TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A New Jersey marijuana advocate dubbed NJ Weedman says authorities "exaggerated big-time" in charging him with distributing pot from his restaurant and cannabis church.
Ed Forchion also said his arrest has drawn attention to his cause of legalizing recreational marijuana in the state.
"They just gave me another platform to continue my goal," Forchion told The Trentonian on Thursday. "They're on the wrong side of history."
Forchion was arrested Wednesday along with 10 other people after a raid of his business across the street from City Hall, officials said.
Forchion opened a restaurant, NJ Weedman's Joint, and an attached cannabis church last year. He sued Trenton police last month, saying they infringed on his religious rights by shutting down the cannabis temple for staying open too late.
Acting Mercer County prosecutor Angelo Onofri said Thursday that the narcotics task force had received information that Forchion was distributing marijuana and had received complaints from the community about "constant foot traffic in and out of the establishment at all hours."
Police say they found more than 1,100 grams of marijuana, 32 grams of edible marijuana candy, more than a pound of marijuana butter and a jar with $85 in it that said "Nothing is free donate."
Forchion described a police estimate that $19,000 in marijuana was confiscated as crazy and disputed the distribution charges he faces because he says police didn't catch him selling marijuana to anyone.
"Just about everyone here is a smoker. So, yes, there's weed here," Forchion said. "But there's no distribution going on. They exaggerated big-time."
Recreational marijuana is illegal in New Jersey. In November 2015, local lawmakers held their first-ever meeting to discuss whether to legalize the drug for recreational use. Expanding the state's current medical marijuana law to include coverage for women suffering from menstrual cramps has also been proposed.
New Jersey's medical marijuana law, which became active in 2010, is one of the most restrictive in the country, with patients and doctors required to register with the state and each pay a $200 fee.
Forchion wasn't immediately available to comment Thursday. He said last month that many of his 600 congregants gathered in his temple late at night, some to smoke marijuana on a property that includes a large white cross festooned with ornamental marijuana leaves.
Forchion often campaigns for political office under the banner of marijuana legalization. And Forchion, who is black, has been on a long crusade in the courts, claiming that marijuana laws infringe on his Rastafarian religion and unfairly discriminate against black people.
He has spent time in and out of prison for marijuana possession. In 2012, federal agents in California raided his pot farm, confiscating 600 plants. He filed a petition last month with the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge his 2010 conviction for marijuana possession. Previous efforts in New Jersey's state courts have failed.
The restaurant's clocks are all stuck at 4:20. And the joint offers $4.20 specials that include the Fully Baked Burger. For $7.10, customers could get the Budz Nugz, grilled salmon nuggets over a bed of mixed greens.
The terms 420 and 710 are often used to describe marijuana and marijuana usage.
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
for more features.