We’ve read about the NJ Weedman trial. We’ve giggled at the attention-getting “Weedmobil.” The NJ Weedman even used to smoke at Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell, a federal property, hoping to attract and engage the federal system and eventually be heard by the Supreme Court about marijuana legalization. He named his marijuana dispensary in California the “Liberty Bell Temple.” Now, he’s accused of being a charlatan and carrying a crutch for no reason. Is the state of New Jersey now just punishing Ed Forchion, the Pemberton native who wanted to legally change his name to NJWeedman.com, for being such a public advocate for marijuana use: medical, spiritual AND social?
The fact is that Robert Edward Forchion is a card-carrying California state medical marijuana patient without medical insurance. And although New Jersey passed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act in 2010, there is no formal program here yet and Forchion can’t even mention our medical marijuana act in court, or that the act covers patients with chronic pain from cancer, which is what the tumors he has will become if left untreated. Isn’t this a violation of civil rights?
Hmmm. Let’s back up a minute.
What Forchion has are Giant Cell Tumors (GCT). There’s a long, unpronounceable Latin name for them too. They’re very rare bone tumors. He found the first one in 1999 or 2000. Most of the time they’re benign, but if left untreated for a long time — like his are — they will turn cancerous with a 10 percent mortality rate.
“With all the publicity I’ve been getting over the years, I didn’t want to put my personal medical business out there. I’ve been forced to bring it all out because of this court case. I had my first tumor operation in 2001. If I had healthcare insurance, these last tumors would have been taken out two years ago,” he says. “Right now, I have a big one in my right knee that causes me problems. I have another one in my left shoulder and two in my right shoulder. I can’t lift my right arm over my head. It’s not hereditary, and nobody knows what causes them.”
A former athlete, Forchion began having pain in his knee in the late 90s and thought it was an old football injury. So he naively just stopped playing ball, and didn’t see about it right away. But during a prior prison stint for possession, a time when he wasn’t smoking weed of course, the little bit of pain he felt became a huge, piercing knot on his knee the size of a golf ball. In just two months. The prison nurses gave him aspirin believing he was making excuses to leave his cell. Enter Dr. Steven Fenichel, a fellow medical marijuana advocate and Board Certified family physician Forchion met while supporting the medical marijuana cause. Dr. Fenichel visited Forchion in prison and examined the knee he was having problems with. Once looking at the tumor, he made a huge fuss to the prison doctors and to the NJ Department of Corrections, because the condition is serious. And things started happening. Forchion saw an oncologist, and then finally came a diagnosis in the Spring of 2001 and surgery that August. He feels lucky to know Dr. Fenichel, much less to have him visit the prison in 2001 and really champion his cause. Today, Dr. Fenichel learns if he can be called as an expert witness for Forchion’s current possession trial.
“In my residency at JFK Medical Center, I was looking after a young man with curable testicular cancer who couldn’t tolerate the chemotherapy treatments necessary. He got so violently and wrenchingly sick that he refused any more courses of chemo. And because none of the legal medicines helped, someone got him some medical marijuana, which allowed him to complete the chemo treatments. I got very interested after that,” says Dr. Fenichel, a dermatology specialist living in Ocean City. “I attended meetings about the medical uses of marijuana. I met Cheryl Miller, a NJ multiple sclerosis patient who has since passed away, but who — because she couldn’t smoke — mixed marijuana into her salad dressing and saw a dramatic decrease in her muscle spasms and severe pain. Plus she didn’t like the effect of the Valium and narcotic analgesic drugs she was prescribed. So I reviewed Rob’s (Forchion’s) case, and when I saw the tumor developing, I got involved,” he says.
Forchion’s journey includes seeking charity treatment through several facilities, first the Bob Hope Health Center in Los Angeles, CA, which actually never responded to his requests, then Kaiser Permanente Hospital, beginning the x-rays, MRIs and bone scans required for treatment. Costs were sky high (a couple hundred thousand bucks) and the hospital’s business office, even while credible physicians there agreed to treat him, made the decision to deny Forchion further treatment. Then he visited the USC Medical Center and was passed around from doctor to doctor feeling like a guinea pig. Finally, the day before this second surgery at USC, a Dr. Henrifar with a practice called Sarcoma Oncology Center in Santa Monica, CA, called him with an offer to add him to a drug study using an experimental drug called Denosumab. Forchion was thrilled.
“Having a piece of your bone removed hurts,” Forchion says. “Not only did (doctors) take the tumor from my leg, they took a part of my pelvis: bone shavings to replace the part of my knee that was removed. I was off my feet for a month and a half. I was in constant pain. I’ve resisted doing that all over again,” he says about the decision to enter the Denosumab study.
Denosumab is a GCT treatment that allows patients to avoid those debilitating surgeries. Originally designed to treat women with osteoporosis, Denosumab is a bone hardener, called ‘experimental’ because the FDA only approved it for use in the treatment of osteoporosis, but it just so happened to shrink bone tumors of women with osteoporosis during initial clinical trials. Finally a break. If only Forchion could be there to participate.
“The obstacle is that we have a prison industrial complex that trades on Wall Street for profit. And you can’t get profitability unless you fill the prisons. And the largest filler is the non-violent drug offender,” Dr. Fenichel says. “America has the noble distinction of having the highest per capita incarceration rate of any nation in the world, including Russia, China and Iraq. And it’s people like Ed Forchion. Fortunately, Ed’s public defender, Mr. Ackerman, is a fine gentleman and a real giant of a man. Maybe not in stature, but in character and quality. He’s doing what he can to help him including reading a statement to the court about the right, in the state of NJ’s constitution for juries to decide not just whether a law has been broken, but whether it’s a just or an unjust law.”
Of course, marijuana being on the federal list of what the government describes as “Schedule One” drugs, including opiates, cocaine, hallucinogenics, etc. is a bunch of straight bullshit. The designation implies that there are no real or valuable medical uses of the drug. We all know that ain’t true. If smoking or eating a weed brownie can make an MS patient more comfortable, give an arthritis patient some relief from stiffness or settle the stomach of a cancer patient going through chemo, what’s the problem, especially when there’s a law on the books here called the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act?
This is a health issue. Even if the patient is a pothead, a California marijuana dispensary owner and a former drug offender the State of New Jersey just wants to throw in prison. Another number. It’s a health issue.
“It’s just going to be the greatest moment if the jury shows humanity and compassion and justice and acknowledges his legitimacy as a medical marijuana patient,” Dr. Fenichel says. “It’s valuable time lost, if they put him in prison.”
The NJ Weedman Trial may end today. Forchion will appeal a guilty verdict.
What do you think?
VIDEO: Robert Edward Forchion, The “NJ Weedman”, just after hearing news that his experimental GCT treatment has to be delayed due to his NJ marijuana possession court case.