted of their charges. Both men were accused of binding, raping and robbing a prostitute at a hotel a year earlier. One of the men, who had claimed he was never at the crime scene, was in jail for almost 11 months before his acquittal, the report said.

In other instances, the bail reform act can release someone that draws the ire of the public. For example, in March a school bus driver who is currently accused of molesting at least nine children over the course of his 40-year career as a bus driver was released under the bail reform act. The story was shared on anti-bail reform websites across the country.

New Jersey’s Public Defender, Joseph Krakora, played a role in shaping bail reform. He, like Alexander Shalom of the ACLU, served on the Joint Committee of Criminal Justice. According to his biography on the state’s website, Krakora “assumed a leadership role in N.J.’s recently enacted criminal justice reform that eliminated its discriminatory money based system of pretrial release.”

Forchion questioned this connection and said that the public defender’s office and the ACLU would have been the two entities most likely to challenge the bail reform and its concept of pretrial detention with no bail, but since the two entities played a role in creating the bail reform, it makes it difficult for them to critique it.

Forchion said that the use of denying bail is essentially punishing people before a crime is even committed. He compares his situation to the “Minority Report,” a film starring Tom Cruise based on the science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick that takes place in Washington D.C. in the year 2054. The police have a “pre-crime” unit that uses a bizarre, anthropomorphic technology to see into the future, and a cop, played by Cruise, winds up being wanted for a murder he has yet to commit.

“They’re punishing me before I do crime,” Forchion said. “They’re punishing me for obstruction of justice saying they’re holding me because I will obstruct justice. Listen, if I obstruct then charge me and that’s a new charge, but how are they going to hold me in jail saying I will? That’s like locking someone up because they will commit murder one day or they will rob somebody someday.”

Forchion often finds himself comparing his trials and tribulations to movies or to his idols, which happen to be mostly Colonial era political dissidents.

“I talk about William Penn a lot,” Forchion said. “Right now, I’m talking about Peter Zenger a lot because he was put in jail for publishing and that’s what I was put in jail for.”

Zenger, who printed The New York Journal, was famously accused of libeling the governor of New York’s son, but when placed before a jury on trial, he was acquitted. Forchion, he’s quick to note while speaking of Zenger, has also been acquitted by a jury in the past. He relates to Penn because Penn, a Quaker, was ostracized and repeatedly jailed for his religious beliefs. Penn, in founding Pennsylvania, later drafted a charter of liberties guaranteeing a right to a fair trial by jury, freedom from unjust imprisonment and free elections.

John Vincent Saykanic, the attorney who has been assisting Forchion with his appeals for more than a decade, said that he “has been trying to get him out for a year from pretrial detention.”

He said that the bail reform act does away with a “defendant’s rights to appeal because by appealing you’re adding more time to your pretrial detention. Saykanic made it clear that Forchion “wants to go to trial ASAP. As soon as possible.”

Saykanic referred to Forchion’s pretrial detention as “punishment” and said that his case is an example of how the bail reform can be a “nightmare.”

“This is an example of a huge flaw in the purpose of the bail reform, which is supposed to help people who don’t have money to post bail, but here it’s punishing an individual,” he said. “He’s been there over a year now.”

He called Forchion’s situation “a grave injustice.”

Wins and Woes

When it came to his restaurant’s hours of operation, Forchion consistently argued that he was allowed to operate after 11 p.m. because his restaurant and temple are located in a business zone that permits being opened until 2 a.m.

He has so far has not been found guilty of any of the city violation tickets for hours of operation, and said that every time the municipal court date approached, the “city always postponed.” He said that he has been taken to Trenton Municipal Court on two occasions from his cell at Mercer County Correctional Center, but both times the city postponed the hearings.

Eventually, in September 2016, the city revoked Forchion’s restaurant license due to the litany of municipal tickets he received, forcing him to shut down. One week later, The Trentonian reported that Forchion’s license was reinstated because his restaurant, after all, was located in a business zone.

Forchion’s fusillade of municipal tickets were dismissed in February 2018. After two years had gone by since he was given his first ticket, a Trenton Municipal Court judge dismissed 13 of 23 tickets. The 13 tickets dismissed were all written for violations of hours of operations; the remaining 10 tickets were for other violations related to his business, Forchion said, such as having a lock on a fence and leaving a fire pit’s cover off.

He said the other 10 tickets would have never been given to him had the police recognized his business was permitted to stay open past 11 p.m. because they only showed up at his restaurant to order him to close shop. The other tickets were only auxiliary to the hours of operation violations, he claimed.

Likewise, Forchion said, he would have never filed his federal civil rights lawsuit if the police had not been coming to his restaurant and temple forcing him to close his businesses early. The federal lawsuit, he claims, led to his drug bust and witness tampering case.

Mario Williams, an Atlanta, Georgia attorney specializing in civil rights issues, police misconduct and business litigation, is representing Forchion in his federal lawsuit against Trenton and its police department.

“This is like the true definition of political prisoner,” Williams said of Forchion. “He just rubbed law enforcement the wrong day and they essentially said we’re going to shut you down, and that’s what they did.” He said Forchion was penalized for exercising his rights.

“They penalized him more so because he’s very active when exercising his First Amendment rights and freedom of speech against law enforcement officers,” Williams said.

As for the bail reform, Williams said that it “needs to be scrapped.”

Eventually, New Jersey’s bail reform act was slightly tweaked. On May 1, 2018, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled unanimously that in most instances a judge cannot rule defendants be detained pretrial solely based on the crime they are accused of committing. “A recommendation against a defendant’s pretrial release that is based only on the type of offense charged cannot justify detention by itself,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the decision. Charges such as murder, sex trafficking and other crimes that carry a sentence of life imprisonment can be the exception to this.

Third-degree witness tampering, the charge Forchion is facing, is not a crime that carries a sentence of life in prison. When the Supreme Court’s ruling came out, Forchion was detained for 421 days pretrial without bail.

In addition to Forchion, Williams is also representing a woman named June Rodgers who is suing New Jersey and former Gov. Chris Christie in an attack on the bail reform system. Her son, Christian, was killed after a man shot him dead in the streets. The man who allegedly murdered him, Jules Black, was released under the bail reform system just days before her son Christian was killed.

“Between that case and Forchion’s, you can see some serious flaws in the system,” Williams said. He questioned the computer risk algorithm designed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and its effectiveness. Williams isn’t the only one to have raised concerns over algorithms used to predict risk in defendants.

Aaron Clauset, a prominent computer scientist, made remarks in response to a study on machine learning applied in the realm of criminal justice. In 2016, Clauset was awarded the Erdős-Rényi Prize, given by the Network Science Society for achievements and outstanding contributions network science. The study Clauset responded to was published in justice published in Science Advances in January 2018.

“In the United States, algorithms are commonly used to predict the likelihood that a criminal will commit a crime, and these predictions influence pretrial, parole, and sentencing decisions,” he wrote. “Commercial software, such as the widely used COMPAS’s impressive-sounding 137-feature black box is nearly equivalent to a trivial linear classifier using two features, and both approaches are no more accurate or fair than predications made by people with little or no criminal justice expertise.”

Williams said that he is hoping New Jersey’s bail reform is fixed before other states adopt similar measures. According to Williams, other states are looking at New Jersey as a model.

States looking to amend bail systems stretch further across the country than just the east coast.

In January 2018, WNYC aired a program dubbed, “What Can New York Learn from New Jersey’s Bail Reform?” It mentions that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was championing a bail reform for the Empire State.

In 2016, voters in New Mexico chose to change the way bail is used in the state. The new method is similar to New Jersey’s and makes it more difficult for judges to hold a defendant in jail under monetary bail. Utah is also working to implement changes to its bail system.

In late April of 2018, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez recorded a video warning Utah officials that changes to the bail system could result in risk to the public. Courts in New Mexico began using the same risk assessment algorithm utilized in New Jersey designed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Martinez, in the video, said the results of the algorithm have been “devastating” in New Mexico.

“The whole country is looking at New Jersey and seeing how this really works or doesn’t work,” Williams said. “Everyone is looking to pass some type of bail reform on some level.”

Since the hours of operation tickets were dismissed, Forchion said he floated the idea of filing a writ of habeas corpus in his federal case.

“I want the judge to rule that my imprisonment is unconstitutional,” he said.

The Weedman has successfully argued on similar grounds before.

Forchion lived in California from 2007 to 2013, but was still coming back to New Jersey frequently. “I was bi-coastal,” he said. “That’s what I was calling myself back then.”

In California, in a case reminiscent of his current situation, he opened the first Liberty Bell Temple, which, like the one in Trenton, used marijuana as a sacrament with its congregants. It was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) religious organization, and the Trenton temple was incorporated as a subsidiary of the California incorporation. Unlike Trenton, however, Forchion was also growing weed at a warehouse in California. “They said I was violating the city dispensary laws,” he said. “My argument was that I was not a dispensary.”

His temple, located in Hollywood, was raided on a Los Angeles city code violation for failing to cease operations. The police said he was acting as a dispensary, but Forchion maintained it was a religious practice.

“For about a year we fought back and forth,” he said. Eventually, a California Superior Court judge ruled in Forchion’s favor. “He looked at my paperwork, saw that I had registered as a church, that I was incorporated as a church,” Forchion said. “I argued that I should be exempt from these marijuana laws, and I won.”

The Courts

The California case, the current witness tampering case and the restaurant drug bust are far from NJ Weedman’s only legal troubles. This isn’t the first time Forchion has fought the law, and it likely won’t be the last. He has been in court many times and his wrists are no stranger to handcuffs. Nearly every run-in Forchion has had with the legal system involved—as one could imagine—marijuana.

“I’ve only been arrested for marijuana and one time I got charged with receiving stolen property because somebody sold me something and I didn’t know they had reported it stolen as part of an insurance scam,” he said. “It was a gun.”

This was Forchion’s first foray in what would become his long relationship with the criminal justice system. It was in 1996, he had just gotten out of the Army and had no criminal record.

“That was my first charge ever,” he said. “I was three years out of the Army.” He was given pre-trial intervention.

According to an article in Philadelphia Weekly, Forchion was busted for smoking marijuana while in the Army and ran off with $6,000 worth of poker chips from the Trump Taj Mahal after getting drunk and losing $13,000 at the blackjack table. He got away with it, too, according to the article, until he was pulled over by police and was found with an “unregistered double barrel shotgun and a bag of pot.”

“I was down there, I was just drunk gambling,” he said. “At some point, I lost a bunch of money, I was drunk and I reached over and I grabbed a bunch of chips. I turned around and walked out.” Forchion, who said he hardly ever has a drink anymore, had a warrant put out for his arrest.  charged with theft by unlawful taking. He received pretrial intervention for the casino charge, but when he was pulled over for his warrant, police had found a gun in his truck.

“It was a little .410 shotgun,” he said. “It was double barrel, like a little tiny Derringer.”

A year after his gun case, Forchion was busted for acting as a middle man for a shipment of marijuana from Arizona. He, along with two other men, were found with more than 40 pounds of weed in Bellmawr, New Jersey.

“I got caught with 40 pounds, I represented myself,” he said. During the trial, the prosecution offered him a deal he couldn’t resist: 10 years in prison with parole eligibility after less than two years served.

He took the plea bargain and pleaded guilty to manufacturing or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance and conspiracy in Camden County in 2000. He represented himself on the marijuana charge and went from facing 20 years in prison to ultimately serving 18 months from 2001 to 2002.

“That was the only time I’ve ever went to prison. I’ve been on the cause ever since,” he said. “From that moment on, I told myself I would never, ever take a deal again. And I haven’t.”

In 2001, in a separate case that took place while Forchion was imprisoned in New Jersey, he went on trial in Pennsylvania for getting caught with a little more than a pound marijuana in Philadelphia. “I represented myself then, too,” he said. “The case got dismissed.” In 2002, though, Forchion found himself locked up again—this time his punishment stemmed from making videos.

When Forchion was released from prison after taking the plea bargain, he was put into Intensive Supervision Program, or ISP, which is a strict parole program providing alternative forms of community-based correctional supervision that allows some offenders to serve sentences outside the traditional prison settings.

He said his ISP parole officer was a “Bible thumper” and didn’t like that Forchion advocated marijuana legalization. “He really despised me, he didn’t like me. He acted like I was the anti-Christ because I advocated what he called drugs,” he said. “To me, I was talking about changing the law.”

While in ISP, Forchion made three commercials advocating the legalization of marijuana. The videos, still online, show a younger Forchion with shorter dreadlocks standing in front of large American flag.

“Have you heard our government’s claim that marijuana is dangerous, addictive, and has no medical value?” he said in one of the commercials, waving his finger at the camera. “I have! But I also know the scientific facts. Marijuana has never killed anyone, is beneficial to many, and has been used as a medicine for thousands of years.”

The theme for the commercials are all very similar: legalize marijuana and end the War on Drugs. Shortly after making the videos, Forchion was arrested for “advocating criminal activity,” he said. “There’s not even a law that says that, but I got locked up on that,” he said. “Just like I am now, it’s totally a bullshit arrest—but I got locked up.”

He served nearly five months in jail before a federal judge ruled for his release and said the commercials he made were within his First Amendment right. To get the federal judge to look at his case, though, Forchion first had to file a writ of habeas corpus, which ended up in the hands of U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas.

“Federal Judge Irenas interceded, it was unheard of for a federal judge to intercede into a state case while the state case is still going,” he said. “But the judge, he’d been reading about it in the paper, not only did I file a habeas corpus, but I had my wife at the time mail him a copy of the videos so he could see a copy of the videos I was locked up for making.”

A federal judge must wait until a state inmate has exhausted all state claims before the defendant can move to appeal to federal court, but in Forchion’s case, an exception was made.

“The judge made an extraordinary go-around, and he interceded. It made newspapers, it made articles, it made law journals all across the country,” Forchion said. “He interceded in my case and ordered the court to release me. And I won my writ of habeas corpus.”

Forchion accomplished this all while representing himself, he said, adding that eventually the ACLU offered him assistance. The Irenas case is when John Vincent Saykanic, the attorney assisting Forchion in appeals with his witness tampering case, began helping Forchion.

“My case ended up being used as a prisoners’ rights, free speech case,” Forchion said. “It was a precedent case called Forchion called versus ISP.”

In Burlington County in 2012, Forchion went back on trial stemming from a 2010 marijuana arrest.

“I was living in California then but in 2010 I came home for a visit and flew home with a pound of weed in my luggage,” he said. As he was driving back from visiting his children, he was pulled over by a New Jersey State Trooper.

He was charged with intent to distribute and simple possession. The trial ended with a hung jury on the intent to distribute charge, but he was found guilty of possession. Forchion appealed his possession conviction until an appellate court panel of judges upheld the conviction in 2015, saying his arguments “lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion,” according to a write-up of the case in Politico.

He was retried on the distribution charge months later, but wound up beating it entirely after a jury returned a verdict of not guilty 12-0. This is around the time jury nullification advocates across the country began paying attention to Forchion.

“I made national news,” he said. He never denied to the jury that he had the marijuana; instead, he promoted it. “I consider a hung jury a victory for the defendant.”

He argued to the jury that the law was wrong, not him, and he was found not guilty. “I had the pound of marijuana, I asked the jurors to give it back,” he said. “I told them that I smoke marijuana every day.”

He even went as far as telling the jurors that he smoked marijuana that same morning, according to Forchion, and that he was eating pot brownies throughout the duration of his trial. “I didn’t hide anything,” he said. “I knew they couldn’t get 12.”

Tactics such as these are what he believes are holding him in jail under the bail reform act.

“And this is what the prosecutors in Mercer County know about me,” he said. “They can see my history. Not only have I won all these big cases where they’ve made news and all that, I’ve won a few municipal court cases, I’ve won a few civil cases.”

In 2013, he was sentenced to nine months in jail for the possession charge, but was granted a unique condition to his imprisonment. Forchion has a medical condition called Osteoclastoma in which tumors grow on his bones, and while in jail, he was permitted to serve an intermittent sentence where he could travel to California for 10 days per month to smoke marijuana as part of his treatment, and then return back to his cell in New Jersey.

“I got what they call giant cell tumors, usually on my big bones—my femurs, my shoulder bones, I could get it on my head or my sternum in my chest,” he said. He has gotten the tumors on his femur and on occasions on the inside of his hip. He currently has two tumors on his shoulders, but since they are small in size he decided to not have them removed.

Forchion was first diagnosed in 2001 while serving his prison sentence for possessing more than 40 pounds of weed, but he remembers discovering symptoms a decade before his diagnosis.

In 1991, for instance, his knee began incessantly aching. “I kept thinking it was an athletic injury,” he said. “I was diagnosed in 2001 when I first went to prison.”

Forchion said that just before he was arrested on the witness tampering charges in March 2017, his tumors came back. “It’s in my knee again,” he said. “Just above my knee.” During his pretrial detention under the bail reform act, Forchion has been taken to the hospital on several occasions for treatment.

In addition to the witness tampering charge, Forchion also picked up other charges stemming from his restaurant’s drug bust. He is facing other drug-related charges after police allegedly found him with marijuana when he was arrested for witness tampering charges at his girlfriend’s home. In September 2016 Forchion was indicted on a cyber bullying charge after he called a Trenton police officer a “pedophile” online. He’s also called a prosecutor a slut.

Weedman’s Fame

Forchion has pulled countless other outlandish stunts. He’s smoked pot in the New Jersey Statehouse and in front of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. He’s tried to legally change his name, twice, to NJWeedman.com. But perhaps the penchant that draws him the most criticism is his online behavior.

Forchion does do a lot of smack-talking online; it’s what got him charged with witness tampering in the first place. His Facebook has a photo that reads: “If you are shocked by anything I say, then you obviously haven’t been paying attention to who I am.” Whenever questioned on these tendencies, he’s always fell back on the defense that his speech is protected by the First Amendment, regardless of how inflammatory.

“He’s addicted to Facebook, Twitter and all those things,” Debi Madaio, Forchion’s girlfriend, said. “He got barred from Donald Trump’s because he was tweeting at him too much.” (A federal court ruling in late May of 2018 said it was unconstitutional for the president to block users on Twitter, but it did not force him to unblock critics already banished from his account.) Madaio, who met Forchion nearly five years ago, said that Forchion “calls himself a media whore.”

As a registered nurse, Madaio can’t smoke marijuana because she is drug tested, but she is still a tireless advocate. Working as a nurse manager at one of the state’s largest children’s specialized hospital, Madaio has seen a lot of children in rough shape. One day, she met a baby boy who was born prematurely and was in the state’s care. Not too long later, after raising two daughters of her own, she adopted him. He was three years old and diagnosed with autism, has seizures and spastic quadriplegia.

Her son Aidan, who is now 11, could benefit from medical marijuana, Madaio believes. That’s the reason why she first began advocating for marijuana, which is how she came about meeting Forchion. The two at the first annual cannabis conference in Trenton rallying for the legalization of pot. Flash forward about five years, and Forchion would be proposing to her from the court room.

It was November 2017 and he was in jail pretrial under the bail reform act for his witness tampering charges. He was waiting for the verdict to come back from the jury on his charges when he asked her to marry him.

“Since I’ve been here I did ask her to marry me. She didn’t answer me, she said, ‘Get out faster,’” Forchion said with a chortle. “So, that’s another reason why I’ve got to get out.”

“Ed is an open book,” Madaio said. “I just have to laugh at a lot of the stuff he does.”

Aside from his online persona, there is a lot about NJ Weedman that doesn’t make it into the papers.

For one, Forchion loves talking about the Colonial period and the history of the United States. “I’m kind of a nerd,” he said. “As much as people want to throw me into the realm of being a thug drug dealer—I’m not. I absolutely am not.” Since Forchion has been detained awaiting his trial, he spends nearly every minute in the jail’s library. Like a badger spending a winter deep inside his burrow, Forchion spends his incarceration among the legal texts and law books in the Mercer County Correctional Center.

Forchion for years has enjoyed a minor celebrity status. He has somewhat of a cult following throughout the Garden State, but it all began with a simple decision.

“Calling myself Weedman was a gimmick for publicity,” he said, “and it worked.” Forchion’s marijuana advocacy has landed him in the pages and on the home screens of publications like Vice, the Daily Mail, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Weekly and LA Weekly. His antics have been picked up by the Associated Press and shared with papers throughout the nation. He has been featured for years as a regular caller on the state’s widest-reaching radio station, NJ 101.5. He has spoken for various podcasts and had a column for The Trentonian, one of the most-read papers in New Jersey’s capital.

“Sometimes I say I’m infamous as opposed to famous. Sometimes I say I’m a counterculture celebrity, but,” he said, “all over the country I’ve been written about.”

He has been featured in television programs and documentaries including: “The Emperor Wears No Clothes;” “How Weed Won the West;” “1000 Ways to Die: Fatal Distractions;” and “Million Mask Movement.” Forchion is currently the subject of a documentary by filmmaker Brian Scully examining bail reform and the criminal justice system in New Jersey.

He even has his name listed on the International Movie Database, a fact that he is gleefully proud of.

If you search for Forchion on IMDB.com, you will see his name come up along with two other Forchions. NJ Weedman said he is related to Raymond Forchion who played O.J. Simpson in a dramatization of the football star’s 1995 murder case. Bill Forchion, another cousin of Forchion’s, is a famous circus performer. If you search for Forchion on Google, however, articles about NJ Weedman dominate the search results.

Forchion also has this uncanny ability to recall dates and times of specific events. He can recite full docket numbers of his legal cases, and the exact URLs of pamphlets he has published on his website, even while in a jail cell with no internet access.

“I have a memory like an elephant,” Forchion said. “I don’t know why but I have a very good memory. I may forget people’s names but I remember entire conversations.”

He has written books, too, including “Public Enemy #420” published in 2010, and “Politics of Pot, Jersey Style: The persecution prosecution of NJweedman” published in 2014. He’s also writing another book while in jail and said he is more 2,000 pages in.

Forchion is a frequent candidate for office, as well. He ran for governor of New Jersey and for Congress, both of which earned him mentions in The New York Times. In fact, when he ran for Congressional District 12, Forchion, who campaigned on the self-created Legalize Marijuana Party, received the third most votes at 6,094, which was more than what the Green Party and Libertarian candidates combined.

Whether these political ambitions are genuine or are, like his name, just a gimmick, he doesn’t seem to tire from them. Forchion recently announced a new candidacy and is running for Congress again, this time from behind bars.

What is a lesser known fact about Forchion is that he is a veteran who has served in three separate branches of the U.S. military. He was also a big-rig truck driver.

In 1982, Forchion graduated from high school and joined the New Jersey National Guard. He served in the summer and on weekends for two years while he was in college. After he was in college for two years, he dropped out of school and joined the Marines. While in the Marines, he received a medical discharge because he had pneumonia and asthma, he said. In 1987, Forchion re-enlisted and joined the Army.

In between his time in the Marines and joining the Army, though, Forchion worked in Atlantic City at Donald Trump’s restaurant, he said.

“I waited on Donald Trump for two years,” Forchion said. The eatery he worked at was named Ivana’s Restaurant. He ended up suing Trump, filing a discrimination lawsuit alleging he was wrongfully fired, but the case was dismissed. After that, it was back to the service. “I’ve always wanted to be in the military,” he said.

Forchion was a combat and orthopedic medic and served in Germany when the U.S. invaded Panama. “I worked in the orthopedic ward,” he said. “I was there when Reagan came and said, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

He loved the army. His family has a long history of serving in the military, and he regrets leaving the service to this day. “To be honest with you, one of my biggest mistakes was getting out of the military,” he said. Forchion left the Army in June 1990, just months before the Gulf War started. When he left the Army, he became an 18-wheeler trucker.  “I traveled this whole country,” he said. “I’ve been to every state but two: Hawaii and Alaska.”

Trucking was Forchion’s way of visiting different parts of the country, a dream that he always had. “I owned my own truck so I could travel the country and get paid,” he said. “If I wanted to watch a Ziggy Marley concert in Seattle, I’d just take a load to Washington state, get there, see the concert, and get back in the truck.” He still owns a truck, it’s sitting at his mother’s house.

Early Life

Although Forchion lived in California and traveled the continental U.S. for years, he has been a Jersey boy since birth. Growing up, Forchion’s mother took in a lot of foster children. He has two siblings, but there “were always like eight kids at the house,” he said. He was raised in Sicklerville, a town located within the boundaries of Winslow Township in Camden County.

“I grew up riding dirt bikes and fishing. It was really rural there.” The dirt trails that Forchion once rode on are now gone and have been replaced by peach farms and sprawling developments. “It’s mostly white with a few black families that have been there forever,” he said. “My family has been around in Winslow Township since the 1800s.”

Years later when Forchion moved to California, he lived an existence vastly different from his humble, rural beginnings.

“When I went to Hollywood, I became this little B-celebrity,” he said. “I was hanging out with celebrities. I was hobknobbing, I was on a couple of TV shows. I was on TMZ three times.”

When he opened up the first Liberty Bell Temple, the one that was closed down after he was raided, celebrities often stopped by.

“Celebrities were coming to my place,” he said. “I can’t even name all of the celebrities I ended up hanging out with just by calling myself Weedman.”

After his Hollywood business was raided, Forchion said he was out of money and had nowhere left to go but back home. “I was out of business, I was struggling for money, and I got sick,” he said. “So, I came home to my mom’s house in Sicklerville.” He stayed at his mother’s house for about a year and half and his bone condition was reemerging, he said. He had surgery, the tumor was removed, but he broke his femur after the surgery because his leg was weak from the tumor. He had a cast put on and by October 2014, the cast was removed.

“By November, I was itching to go do something again,” he explained. “I was going to go back to California, but I re-bonded with my kids and everything, so I didn’t want to go back to California.” He had to come up with another plan, another project for the unwearying Weedman.

“That’s when I decided I was going to go to Trenton,” he said. “I’m going to open up a spot in Trenton.”

April Appearance

On April 16, 2018, Forchion had his first court appearance since the day he beat the second-degree witness tampering charge in November. He entered the brightly lit courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit with the words “Political Prisoner #420” scrawled on the back. His dreadlocks were pushed back. He still had bags under his eyes, he was still tired.

He asked the judge if his other charges, the cyber bullying charge and the marijuana charges, could be included in the trial for his witness tampering. The request was denied. Instead, Forchion was given another 22 days of excludable time for his appeal, and was given an estimated trial date of May 8. It’s what he’s been waiting to hear for the past year.

“I think I’m going to win,” he said. “I think I’m unconvictable.” He doesn’t plan on taking any sort of plea deal, now or ever again, for that matter. “I go through life never quitting, and taking a plea bargain would be quitting,” he said. “Taking a plea bargain would also be violating my constitutional right to a trial, and I insist that the constitution applies to me.”

He said that when he gets out, whenever that day is, he will be shifting his willpower, which he seems to have an endless supply of, from marijuana to New Jersey’s bail reform act.

“I’ve been calling myself NJ Weedman and advocating for marijuana legalization for years,” he said, “but when this is all said and done, I’m going to be the biggest advocate against bail reform there is. I will become the John Walsh of bail reform repeal.”

After spending 447 days in jail awaiting his trial, Forchion was acquitted of his third-degree witness tampering charge after he was found not guilty of the crime by a jury on May 24. He said he plans on amending his federal lawsuit to include grievances about his pretrial imprisonment.

Forchion also plans on finishing the book that he’s been working on. He said it is nearing completion. He feels compelled to tell his story of how he was affected by the bail reform. He’s hoping he can get a deal for the book, but if it not, it won’t bother him much. He’s writing it for a more crucial reason.

“I don’t even know if people will buy the book,” he said. “I’m writing this for history’s sake.”

A Public Bank for Los Angeles? City Council Puts It to the Voters

California legislators exploring the public bank option may be breaking not just from Wall Street but from the Federal Reserve.

Voters in Los Angeles will be the first in the country to weigh in on a public banking mandate, after the City Council agreed on June 29th to put a measure on the November ballot that would allow the city to form its own bank. The charter for the nation’s second-largest city currently prohibits the creation of industrial or commercial enterprises by the city without voter approval. The measure, introduced by City Council President Herb Wesson, would allow the city to create a public bank, although state and federal law hurdles would still need to be cleared.

The bank is expected to save the city millions, if not billions, of dollars in Wall Street fees and interest paid to bondholders, while injecting new money into the local economy, generating jobs and expanding the tax base. It could respond to the needs of its residents by reinvesting in low-income housing, critical infrastructure projects, and clean energy, as well as serving as a depository for the cannabis industry.

The push for a publicly-owned bank comes amid ongoing concerns involving the massive amounts of cash generated by the cannabis business, which was legalized by Proposition 64 in 2016. Wesson has said that cannabis has “kind of percolated to the top” of the public bank push, “but it’s not what’s driving” it, citing affordable housing and other key issues; and that a public bank should be pursued even if it cannot be used by the cannabis industry. However, the prospect of millions of dollars in tax revenue is an obvious draw. Los Angeles is the largest cannabis market in the state, with Mayor Eric Garcetti estimating that it would bring in $30 million in taxes for the city.

Bypassing the Fed

State Board of Equalization Member Fiona Ma, who is running for state treasurer, says California’s homegrown $8-20 billion cannabis industry is still operating mostly in cash almost 2 years after state legalization, with the majority of businesses operating in the black market without paying taxes. This is in large part because federal law denies them access to the banking system, forcing them to deal only in cash and causing logistical nightmares when paying taxes and transferring money.

Cannabis is still a forbidden Schedule 1 drug under federal law, and the Federal Reserve has refused to give a master account to banks taking cannabis cash. Without a master account, they cannot access Fedwire transfer services, essentially shutting them out of the banking business.

In a surprise move in early June, President Donald Trump announced that he “probably will end up supporting” legislation to let states set their own cannabis policy. But Ma says that while that is good news, California cannot wait on the federal government. She and State Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles) have brought Senate Bill 930, which would allow state-chartered banks and financial institutions to apply for a special cannabis banking license to accept clients, after a rigorous process that follows regulations from the US Treasury Department. The bill cleared a major legislative hurdle on May 30th when it passed on the Senate Floor.

SB 930 focuses on California state-chartered banks, which unlike federally-chartered banks can operate under a closed loop system with private deposit insurance. As Ma explained in a May 17 article in The Sacramento Bee:

There are two types of banks – those with federal charters, and banks with California charters. Because cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 narcotic, we cannot touch federal banking wires. We want state-chartered banks that are protected, regulated and certified under California law, and not required to be under the FDIC.

State income taxes, sales taxes, unemployment, workers’ compensation and property taxes could all be paid through a closed-loop system that takes in revenue from the cannabis industry, but is apart from the federal banking system. . . . Cannabis businesses could be part of a cashless system similar to Apple Pay, and their money would be insured by a state-licensed institution.

That is a pretty revolutionary idea – a closed-loop California banking system that is independent of the Federal Reserve and the federal system. SB 930 would bypass the Feds only for cannabis cash, and the bill strictly limits what the checks issued by these “pot banks” can be used for. But the prospects it opens up are interesting. California is now the fifth largest economy in the world, with 39 million people. It has the resources for its own cashless “CalPay” or CalCoin” system that could bypass the federal system altogether.

The Bank of North Dakota, currently the nation’s only state-owned depository bank, has been called a “mini-Fed” for that state. The Bank of North Dakota partners with local banks to make below-market loans for community purposes, including 2 percent loans for local infrastructure, while at the same time turning a tidy profit for the state. In 2017, it recorded its 14th consecutive year of record profits, with $145.3 million in net earnings and a return on the state’s investment of 17 percent. California, with more than 50 times North Dakota’s population, could use its own mini-Fed as well.

Growing Support for Public Banks

It is significant that the proposal for a closed-loop California system is not coming from academics without political clout. Fiona Ma is slated to become state treasurer, having won the primary election in June by a landslide; and the current state treasurer John Chiang has been exploring the possibility of a public bank that could take cannabis cash for over a year. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the front runner for governor, has also called for the creation of a public bank. These are not armchair theoreticians but the people who make political decisions for the state, and they have substantial popular support.

Public bank advocacy groups from cities across California have joined to form the California Public Banking Alliance, a coalition to advance legislation that would facilitate the formation of municipal banks statewide under a special state charter. A press release by Public Bank Los Angeles, one of its founding advocacy groups, notes that 15 pieces of legislation for public banks are being explored across the nation through municipal committees and state legislators, with over three dozen public banking movements building in cities and states across the country. San Francisco has created a 16-person Municipal Bank Feasibility Task Force; Seattle and Washington DC have separately earmarked $100,000 for public banking feasibility studies; and Washington State legislators have added nearly a half million dollars to their budget to produce a business plan for a public depository bank. New Jersey state legislators, with the backing of Governor Phil Murphy, have introduced a bill to form a state-owned bank; and GOP and Democratic lawmakers in Michigan have filed a bipartisan bill to create one in that state.

Cities and states are seeking ways to better leverage taxpayer dollars and reinvest them in the needs of local communities. Public banking serves that purpose, providing local determination and the opportunity for socially and environmentally responsible lending and investments. The City Council of Los Angeles is now taking it to the voters; and where California goes, the nation may well follow.

• A version of this article first appeared in Truthdig.

How Uncle Sam Launders Marijuana Money

In a blatant example of “do as I say, not as I do,” the US government is profiting handsomely by accepting marijuana cash in the payment of taxes while imposing huge penalties on banks for accepting it as deposits. Onerous reporting requirements are driving small local banks to sell out to Wall Street. Congress needs to harmonize federal with state law.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. The herb has been shown to have significant therapeutic value for a wide range of medical conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, glaucoma, lung disease, anxiety, muscle spasms, hepatitis C, inflammatory bowel disease, and arthritis pain. The community of Americans who rely on legal medical marijuana was estimated to be 2.6 million people in 2016 and includes a variety of mainstream constituency groups like veterans, senior citizens, cancer survivors, and parents of epileptic children. Unlike patented pharmaceuticals, which are now the leading cause of death from drug overdose, there have been no recorded deaths from marijuana overdose in the US. By comparison, alcohol causes 30,000 deaths annually, and prescription drugs taken as directed are estimated to kill 100,000 Americans per year.

Under federal law, however, marijuana remains a Schedule I Controlled Substance – a “deadly dangerous drug with no medical use and high potential for abuse” – and its possession remains a punishable offense. On the presidential campaign trail, Donald Trump said the issue of marijuana legalization “should be up to the states,” continuing the “hands off” policy established under President Obama. Under the 2013 Cole Memorandum, the Department of Justice said it would not prosecute individuals and companies complying with robust and well-enforced state legalization programs. But on January 4th, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo and gave federal prosecutors the authority to pursue marijuana cases at their own discretion, even in places where the herb is legal under state law. The action has made banks even more afraid to take marijuana cash, which can be prosecuted as illegal “money laundering,” an offense that can incur stiff criminal penalties.

The Government Has “Unclean Hands”

As explained by Dr. Richard Rahn, author of The End of Money and the Struggle for Financial Privacy:

Money laundering is generally understood to be the practice of taking ill-gotten gains and moving them through a sequence of bank accounts so they ultimately look like the profits from legitimate activity. Institutions, individuals, and even governments who are believed to be aiding and abetting the practice of money laundering can be indicted and convicted, even though they may be completely unaware that the money being transferred with their help was of criminal origin.

The law has focused on banks, but all sorts of businesses accept money without asking where it came from or being required to report “suspicious activity.” As Rahm observes, even governments can be indicted and convicted for money laundering. Strictly construed (as Attorney General Sessions insists when interpreting the law), that means the US government itself could be indicted. In fact, the US government is the largest launderer of marijuana cash in the nation. The IRS accepts this tainted money in the payment of taxes, turning it into “clean” money; and it is not an unwitting accomplice to the crime. Estimates are that marijuana business owners across the U.S. will owe $2.8 billion in taxes to the federal government in 2018. The government makes a massive profit off the deal, snatching up to 70 percent of the proceeds of the reporting businesses, as opposed to the more typical rate of 30 percent. It does this by branding marijuana businesses criminal enterprises which are not entitled to deduct their costs when reporting their income. This is not only a clear case of the unequal protection of the laws but is a clear admission by the government that it is knowingly accepting illegal funds. The government is a principal beneficiary of a business the government itself has made illegal.

Under those circumstances, both marijuana businesses and banks should be able to raise the “unclean hands” defense. As summarized in Kendall-Jackson Winery, Ltd. v. Superior Court (1999), 76 Cal.App.4th 970, 978-79:

The defense of unclean hands arises from the maxim, “He who comes into Equity must come with clean hands.” The doctrine demands that a plaintiff act fairly in the matter for which he seeks a remedy. . . . The defense is available in legal as well as equitable actions. . . . The doctrine promotes justice by making a plaintiff answer for his own misconduct in the action. It prevents a wrongdoer from enjoying the fruits of his transgression.

The government is enjoying the fruits of money it considers “dirty.” It has unclean hands, a defense against prosecuting others for the same crime.

Should “Money Laundering” Even Be a Crime?

In an article titled “Why the War on Money Laundering Should Be Aborted,” Dr. Rahn asks whether money laundering should even be a crime. It became a criminal activity in the US only in 1986, and in many countries it still is not a crime. Banks operating in the US must now collect and verify customer-provided information, check names of customers against lists of known or suspected terrorists, determine risk levels posed by customers, and report suspicious persons, organizations and transactions. The reporting requirements are so burdensome and expensive that they have caused many smaller banks to sell out to larger banks or close their doors. According to Dr. Rahn:

[I]t has failed to produce the advertised results and, in fact, has not been cost effective, has resulted in wholesale violations of individual civil liberties (including privacy rights), has violated the rights of sovereign governments and peoples, has created new opportunities for criminal activity, and has actually lessened our ability to reduce crime.

. . . Banks are required to supply the government with not only Currency Transaction Reports but also Suspicious Activity Reports. These reports impose huge regulatory costs on banks and require bank employees to operate as police officers. As a result, the total public and private sector costs greatly exceed $10,000,000 per conviction. This whole effort not only does not make any economic sense, but is clearly incompatible with a free society. The anti-money laundering laws allow almost complete prosecutorial discretion.

One small banker complained that banks have been turned into spies secretly reporting to the federal government. If they fail to comply, they can face stiff enforcement actions, whether or not actual money-laundering crimes are alleged. In 2010, one small New Jersey bank pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Bank Secrecy Act and was fined $5 million for failure to file suspicious-activity and cash-transaction reports. Another small New Jersey bank closed its doors after it was hit with $8 million in fines over its inadequate monitoring policies. The cost of compliance and threat of massive fines for not complying have been major factors in the collapse of the community banking sector. The number of community banks has fallen by 40 percent since 1994 and their share of U.S. banking assets has fallen by more than half, from 41 percent to 18 percent.

“Regulation is killing community banks,” Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said at his confirmation hearing in January 2017. If the process is not reversed, he warned, we could “end up in a world where we have four big banks in this country.” That would be bad for both jobs and the economy. “I think that we all appreciate the engine of growth is with small and medium-sized businesses,” said Mnuchin. “We’re losing the ability for small and medium-sized banks to make good loans to small and medium-sized businesses in the community, where they understand those credit risks better than anybody else.”

If the goal of the anti-money laundering statutes is to identify and deter criminal activity, strictly enforcing the law could actually backfire in the case of state-legalized marijuana businesses. As noted in a January 9 article in The Daily Beast:

Marijuana businesses have to register and incorporate in states and that puts them on the IRS radar. . . . Sky-high federal taxes on top of state taxes can make it almost impossible to operate a legal business. . . . If the government fails to cut businesses a break, legal marijuana could be sold on the black market to dodge taxes.

On the black market, cash proceeds can be dispersed in a way that avoids banks and makes the money hard either to trace or to tax.

Federal Law Needs to Be Changed

With more than half the states legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, Congress needs to acknowledge the will of the people and remove this natural herb from the Schedule I classification that says it is a deadly dangerous drug with no health benefits. The Tenth Amendment gives the federal government only those powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution, and regulating medical practice is not one of them. Federal courts have held that the federal Controlled Substances Act does not allow the federal government to usurp states’ exclusive rights (pursuant to their inherent police powers) to regulate the practice of medicine.

H.R. 1227, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, sponsored by Virginia Republican Thomas Garrett and 15 cosponsors, would remove marijuana from Schedule I and eliminate federal penalties for anyone engaged in marijuana activity in a state where it is legal. Congress just needs to pass it.

In its zeal for eliminating burdensome, costly and ineffective regulations, the Trump administration might also consider lightening the heavy reporting burden that is killing community banks and the local businesses that have traditionally relied on them for affordable credit. On Tuesday, January 16th, a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general sent a letter to leaders in Congress requesting advancement of legislation such as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to “provide a safe harbor” for banks that provide financial products or services to state-legal marijuana businesses. If the government can accept marijuana money in the payment of taxes, banks should be able to accept it to keep track of it and prevent the crimes associated with storing and transporting large sums of cash.

More Seeds For Transformation Planted This Week

The Trump Administration continues to plant more seeds for the coming era of transformation that we have written about in recent newsletters, Preparing for the Coming Age of Transformation and Ensuring Justice in the Coming Age of Transformation. It continues to put policies in place that go against national consensus on critical issues and is conducting a foreign policy that isolates the United States from the rest of the world.

With each of these actions, the spring that will create the boomerang of transformation gets compressed further. This week, we focus on three areas: allowing federal prosecution of marijuana offenses where states have made marijuana legal, allowing off shore oil exploration throughout US coastal areas, and escalating regime change efforts in Iran. Each of these actions creates the potential for a larger boomerang in favor of economic, racial and environmental justice and peace if we organize around them.

Is Going Backward on Marijuana Leading to a Sprint Forward?

The United States was beginning to put in place laws and policies for marijuana in the post-prohibition era. The unraveling of the war on marijuana began in 1996 with passage of Proposition 215 in California, which allows medical use of marijuana. Since then, states have been putting in place both medical marijuana laws and legal systems for adult use.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ reversal of federal marijuana enforcement policy and giving federal prosecutors a green light to prosecute people in states where marijuana is legal will slow or stop these developments and, at their worst, will fuel the wasteful and destructive war on marijuana.

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico have enacted laws that allow the medical use of marijuana. Marijuana is legal and regulated for adults in eight states, and adult possession and limited home cultivation are legal in the District of Columbia. Sessions’ action comes just three days after California implemented legal marijuana, while Maryland was implementing its medical marijuana law, when Ohio approved 12 large marijuana cultivation sites and Massachusetts is putting in place their legal marijuana system. On the same day as Sessions’ reversal, the Vermont House voted to make marijuana legal for adults. The bill is likely to pass the senate and be signed by the governor.

Sessions’ action is out-of-step with the US public where 64 percent now support legal marijuana, including a majority of Republicans. On medical marijuana, over 80 percent support legalizing it for medical use. This national consensus on marijuana law reform is likely to grow in response to Sessions’ actions.

The Cole Memo, issued by the Department of Justice during the Obama presidency, allowed these state laws to take effect. The federal government not prosecuting in legal states resulted in the development of a thriving marijuana industry that includes farmers and retailers, creating thousands of jobs. This $7 billion a year industry was expected to grow significantly with California’s law taking effect in 2018, along with other states; e.g., Massachusetts, Maryland, Ohio. The marijuana sector of the economy will grow to more than $20 billion in coming years if the federal government does not block the will of voters.

The reaction will be swift as this decision is bad politics and bad economics. The backlash began immediately in Congress. Likely 2020 Democratic presidential contenders rushed to beat one another in criticizing the Trump administration’s backward action on marijuana. Not a single legislator put out a statement in support of Sessions’ steps on marijuana law reform. He is already isolated on the issue.

Advocates for legal marijuana are beginning to recognize that Sessions’ retrograde marijuana policy is an opportunity for advancement of legalization on the federal level. Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority wrote:

The development generated immediate and intense pushback from federal and state officials, from both sides of the aisle. And it wasn’t just the usual suspects of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus chiming in. Democratic and Republican House and Senate members who almost never talk about marijuana, except when asked about it, proactively released statements pushing back against Sessions.

He points to Republican Rod Blum of Iowa, a state that has not reformed its laws, co-sponsoring a federal reform bill.

It will be up to the marijuana reform movement to educate and organize the public so that support for backward steps on marijuana becomes career-ending political poison. The movement needs to create an environment where legislators and those who run for office will be on the side of developing a sensible marijuana policy in the post-prohibition era.

The immediate impact of Sessions’ rescinding of the Cole Memo was to create confusion, as now it is up to each US Attorney to develop a policy on enforcing federal law in states where marijuana is legal. This may lead to prosecution of some high profile marijuana businesses to send a message to others in the industry that they are at risk. The announcement has already had a negative impact on investment in the marijuana industry and made banks more reluctant to work with these businesses.

Given the evidence that legal marijuana has solved problems, rather than created them, has been good for the economy and state budgets and is highly popular with super majorities of voters, the movement for sensible legal marijuana policies is well-positioned for positive changes in law in response to Sessions’ attempt to go backward to an all-out war on marijuana.

Off-shore Drilling Puts Oceans at Risk, Builds Movement to Protect the Environment

EcoWatch wrote:

In a move that would put every American coastal community at risk, Trump proposed Thursday to hand over vast reaches of waters currently protected from drilling—in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans—to the oil and gas industry.

Oceans are already at great risk and have been degraded. This new proposal threatens the oceans surrounding the United States further. Offshore oil drilling is risky, as experienced in the BP Gulf Oil disaster and the Exxon Valdez disaster, and is very expensive. It makes no sense to pursue these extreme extraction approaches, not only because of the risk to US coastal areas, fishing, marine breeding and more, but also because science tells us that we should not be investing in carbon infrastructure due to climate change.

This announcement follows an executive order by Trump and new rules from his administration repealing rules that were developed by a national commission after the BP oil leak. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster was the worst oil accident in U.S. history – eleven workers died, the oil rig sunk, and more than 4 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico. After months of investigation, the commission concluded systemic regulatory failures were the cause of the accident and developed rules to prevent similar disasters in the future. The Trump administration refuses to learn from those mistakes; and therefore, we are likely doomed to repeat them.

The Trump administration builds on this mistake by opening virtually all US ocean waters to off-shore drilling. The Interior Department will hold 47 lease sales in every region of the outer continental shelf but one between 2019 and 2024. This includes the Pacific Ocean, eastern Gulf of Mexico as well as more than 100 million acres in the Arctic and along much of the Eastern Seaboard. People have until August 17 to express their opinion to Interior officials.

Scientific American reports:

While the oil and gas industry cheered, analysts and even some industry representatives cautioned that the plan’s signal may not immediately boost offshore development.

Off-shore oil, which will involve billions of dollars in infrastructure, is likely to face multiple lawsuits from states and widespread public opposition. Shareholders, who have been pushing for oil and gas companies to disclose the damage they are doing to the climate, will also be a hurdle to exploration. This exploration could take 15 to 20 years to perform during a period when the impacts of climate change are increasing and investors will be concerned with the potential for stranded investments in expensive infrastructure and liability.

Opposition is widespread. Scientific American reports:

Opponents include the governors of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon and Washington; more than 150 coastal municipalities; and an alliance of more than 41,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families.

Opening up coastal drilling is deeply and universally unpopular in coastal areas, as previous accidents have devastated fisheries and tourism and left hundreds of miles of coastlines drenched in crude oil. Coastal communities are already dealing with increased storms, rising waters, comprised water quality and degraded fisheries.

Once again, the Trump administration is going against the views of super majorities of people in the United States who oppose off-shore drilling by 59 percent, with 65 percent supporting “keeping as much of our current supplies of oil, gas, and coal in the ground as possible to avoid making climate change worse” and 60 percent prefer investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources over “traditional” energy sources. The movement for climate justice, environmental protection and putting protection of the planet ahead of profits will see their support grow as this proposal moves forward.

US Loses Leadership in the World with Aggressive Regime Change Policy in Iran

The United States undermined its leadership in the world with its response to recent protests in Iran. While the protests were greatly exaggerated in the corporate media, they involved relatively small numbers of people and have been dwarfed by days of pro-government protests.

The United States made a foreign policy blunder in bringing the protests to the UN Security Council this week. The administration hoped to undermine Iran’s government and the renewal of the nuclear agreement, but their action had the reverse effect. Other countries reprimanded the United States for misusing its status as a permanent member of the Security Council by bringing these internal issues that had no impact on international peace and security to the Council. Members said that for the US’ action to be consistent, the Security Council should have also considered mass protests in the United States, such as have occurred after police killings and with the Occupy encampments.

Members of the Council saw the action as an attempt by the US to justify more sanctions on Iran and urged all parties, including the United States, to live up to the nuclear agreement, which is an important tool for world peace and stability of the Middle East. This support for the nuclear agreement shows that if President Trump takes actions in the coming weeks to continue US sanctions or undermine the agreement, the US will be isolated in the world and US leadership will be weakened.

The opposition to the actions by the United States in the Security Council was not only from countries like China, Russia and Iran, but also came from US allies, including the United Kingdom and France.

The US’ calls for regime change in Iran during the protests also resulted in Iran and other countries claiming that foreign governments were involved in creating and manipulating the protests for their regime change goals. Popular Resistance did a special report on Iran that included a review of US efforts at regime change that have been ongoing since the 1979 revolution in Iran. The United States has spent tens of millions of dollars annually to build opposition to the Iranian government through the Office of Iranian Affairs, the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House, the Democracy Fund and the US Agency for International Development.

US’ Acts Against People and Planet Make the Era of Transformation More Likely

These are three examples from the last week of the United States continuing to work against the interests of people and protection of the planet. They are actions that are out-of-step with the views of people in the United States, views held by super-majorities of USians.

The foreign policy actions continue what has become a consistent decline in the influence of the United States on the world stage. The US is becoming increasingly isolated because of its military actions, efforts at regime change, use of economic power to bully other countries and withdrawal from agreements like the climate agreement. The US is losing power, a symptom of the coming end of US empire.

We urge people who seek economic, racial and environmental justice and peace to organize around these issues in order to make the boomerang against the years of big business-dominated government a strong one that ensures that many of the progressive, transformational policies we have all been working on for years become the reality.

Rural Petaluma Neighbors Challenge Cannabis Industrialization

Sonoma County, California — “No Pot on Purvine” read a catchy flyer appearing in a rural Petaluma neighborhood in Northern California, announcing an October 8 meeting. It almost got cancelled, because of the rampant wildfires, so some people did not make it. However, 30 concerned citizens attended.

“We live in rural West Petaluma, and are spearheading a campaign to keep our ag. and open space just that,” arrived an email to a group called Preserve Rural Sonoma County, which maintains a website and Facebook page. “We are up against a big money cannabis operation with sights on land purchased on our rural Purvine Road. It calls for acres of indoor and outdoor Cannabis cultivation and processing, which will impact our water, safety, security, traffic, etc.,” wrote Ayn Garvisch.

Garvisch hosted the meeting at her home across the street from the large grow. Three other articulate women joined her at the front of the crowd– Britt Jensen, Phoebe Lang, and Autuym Condit. Participants were asked to sign in and a large table displayed the site plan and communications with the county. The owner of this contested cannabis grow at 334 Purvine, who lives in San Francisco, showed up at the meeting with a few people. He was not invited and was not allowed to enter, since this was the first meeting of the group.

It was a family affair, with one person being 14-years old, and another mentioning that he began living in the neighborhood in the 1940s, as well as sweet dogs welcoming visitors with their playful energy. The issues at hand were serious, yet the laughter among friends and people meeting for the first time was contagious. One couple has already paid a substantial retainer to an attorney. So the group has both an activist and a legal approach.

Following are notes this reporter took:

“Water is a big issue, since we do not have much water in certain parts of this neighborhood. Some of us have shallow wells, which would be compromised.”

“The Water Quality permit will be key and could be hard to get. They will have to keep their run-off on site.”

“I don’t want the traffic, drugs, thieving, guard house tower, triple barbed wire, and 24-hour surveillance. This scene will look like a prison.”

“We should demand an EIR (Environmental Impact Report). The cultural resources of this area and the historical nature of a 150-years-old barn and chicken houses are also important,” said Autymn Condit.

“The advice we received from another local group, Petalumans for Responsible Planning, was that an EIR report would stall the project and catalog all environmental and cultural resources in the area. There are many cultural resources and history connected to Purvine Road that the County is unaware of.”

“We are guinea pigs for the County’s forthcoming cannabis policies. It has yet to be determined if their current restrictions on water use and water quality address the tangible effects of such an operation for years to come.

“Our property values would be likely to go down once this operation has been established, which may draw other pot growing operations.”

“We want to keep our neighborhood as beautiful countryside and for food agriculture, rather than have it industrialized.”

“This differs from the small operations that have been happening.”

“We have to prepare for a protracted struggle.”

“One of their applications says they will have 5 workers, whereas another says 15. Purvine is a narrow, windy road, so this would be a traffic nightmare, leading to increasing accidents, some potentially serious.”

“A current tenant at the site, a school teacher, is being evicted, thus taking an educator of children out of the community.”

“The owner lies. He says it is only a weekend home and organic farm. Then they tore down the historic chicken houses.”

“We’ve researched who the owners are, and they have lots of money.  I do not expect them to back down.”

“We have to be ready for a protracted struggle. We need to become a royal pain in their back.”

“A benefit of this is that we will get to know our neighbors better.”

This initial meeting accomplished many things, including the development of an email list of concerned citizens and creating a neighborly feeling among participants. Next steps include a neighborhood picnic and displaying lawn signs.

The group has started a letter-writing campaign to 2nd District Supervisor David Rabbit and others. One such letter includes the following:

I have many concerns about this industry’s impact on our area’s water quality, availability, safety and traffic. Furthermore, I believe that the proposed plan would contribute to increased theft, odor, and would have permanent effects on the cultural and natural landscape of the area.

More information on the challenged website: 334 Purvine Rd.

file parcel 022-230-018 the dropbox link follows:

Neighborhood website:

Just Say Yes to Conscious Awareness

Since its inception the war on drugs has psycho-actively altered the global perception of drugs and even the definition of what drugs are. The mental fog over American minds was induced via decades of freebasing anti-drug government propaganda, however people seem to be awakening from the haze of misinformation. Still, there remains plenty of misconceptions around fugitive substances like MDMA, marijuana, and psychedelics. Many of these drugs are showing immense psychological benefits in studies (when they are allowed) and throngs of people willing to cite the good these substances can do with almost none of the side effects of many drugs offered by Big Pharma.

Of course, the voices of millions won’t be heard on this matter because the government isn’t interested. They are only interested in more shame and punishment for people not obeying their profit motivated rules.

For anyone that’s been paying attention, the US government is not exactly on the side of the people it claims to represent. In fact, it would seem the US is preying on its people when it serves the whims of elites, and dare I suggest our beloved USA is not so much a government by the people, but rather the same classic rule by force empire that has dominated the western world for several millennia, and now the domination has spread to the entire planet via neoliberal doctrine, hence in part why most of the world has adopted our drug policies.

Or are we to still believe in the narrative that our government is a benevolent democratic force who has seen fit through its altruistic nature to protect us from these drugs and autocratically dictate which drugs are acceptable and which are harmful without so much as a conversation.

Did I say autocratic? That sounds negative, like it’s somehow sullying those proud stars and stripes. In honor of the doublespeak installed within our drug legislation let me rephrase that unpatriotic rhetoric with something more euphemistically reverent to this great nation of ours. Let’s say instead, in the name of safety, security, and tough love paternalism uncle Sam showed exceptional leadership to gently curve the behavior of the ignorant misled adult-children of the US and heroically save them from their own foolish inclinations.

Thanks Pa.

Just imagine what this world would look like now if America had not ramped up the drug war and thrown millions in jail to save their hedonist souls and thwart the moral decline caused by the temptations of these pernicious illicit substances. Ponder for a moment if Tricky Dick or the Ole Gipper had backed off the noble drug war front, why we’d probably be living in alternate Biff timeline replete with a proto-simian bigoted orange doofus for a president, a ponzi scheme economy, climate change superstorms, mass incarceration, faux democracy, ecological planetary destruction, and be at war with everything. Bullet dodged. Whew!

And we can only express the highest level of gratitude to those sages of greater truth and wisdom, aka our leaders, who put so much focus and energy, not to mention our tax dollars, into fighting a war on substances that could tragically alter our snow-white trauma free consciousness. Dangerous drugs like cannabis or psychedelics could trick us into thinking we’re calmer, more creative, making stronger connections with others, or even deepening our understanding of the nature of existence. Unfortunately we as infantile adults can never hope to fully understand the externalities of these drugs for ourselves or how all these ostensibly positive elements are truly evil. Our naive civilian impulses are cruelly deceiving us once again.

You know what it is? We probably aren’t working hard enough at our jobs so we started to use the “drugs” as a facile escape from the real productive profit seeking work we’ve been destined to fulfill as god-fearing patriots. Put down the joint and rev up the VCR with a Tony Robbins motivational tape, available for a $1.99 at a flea market near you, that’s all that is standing in the way of your future success. You’re on your way to millions and that’s just for what the thought alone is projecting into your future time wave reality field. Winner.

On a far less sarcastic note, to truthfully begin to address drugs and the government’s intentionally obtuse argumentation tactics then we have to gain an objective understanding of what it is we are talking about when we use the umbrella term “drug.” Everything we put into or do not put into our bodies or actions we take or don’t take will both physiologically and psychologically influence us and could be qualified as a drug if the net effects are to be considered as the definition of a drug, and in the most conventional terms a “drug” is nothing but a thing that has an effect to our mental or physical state.

One could try and separate the argument between the net effect of a chemical substance and other foods or activities that have the similar outcomes, but why? Everything has a reaction in the body and alters mood. Everything. Our skin and eyes are permeable, our thoughts can cause depression or joy, the food we eat has reward systems and addictive elements, it all has implications to our mood and health and acts as a drug does.

The proper default connotation for the word “drugs” should be one of neutrality, with an understanding that drugs can produce a spectrum of effects that are not innately beneficial or harmful. And if we are to ban some drugs because their effects are dangerous for the body or society at large then to be consistent we must consider all things that have the effects noted as deleterious. Going around banning everything in such a manner would make the current authoritarian hellhole all the worse. But to maintain the thread of reasoning, when prohibiting activities the net effects of what they produce must be the cause for banning them because if they had no effect you’d have no reason to restrict access.

So to play naive for a moment and act like the war on drugs isn’t just all about power and money, and we’ll assume for argument’s sake the government cares about our health. Under this assumption how can it possibly consolidate this notion when it doesn’t care much when there is lead or plastic microfibers in the water, but it cares we might use benign dosages of innocuous substances and feel good or enlightened.

And as their narrative goes, the government believes so many will want to feel good that we’ll addictively use these substances repeatedly to our ruin. Except it’s been shown that a high percentage of people who experiment with illicit drugs, in fact, don’t become instant addicts. And no one is breaking down our doors to get to our dangerous supply of toxic water we might be storing, feel free to drink that till you die. However, if you choose to smoke an innocuous plant which can cause good times to occur, that’s a crime worthy of years of incarceration. Government suppositions on drugs are nothing short of baseless and ludicrous, a web of infuriating hypocrisy laced with self serving cognitive dissonance.

Bad habits around anything can form and drugs are nothing special in that regard. As most already know drugs were not banned for our health, but rather the war on drugs was used as a control system, a tool for the powers that be to achieve political objectives. This fact is perfectly illustrated by a well known quote from John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar Left, and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Yet still the argumentation the establishment hides behind is some form of “Drugs are bad m’kay” rhetoric. But even the ideas around addiction itself have been exposed as lies and misrepresented through anti-drug campaigns with a rather sick desire to cast judgment on people. Propaganda created the visage of the drug user, a sad desperate creature with sunken eyes and lowly character willing to do anything for another hit. However, addiction isn’t so much about the chemical hooks of the substances themselves, but the desire to distract one’s self from the pain of a daily life unworthy of living. There isn’t a single plausible good reason to continue drug war insanity, yet it remains steadfastly weighted around the necks of the people.

The entire drug war is framed on the premise of being a net benefit to the people while government officials equivocate over the collateral damage that amounts to millions of lives destroyed from the implications of fighting the dumb fight. The most ironic thing is that many of the drugs which have negative effects on the quality of our consciousness are legal or relatively easily obtained with a prescription; e.g., anti-depressants, oxycontin.

If you want to feel numb and go through the motions in a dampened psychological state that will likely make you feel as if your emotions are encased in plastic wrap – then good news! You have lots of legal options to become a zombie, but if you want to feel alive, more connected, and hit the accelerator on understanding the cognitive dissonance rumbling through your mind – well, drugs that help you with that happen to be illegal in most states. It’s almost like they wanted to keep you dumb and numb on purpose.

America cannot be considered a free society with a straight face unless the choice of what we put into our own bodies and what we do with our consciousness is considered part of our innate free will as conscious beings on this planet. We are being robbed of the right to choose how to treat and care for our own mental and physical health over the nonsense government and corporate overreach promotes. The system they endorse seeks to use us for profit rather than help us, this is not symbiosis between government, business, and the people, this is top down parasitic behavior.

Drug schedules, like all immoral legislation, creates its own language and redefines words at a whim to find some ridiculous narrative to cower behind so they can continue to enforce policies that are arbitrary, deeply authoritarian, and paternalistic even in their euphemistic Orwellian dialect. Government officials are corporate fellating liars who are too afraid to have an honest open conversation mostly because they know they have no intellectual ground on which to stand. So they hide behind podiums at fabricated press conferences with false time restraints and if they are forced to briefly confront the issue they will lie directly, possibly not allow for rebuttal, and walk away with their socio-economic power like a child who doesn’t want others to play with their toys.

Sorry citizens, they’d totally sit down and have an in depth debate about these major issues we face, but you know, there is a fundraiser to get to, and a narcissists anonymous meeting they have to attend after. I’m quite sure they’ll issue a statement apologizing for their ever so busied schedules, and rest assured they’ll address these important and pressing issues at a later time, you know, when they can adequately study things out. Oh, and when they do “study it out”, they’ll have a little contrived court hearing or press conference where they will define the language, the scope of the arguments, what information is acceptable and what is not, what experts have merit and which do not, and provide strict ever so “necessary” time limits in debate.

Argumentation and logical constructs will be dismissed almost entirely in the decision making process, so if you thought reason might apply you thought wrong, at which point men who have scarcely read a book in their lives outside of their neoliberal echo-chamber will decide that the standing policies are truthful, responsible, and important for public health, perhaps even national security. The details won’t be discussed in an open dialogue, but they will wallow in equivocations until everyone shuts up in frustration while the banalities of evil in the status quo framework march right along in an endless cycle of pain.

The logic is unimportant to why elites are enacting these policies, as there is no logic pertaining to public good. Their actions only make sense when viewed with a lens of self promotion, profit seeking, venality, and exploitation. They opportunistically use their held leverage with the tools of capital, military, and the power of public offices to engineer a system of cronyism that works in a stilted hierarchy of power.

Drug enforcement gives local police reason to expand their budgets to fight a crime that isn’t one. They buy military style equipment and show up at your door with a small militia for the grave crime of growing a plant and smoking it.

This type of authoritarianism doesn’t work in a more true form of direct democracy, one that isn’t just democracy in name only, where representatives aren’t simply sold out elites who are put there because they are reliable useful idiots. It only takes a cursory objective glance at our society to understand that we do not live in a democracy at all. Not even close to one. The system is word-smithed into a democracy, but functionally more like a financial feudal system where the only options the public may choose from are bad and worse.

Becoming consciously aware of a new potential reality

So to briefly summarize the US government’s war on drugs – They, referring to the they that is the evil incarnation of destruction known as the US government, rebranded a definition of a thing called “drugs” which isn’t really a thing at all, but in doing so they could frame the drugs themselves and the users as a low class group of heathens. They then said these “drugs” were physically addictive in ways which was also a lie. They banned research on the “drugs” so as to make scientifically calling out the lies more difficult. They proceeded to carry out drug enforcement policies based on the lies in ways that were bigoted and cruel involving what amounts to kidnapping American people and placing them in cages for decades, known euphemistically as our rehabilitation system.

They let corporations create drugs that are worse for us than some of the banned substances and then sell these worse drugs back to us in a monopolistic system where they can charge whatever they want with no price regulations. They tore apart millions of families in this drug war while in the same insincere breath also tell us of family values and peaceful coexistence.

In search of these drugs police are legally empowered to break into homes and terrorize people, essentially let them do everything the 4th amendment of the constitution was supposed to protect against, and again, they let them do all this based on the lies they initially fabricated. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the flotsam that constitutes the drug war.

The fabrication of the drug war is a good example of the dangers of misplaced power given to governments and authoritarian control systems. The men in the Nixon administration were in no way qualified to assess what drugs should be banned on a medical level even if one could justify doing such a thing at all. They cited absurd reasoning for the laws and as far as I can tell with zero compassion or scientific backing, and now it seems it’s going to take something close to revolution to end this nebulous war that has killed so many people and saved so few.

I knew when writing on this subject I’m joining a long line of common dissent against the ludicrous nature of the drug war. Years of articles with frustrated writers like myself hammering away on the fetid dung pile of lies put forth by agencies like the FDA, CIA, and DEA who will lie in ways meant to flippantly outrage more reasonable opinions. It’s a show of power to lie with such hubris and rule without a shred of truth necessary. They have made it rather clear this not a debate, rather just another unjustifiable action taken by authoritarian oligarchs.

In some regard worrying about the drug war as a specific issue is what the installed social hierarchy wants. In an instant of selfish bigoted ignorance a government can pass laws that take decades to fully rescind. They know the public, who has limited resources, will waste them futilely chasing after an issue that is a symptom of the problem. The US government is aware the drug war depletes the resources of the people and energies that may be better served focusing on fundamentally reforming/rebooting this system. A system that is perhaps best termed as pure evil, as what else can you call a socio-economic system of control that has so little regard for life.

Lies can only persist through a misallocation of power. If one holds power they may force their lie onto others. A billionaire can keep abusing people, tell them its for their own good, and get away with it so long as they can create the social distance needed or the security forces employed to stave off reconciling the implications of those lies.

Why do we continue to accept the status quo system that does not need to provide any reason for its actions, it intentionally conflates language and bends meaning to whatever task it is trying to accomplish. After seizing control of language and subsequently manifesting bad ideas into corrupt law the neoliberal system of control will self congratulate themselves for their reprehensible actions and promote them as benefit to whatever is fashionable at that moment — public safety, jobs, democracy, freedom, health, “the children”; all the usual excuses for doing awful things. Under these ostensible nobilities the system will do whatever it wants even when it flies in the face of all good structured logic, reason, and humane action.

The most dangerous drugs of all are those which create reward systems based on the love of money, power, and status which have absorbed and rotted out the minds of elites. After the hooks have found traction in the ego-mind these addictions have the effect of leading to a mindset which forever capitulates to their own impulsive selfishness. The salvageable person who may have been there disappears and becomes lost to competitive vanities who will steal from the poor, murder, exploit, kidnap and imprison those who stand in the way of their self centered inclinations. The reward systems for power seem to cause more hedonist bloodlust than any plant or chemically manufactured substance. Furthermore, authoritarian addictions are a more dangerous threat to the world than any known drug, also more worthy of an addiction program.

We must let go of the old to let a new system begin. One that thinks different. One that is a psychedelically fueled to the ends of greater consciousness, joy, togetherness, and cooperation. A system built democratically and without social hierarchy that would never be systemically capable of letting a self centered egomaniac like Trump take charge because the process would have shot down all his ideas already under the premise they are antithetical to reason and human happiness.

A new way of being where the devil is off our backs, and the weight of carrying around a social hierarchy is dropped. The old sadistic addiction to power and ego has to be accounted for in all arrangements regarding social power structures, as power is the only drug worthy of banning.

Cannabis Cultivating Re-Visited

Sonoma County, California — Readers of this reporter’s August local and national articles on unpermitted cannabis growing expressed both appreciations and appropriate criticisms. Their feedback has made me aware of how complicated this issue is.

I am a patient at Peace in Medicine, a dispensary here in Sebastopol, California, and appreciate its CBD cannabis. It is essential to this 73-years-old person, as it is to other elders and those with a wide variety of health issues for which cannabis is an appropriate plant medicine.

Cannabis can be more healthy than some of the chemical medications to which people get addicted; it is better for one’s health than alcohol. Medications such as opioids can drastically worsen one’s health, create addictions, and even cause death.

“I got my cannabis card not to get stoned, which I am too old to do,” commented businessman Andy Cohen. “I use CBD topicals, as well as tinctures, because of my arthritis and gout. It works better than Tylenol or Ibuprofen. It doesn’t damage my liver or put a hole in my stomach.”

This article seeks to promote dialogue among cannabis growers, users, critics, government officials, and others. Participants in the expanding cannabis business have educated me about some of the complications, especially with respect to applying for permits and how expensive they are.

I support cannabis growing by locals on appropriate sites that do not damage water use by humans, other animals, and plants or harm nature in other ways. Such operations provide good agricultural employment for people. These small farms literally “keep families afloat,” as one cannabis farmer expressed.

Cannabis Growers and Allies Speak Up

I have visited small and medium-size cottage cannabis operations and been informed and impressed by responsible growers. Among the things they said are the following:

“The legalization of marijuana has opened a Pandora’s Box, which will have many unintended consequences.”

“We started growing high CBD medicinal cannabis for my cancer. We could not find it anywhere and realized we needed to grow it ourselves to insure purity and viability for my health. Unfortunately, we will also quit after this year’s harvest because of the severe and expensive regulations of the county. It’s heart-breaking that this vital medicine is being capitalized on and forcing intelligent, experienced growers out of the market.”

“I understand your frustration and anger with the recent opportunistic, irresponsible “wildcat” growers you are encountering, but I think it is a mistake to lump them together with people who have devoted their lives to improving marijuana strains and who feel strongly about the benefits it provides.”

“An impediment to getting small growers to apply for permits is that marijuana is still illegal as far as Federal law goes. Long-time small growers fear that by applying for permits they will become sitting ducks when and if the Feds decide to hold raids. Given the current political climate, this is a reasonable fear.”

“Mom and Pop cottage growers are being marginated by corporations.”

Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War is a recent book by Jonah Raskin. In a September article in the AVA (Anderson Valley Advertiser), from Mendocino County, he writes the following: “The cannabis story is a story of freedom and incarceration, a rags-to-riches story, as well as a tale about American capitalism, which will capitalize on anything and everything that’s profitable. Weed brings in big bucks.”

Sonoma County — along with the nearby Northern California Mendocino, Humboldt, and Marin counties — are the four largest growers of cannabis in the U.S. We are experiencing what some call the “green rush of capital” and the “corporatization of cannabis.” Multi-national corporations from outside that show little or no respect for the local environment or communities concerns many locals.

A September 10 New York Times article on Mendocino County reports that investors from Russia, China, Jamaica, Mexico, and Bulgaria are involved in marijuana growing there. Seven times more marijuana apparently is exported from California than used by the local market.

An estimated 5,000 cannabis cultivators exist in Sonoma County. That number may expand, since growing cannabis only became legal in 2016. Yet as of September 12 only 115 cannabis applications had been submitted. The August 31 deadline to submit an initial one-page application was extended to October 31, with the complete application due June 1, 2018.

“We want to see more cultivators coming out of the shadows and into the light,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. “The solution is to bring all these growers into compliance,” said cannabis attorney Omar Figueroa. “A crackdown doesn’t work. We don’t need more prohibition. We need regulation.”

Neighbors Complain About Un-permitted Grows

Various people contacted this reporter about incidents similar to the two unpermitted operations here in the Blucher Creek Watershed, which I previously reported that neighbors were able to get shut down. They were environmentally destructive and problematic, especially to families with young children. Our Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association connected other nearby neighbors to the correct code enforcement officer, who got unpermitted cannabis grows removed.

“In our rural residential neighborhood a stop work order was issued last week to the owner of an operation, but the grow and the work toward harvest continues. People are camping on the property in at least one trailer,” said one neighbor.

“There is no septic or legal electrical power or plumbing. The only water source is a man-made seasonal pond that dries up by this time. A non-permitted road was cut through the entire eighty acre parcel up to the top where there are at least six large grow houses, each approximately one thousand square feet in size,” he added.

“We are concerned for our wells and springs with regard to the clear cutting of so many trees and then shoving them off the ungraded dirt road, which will likely turn to sludge as the rains come. Everyone in this once peaceful neighborhood is mindful of our water supply and use; we all work to maintain our shared dirt driveway. We are painfully aware that two of the largest and extremely devastating fires in California history were caused by illegal grow set-ups such as this one in our tiny neighborhood,” he concluded.

Among the positive responses to our interventions to support our rural neighborhood have been the following: “The neighbors’ actions inspire me to rouse from my ‘it’s inevitable’ victim attitude toward possibly illegal cannabis operations. Taking action against rule breakers has nothing to do with whether we ourselves are cannabis consumers, or how we feel about the burgeoning pot culture,” wrote Randi Farkas.

“With the legalization of cannabis, it’s important to move towards county policies of accountability on everyone’s part, including growers, lawmakers, code enforcement, clearly articulated zoning laws and neighbors not looking the other way, but holding their neighbors accountable. I voted yes to legalize cannabis growing. I did not vote yes to support black-market businesses that suck the life out of our communities,” wrote Roberta Teller.

It is important for governmental agencies and members of our communities to come together to ensure that we continue to enhance our economy, while keeping the integrity of our neighborhoods and environment in tact.

As one successful rural activist said, “Public exposure is what gets the attention of elected officials.”

Neighbors Shut Down Illegal Cannabis Grows

Sonoma County, Northern CaliforniaOne of the United States’ top four cannabis-growing counties is Sonoma County, California. In 2016, it became legal for adults to consume marijuana in California. One of the nation’s first dispensaries, Peace in Medicine, was founded here.

Disclosure: I’m a Peace in Medicine patient in small town Sebastopol. CBD-rich cannabis improves my health. I support legal cannabis growing that follows the rules and does not endanger creeks, wildlife, or neighbors, especially children.

Cannabis is a front-page story in our daily Press Democrat. “Environmentalists say proposed cannabis grow rules fail to protect wildlife,” headlines an August 9, 2017, article. It reports four groups faulting state rules for “failing to protect imperiled species.”

“The Center for Biological Diversity, a national conservation nonprofit,” the article continues, “and three allies filed a 36-page comment alleging numerous shortcomings in the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s draft report on the proposed standards for growing legal marijuana.”

Among the threatened wildlife are foxes, eagles, owls, bobcats, raccoons, fishers, and others. The harm comes mainly from eating poisons or rodents killed by toxins. A huge amount of water is needed for marijuana plants; it is often taken illegally from nearby streams and huge wells, compromising both neighbors and wildlife.

“Sixty percent of all cannabis grown in the country comes from four California counties: Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino, and Humboldt,” reports the July 4 issue of the region’s weekly Bohemian. Its support for cannabis includes headlines like “Off the Booze…and on the weed” and “Joint Venture: Wine and pot mergers are coming.”

The corporate wine industry has already purchased most of the local vineyards and wineries here in Sonoma County, displacing food farms and driving up land and home prices. Many locals have left for less expensive places and more privacy away from the massive tourism taking over the county.

“California’s cannabis industry is conservatively valued at $7 billion,” according to the Bohemian. Meanwhile, “the state’s grape crop is pegged at about $5 billion.” According to executive director of a cannabis industry trade group “70% or more growers will stay in the black market or find something else to do.” That would be many illegal sites.

Visiting an Illegal Grow Operation

A food farming neighbor here in Blucher Creek Watershed, Lari Adams, emailed this reporter August 7 that a new neighbor had just bulldozed a huge area to construct large cannabis grow buildings. We immediately visited the site—now a disaster to many life forms dependent on that water, including listed endangered California freshwater shrimp, much wildlife, vegetation, and humans.

“What we saw was jaw dropping.  Land cleared, all the topsoil pushed into the creek bed,” wrote Adams.  The environmental consequences will be long-lasting and hard to remedy soon, certainly not before the coming rains that farmers and others depend upon. Then plastic, silt, and sedimentation will wash into the stream, choking and polluting it downstream.

“Landscaping filled the tributary, so needed for flood protection. A 100-foot building replaced what three days prior was a virgin field.  Three more large building sites were cleared, and the topsoil pushed into the riparian zone.  Miles of plastic, barrels of chemicals, fertilizer piles, and marijuana plants arrived. We actually stood there mouths agape! How can this happen?” added Adams.

He contacted the Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association, which researched the parcel and moved promptly into action. No permits existed for this devastation. The violation was reported to various government officials and agencies, including County Supervisors David Rabbitt and Lynda Hopkins. They responded promptly and effectively.

“Illegal grows are a huge concern, environmentally and socially,” wrote Supervisor Hopkins. “Unfortunately they give the folks doing the right thing (going through County permitting processes and growing in appropriate locations) a bad name,” she added.

Neighbours Push Back

On the next day, representatives from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board, the county’s Permit and Resources Management (PRMD), Supervisor Rabbitt’s office, and the Neighborhood Association met at Adams’ farm. The government officials visited the grow, and shut it down. Though the buildings are gone, the damage will be long lasting.

The new owner then put it up for sale, at a higher price, though to remedy his abuse will likely take years and thousands of dollars. We reminded his agent that a full disclosure was necessary; he took the “For Sale” sign down, though he did not take the listing off line.

Another neighbor showed the neighborhood group an un-permitted grow nearby. The group also managed to get that operation shut down. “Weeks ago, huge earth-moving equipment came onto the property that adjoins us, graded a large area and began to construct a massive greenhouse for commercial cannabis, all without a permit,” said Patrick Ball.

“Families with children live on both sides and across the street. We are on wells and worry about the massive amount of water a commercial cannabis operation consumes. If this is allowed on the large scale intended, we will have lost the safety, peace, and well-being that makes our neighborhood such a wonderful place to live,” Ball added.

“Country life shared with neighbors, wild animals that we see daily, domestic animals that we dearly love, and the habitat that we enjoy has been one of life’s greatest rewards,” writes Judy Logan, who lives nearby. “We must steward our land and water and be sensitive to endangered creatures to continue this lovely gift bestowed upon our hearts.”

Hundreds of such un-permitted cannabis operations are popping up around the county and elsewhere, especially in Northern California. This endangers food farming, as well as the environment and neighborhoods.

“I voted to legalize medical cannabis because I value its medical benefits,” writes Roberta Teller. “I hoped that instead of unregulated growers with unknown, questionable agricultural practices, legalization would guarantee a high quality product and consumers and members of the community would be protected from unsavory business operations,” she added.

“Unfortunately, this is not the case. We have a Cannabis Board filled with people from the industry. I know of a case where a realtor falsely advertised a property as agricultural in hopes for a quick sale to the next illegal grower,” Teller said.

“Land is being fenced off, fences are getting higher, animal habitats are being compromised and newly installed security cameras are spying on us. We need Sonoma County to step up to the job of regulating this already spiraling out-of-control Industry,” she concluded.

To cannabis growers out there, please do it the right way. Growing should not only benefit you financially, but also the environment, its many critters, and neighbors. The Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association watches cannabis growing carefully.

Growers without permits should avoid the Blucher Creek Watershed, which has a cannabis watch group with neighbors willing to work to shut you down, unless you have the necessary permits.

This group does not oppose appropriate, permitted cannabis growing. “I’m so grateful that medical CBD cannabis is now available,” wrote Alexandra Hart, co-founder of the neighborhood group. “It provides my 78-year-old arthritic body almost instant relief with no side effects, save a little, quite pleasant buzz. The speed with which the greedy are taking advantage without following environmental guidelines and neighborliness is distressing. Our human greed may well cost us our planet.”

Neighbors Shut Down Illegal Cannabis Grows

Sonoma County, Northern CaliforniaOne of the United States’ top four cannabis-growing counties is Sonoma County, California. In 2016, it became legal for adults to consume marijuana in California. One of the nation’s first dispensaries, Peace in Medicine, was founded here.

Disclosure: I’m a Peace in Medicine patient in small town Sebastopol. CBD-rich cannabis improves my health. I support legal cannabis growing that follows the rules and does not endanger creeks, wildlife, or neighbors, especially children.

Cannabis is a front-page story in our daily Press Democrat. “Environmentalists say proposed cannabis grow rules fail to protect wildlife,” headlines an August 9, 2017, article. It reports four groups faulting state rules for “failing to protect imperiled species.”

“The Center for Biological Diversity, a national conservation nonprofit,” the article continues, “and three allies filed a 36-page comment alleging numerous shortcomings in the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s draft report on the proposed standards for growing legal marijuana.”

Among the threatened wildlife are foxes, eagles, owls, bobcats, raccoons, fishers, and others. The harm comes mainly from eating poisons or rodents killed by toxins. A huge amount of water is needed for marijuana plants; it is often taken illegally from nearby streams and huge wells, compromising both neighbors and wildlife.

“Sixty percent of all cannabis grown in the country comes from four California counties: Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino, and Humboldt,” reports the July 4 issue of the region’s weekly Bohemian. Its support for cannabis includes headlines like “Off the Booze…and on the weed” and “Joint Venture: Wine and pot mergers are coming.”

The corporate wine industry has already purchased most of the local vineyards and wineries here in Sonoma County, displacing food farms and driving up land and home prices. Many locals have left for less expensive places and more privacy away from the massive tourism taking over the county.

“California’s cannabis industry is conservatively valued at $7 billion,” according to the Bohemian. Meanwhile, “the state’s grape crop is pegged at about $5 billion.” According to executive director of a cannabis industry trade group “70% or more growers will stay in the black market or find something else to do.” That would be many illegal sites.

Visiting an Illegal Grow Operation

A food farming neighbor here in Blucher Creek Watershed, Lari Adams, emailed this reporter August 7 that a new neighbor had just bulldozed a huge area to construct large cannabis grow buildings. We immediately visited the site—now a disaster to many life forms dependent on that water, including listed endangered California freshwater shrimp, much wildlife, vegetation, and humans.

“What we saw was jaw dropping.  Land cleared, all the topsoil pushed into the creek bed,” wrote Adams.  The environmental consequences will be long-lasting and hard to remedy soon, certainly not before the coming rains that farmers and others depend upon. Then plastic, silt, and sedimentation will wash into the stream, choking and polluting it downstream.

“Landscaping filled the tributary, so needed for flood protection. A 100-foot building replaced what three days prior was a virgin field.  Three more large building sites were cleared, and the topsoil pushed into the riparian zone.  Miles of plastic, barrels of chemicals, fertilizer piles, and marijuana plants arrived. We actually stood there mouths agape! How can this happen?” added Adams.

He contacted the Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association, which researched the parcel and moved promptly into action. No permits existed for this devastation. The violation was reported to various government officials and agencies, including County Supervisors David Rabbitt and Lynda Hopkins. They responded promptly and effectively.

“Illegal grows are a huge concern, environmentally and socially,” wrote Supervisor Hopkins. “Unfortunately they give the folks doing the right thing (going through County permitting processes and growing in appropriate locations) a bad name,” she added.

Neighbours Push Back

On the next day, representatives from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board, the county’s Permit and Resources Management (PRMD), Supervisor Rabbitt’s office, and the Neighborhood Association met at Adams’ farm. The government officials visited the grow, and shut it down. Though the buildings are gone, the damage will be long lasting.

The new owner then put it up for sale, at a higher price, though to remedy his abuse will likely take years and thousands of dollars. We reminded his agent that a full disclosure was necessary; he took the “For Sale” sign down, though he did not take the listing off line.

Another neighbor showed the neighborhood group an un-permitted grow nearby. The group also managed to get that operation shut down. “Weeks ago, huge earth-moving equipment came onto the property that adjoins us, graded a large area and began to construct a massive greenhouse for commercial cannabis, all without a permit,” said Patrick Ball.

“Families with children live on both sides and across the street. We are on wells and worry about the massive amount of water a commercial cannabis operation consumes. If this is allowed on the large scale intended, we will have lost the safety, peace, and well-being that makes our neighborhood such a wonderful place to live,” Ball added.

“Country life shared with neighbors, wild animals that we see daily, domestic animals that we dearly love, and the habitat that we enjoy has been one of life’s greatest rewards,” writes Judy Logan, who lives nearby. “We must steward our land and water and be sensitive to endangered creatures to continue this lovely gift bestowed upon our hearts.”

Hundreds of such un-permitted cannabis operations are popping up around the county and elsewhere, especially in Northern California. This endangers food farming, as well as the environment and neighborhoods.

“I voted to legalize medical cannabis because I value its medical benefits,” writes Roberta Teller. “I hoped that instead of unregulated growers with unknown, questionable agricultural practices, legalization would guarantee a high quality product and consumers and members of the community would be protected from unsavory business operations,” she added.

“Unfortunately, this is not the case. We have a Cannabis Board filled with people from the industry. I know of a case where a realtor falsely advertised a property as agricultural in hopes for a quick sale to the next illegal grower,” Teller said.

“Land is being fenced off, fences are getting higher, animal habitats are being compromised and newly installed security cameras are spying on us. We need Sonoma County to step up to the job of regulating this already spiraling out-of-control Industry,” she concluded.

To cannabis growers out there, please do it the right way. Growing should not only benefit you financially, but also the environment, its many critters, and neighbors. The Bloomfield/Lone Pine/Cunningham Neighborhood Association watches cannabis growing carefully.

Growers without permits should avoid the Blucher Creek Watershed, which has a cannabis watch group with neighbors willing to work to shut you down, unless you have the necessary permits.

This group does not oppose appropriate, permitted cannabis growing. “I’m so grateful that medical CBD cannabis is now available,” wrote Alexandra Hart, co-founder of the neighborhood group. “It provides my 78-year-old arthritic body almost instant relief with no side effects, save a little, quite pleasant buzz. The speed with which the greedy are taking advantage without following environmental guidelines and neighborliness is distressing. Our human greed may well cost us our planet.”