MOUNT HOLLY — Activist NJWeedman can either defend himself or have a public defender represent him, but not both, a Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.
Judge Charles Delehey said the method by which marijuana activist Ed Forchion would like to proceed during his upcoming drug-distribution trial was too “ambivalent” and assigned Public Defender Donald Ackerman to represent him.
The trial, which was expected to begin shortly, was moved to April 2012 for medical reasons.
Forchion argued that Delehey’s ruling would not allow him to present the defense he wishes, particularly because the Office of the Public Defender will not subpoena several witnesses who he believes would help his cause, he said.
“You just eviscerated my Sixth Amendment rights,” Forchion said, referring to a provision in the U.S. Constitution that grants the right of defendants to obtain witnesses in their favor.
Forchion said he wanted to call a chemistry professor from Penn State University, his Rastafarian minister, a personal physician, and several New Jersey lawmakers who co-sponsored a bill that legalized marijuana in the state for certain medical purposes, but the Office of the Public Defender would not allow it.
Forchion had said he’d like to at least give his own opening arguments to defend himself against charges that police found a pound of marijuana in the trunk of his car in April 2010, but he left it unclear how he would proceed after that.
“The court will not engage in hybrid representation,” Delehey said Wednesday and assigned the public defender. “Frankly, the court has great concern and fear that we will be left with a mistrial. The court will not permit this to be a dry run for a second time around.”
The ruling comes months after Delehey said Forchion would be permitted to defend himself.
The activist said then that he would make a final decision on how he would proceed after the same judge ruled whether he could also challenge the state’s criminal code as being in contradiction with the new medical marijuana law.
Forchion planned to argue that New Jersey’s listing of marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no medicinal value contradicts the new law, but that was dealt a blow when Delehey rejected the notion.
“The court is satisfied that the use of marijuana is prohibited,” the judge said. “The issue in this matter is whether you possessed it. Did you possess it? Did you possess it with the intent to distribute it?”
Forchion called Delehey’s rulings a “mockery” and said he planned to appeal.
Whether his appeal will be heard by a higher court before or after the trial is unclear.
Forchion, who claims dual residency in Pemberton Township and California, has been a strong proponent for the legalization of marijuana and owns a medical dispensary in California.
He said he is an approved medical user in that state to help treat tumors on bones in his leg.
Delehey granted a request from Forchion to push the trial back six months for the tumors to be surgically removed.
If convicted of the charges, Forchion could be sentenced to up to 10 years in state prison and not be eligible for parole for three because he was convicted of a drug charge in Camden County.
Forchion had rejected a deal from the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office to plead guilty to lesser charges and be sentenced to six years with three years before parole eligibility.
Forchion is also running in November as an independent for the 8th District seat in the state Assembly.