After living in California for the past three years, a perennial New Jersey political candidate is surprised that he managed to get on next month's ballot for a state legislative seat.
Ed Forchion, a cannabis activist and member of the Legalize Marijuana Party, moved from Pemberton, N.J. to Los Angeles about three years ago to run the Liberty Bell Temple II, a medical marijuana dispensary.
That puts him clearly in violation of the New Jersey Constitution, which mandates that members of the Assembly live in the state two years and their district for the one year before they can be elected.
It's not immediately clear how he was allowed to be on the ballot. Yet no one seems bothered enough to mount a legal challenge, even as Republicans fought successfully to keep nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis off the ballot in a state Senate race in the same southern New Jersey district for the same reason.
Forchion, who has unsuccessfully tried to persuade judges to let him legally change his name to NJWeedman, has no problem with breaking the law.
The 47-year-old Rastafarian with long dreadlocks has smoked joints in protest at the New Jersey State House and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. He's tried to cultivate the votes of marijuana smokers in campaigns for governor, U.S. Senate, Congress, several local offices and even a 2008 write-in campaign for president.
Forchion says he spends 90 percent of his time in California but remains registered to vote in both states. He still owns property in New Jersey, but in California, he said, "I totally rent."
No one has challenged the 47-year-old Forchion's candidacy, and he's remained on the ballot in the 8th District in southern New Jersey's outer ring of Philadelphia suburbs. Representatives of local Republican and Democratic organizations did not immediately return calls Tuesday about why they didn't challenge his candidacy. Forchion has been booted from the ballot twice in the past for having insufficient signatures.
Officials with the New Jersey Department of State, which enforces state election law, had no immediate response Tuesday to questions about Forchion's nominating petition.
His course this year is in contrast to Lewis, New Jersey's best-known political candidate this year, a Democrat who also was running in the 8th District. Last month, a federal court ruled that Lewis did not meet a 4-year residency requirement for state senators, largely because he continued to vote in California through 2009, though he said he had lived in New Jersey since 2005. Republicans challenged Lewis' eligibility and the top state election official removed him from the ballot.
Lewis was viewed as a longshot to win in the heavily Republican district — but not as much of a longshot as Forchion.
"I've always felt that I wasn't that high that I thought I was going to win," Forchion said. "I'm a protest candidate. It's ridiculous that people should go to jail for marijuana."
If Forchion did manage to win a seat, he might not be able to take it. Besides the residency requirement, he faces legal trouble back in his home state, and people serving prison sentences, parole and probation can't serve elective office in New Jersey.
Jury selection is expected to start Wednesday in a drug-dealing trial in Burlington County after he was pulled over last year with a pound of pot in his car.
He says he had the drug, but hopes to convince the jury that New Jersey's drug laws are wrong. The state has passed the nation's most restrictive law to allow cannabis for patients with some conditions, but the drug isn't been dispensed legally here yet.
"A pound is really not a big amount. It's like a carton of cigarettes," he said. "So what?"