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In Re Robert Edward Forchion

August 31, 2011

IN RE ROBERT EDWARD FORCHION, JR., FOR CHANGE OF NAME.


APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, James A. Steele, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. LS020013)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mallano, P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Affirmed.

This appeal presents the question of whether an individual may statutorily change his name to the name of his Web site, including the ".com." (See Code Civ. Proc., §§ 1275-1279.6.) The answer is no.

Petitioner, Robert Edward Forchion, Jr. (Forchion), is a resident of New Jersey. Since 2009, he has managed a Rastafarian temple in Los Angeles and has operated a medical marijuana dispensary that he claims is lawful under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (Health & Saf. Code, § 11362.5). He has devoted his adult life to promoting the legalization of marijuana and, in 2000, was convicted in New Jersey of marijuana offenses. Forchion is currently facing trial in New Jersey on marijuana charges arising out of an arrest on April 1, 2010. He is free on bail.

Forchion has a national reputation as a marijuana advocate and is popularly known as NJweedman. He operates a Web site, "NJweedman.com," which discusses his efforts to legalize the drug. In 2001, Forchion unsuccessfully petitioned the New Jersey state courts to change his name to "NJWeedman.com."

In April 2010, Forchion petitioned the court below to change his name to "NJweedman.com." The trial court denied the petition. Forchion appealed.

We affirm. A statutory name change to NJweedman.com would last indefinitely. But Forchion might lose the use of his Web site by failing to make periodic registration payments or by breaching the registration agreement. In that event, the Web site name (NJweedman.com) could be registered to someone else and, at the same time, Forchion could keep his new personal name (NJweedman.com). If both parties used that name to conduct business, confusion might result. Further, even if Forchion were allowed to adopt NJweedman.com as his personal name, and he properly maintained it as the name of his Web site, the name might be so similar to another Web site name or trademark that the multiple usage would create confusion.

Alternatively, the name change would associate Forchion's new personal name with the Web site's advice that individuals violate the law in several respects. A name change should not have that consequence.

And, given Forchion's strong ties to New Jersey and his failed attempt in 2001 to obtain the same name change there, we conclude that, as a matter of comity, California should not grant Forchion the relief his home state has already considered and denied.

I

BACKGROUND

The allegations and facts in this appeal are taken from the name change petition and the content of NJweedman.com (the Web site or the site). In that regard, we notified Forchion of our intention to take judicial notice of the content of his Web site and any other Web site to which it provides a link. (See Evid. Code, § 452, subd. (h).) He did not object, but expressed certain concerns, which we have taken into account. (See id., §§ 455, 459.)*fn1

A. Biographical Information

"Robert Edward Forchion (born July 23, 1964) . . . is a cannabis activist and a perennial candidate for various New Jersey elected offices. Forchion identifies himself as a member of the Legalize Marijuana Party and campaigns primarily on the single issue of cannabis legalization. Forchion has done various stunts to bring attention to cannabis legalization, including smoking cannabis in front of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia . . .

"Forchion is a resident of Browns Mills, New Jersey, a section of Pemberton Township, New Jersey. [¶] . . . [¶]

"At the age of 15, Forchion smoked his first marijuana cigarette and was 'immediately impressed by its medical healing powers, in regard to his asthma.' By age 18 he was a regular user of marijuana, and he dismissed the Surgeon General's claims of its harms as 'propaganda and Christian superstitions.'

"In 1982 upon graduation from Edgewood Regional High School in Atco, New Jersey, he enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard and enrolled at Claflin College, Orangeburg, South Carolina. In 1986 he received an honorable discharge from the [New Jersey] National Guard and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps . . . . [H]e had an asthma attack and was medically discharged. After being discharged from the Marine Corps, he changed his name to Edward and enlisted in the United States Army. While in the army he used cannabis despite the warnings from the government, to control his asthma. . . . [I]n 1990 he receive[d] an honorable discharge from the army. He became a coast-to-coast trucker using his own truck he purchased in 1994.

"In 1995 Forchion became a practicing Rastafarian.

"He proudly admits he was a 'marijuana smuggler,' driving hundreds of pounds of cannabis from Arizona border towns to east coast cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, Philadelphia, New York City and Camden, New Jersey. His Mexican/Cuban suppliers in Arizona were the first to dub him The New Jersey Weedman, because while other drugs were available for transport he only wanted to transport cannabis.

"On November 24, 1997 he was arrested by the Camden County Drug Task Force and members of the local [drug enforcement agency]. On December 1, 2000 after a very public trial, Forchion accepted a plea deal and was convicted and sentenced to 10 years . . . . He was released after 17 months on April 3, 2002 into the state's ISP[] (Intensive Supervision Program). . . . [¶] . . . [¶]

"Forchion constantly had run-ins with New Jersey state authorities for what he described as exercising his free speech and what authorities described as advocating criminal activity.

"In 2008 Forchion fled to California seeking asylum, leaving the garden state for the pot friendly environs of Los Angeles. Forchion claimed he was living in political exile, having fled the official persecution of [New Jersey] State authorities for his political views on marijuana legalization.

"In 2009 he opened a Rastafarian Temple on Hollywood Blvd., named the Liberty Bell Temple II, after a series of protest[s] he held at the Liberty [B]ell in Philadelphia. At the Liberty Bell Temple he provided marijuana to hundreds of sick people every week, doing what he preached about in New Jersey. Being in Hollywood he quickly became a '[H]ollywood [persona],' providing marijuana to patients and celebrities alike. [Forchion] opened a party promotions company called NJweedmanPromotions. He stopped calling himself a 'marijuana activist' and instead insist[ed] he was now a 'marijuana capitalist.' He started hosting huge marijuana mansion parties in the Hollywood Hills where he openly provided marijuana to all the guests.

"He appeared in several documentaries, TV shows and music videos.

"In 2010 Forchion became [an] author, of his own biography titled[, Public Enemy #420,] NJweedman Super-[heroes] of the Potheads[,] . . . first published on Jan. 18th, 2010[,] ironically the same day New Jersey legalized marijuana for medical purposes making Forchion feel vindicated for his decade of activism."*fn2

At his Web site, an entire page is devoted to selling the book.*fn3 In addition, a small ad prefaced with, "Buy the book," appears on several pages of the site.*fn4 A viewer can purchase the book through an online process, which begins with a "click" on the ad.

"In 1998 as a way of supporting his planned jury nullification defense to the charges he was facing[,] he announced the formation of the Legalize Marijuana Party and his intention to run for a seat on the Camden County Freeholders board and the first district congressional seat. He now claims this was a successful tactic and has since continued to run for offices as a protest to the cannabis laws. Forchion . . . has a history of running for various state and federal offices as an independent candidate. Forchion has never been successful in any of his attempts for public office, which he acknowledges isn't even his goal."*fn5 In 2005, he ran for Governor of New Jersey; in 2006, he ran for the United States Senate from New Jersey; and, in 2008, he announced he would run for a congressional seat but did not obtain enough signatures to qualify.*fn6

As reported in an interview during the 1998 campaign: "'My daughters learn in school that marijuana is a dangerous drug,' [said] Forchion, who doesn't smoke tobacco, drink or do other drugs. 'But they've seen me smoke marijuana all their lives and they know it's not true. What happens when the school tells them heroin is a dangerous drug? Do they figure that's not true, either?'"*fn7

"Forchion has a history that spans decades in his quest for his right to smoke marijuana legally. A cult figure in the marijuana legalization community, he achieved media notoriety when he was arrested for smoking marijuana in front of the entire New Jersey State Assembly in 2000, and garnered a national platform when he fired it up at [the] Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA during the [2000] Republican National Convention."*fn8

"[As of June 9, 2011,] Forchion . . . is throwing his hat into the political ring again.

"The longtime marijuana activist has filed to run as an independent candidate for one of the 8th Legislative District's two state Assembly seats. He is one of 11 independents who [has] filed to run for state, county or local offices in the November [2012] general election. [¶] . . . [¶]

"Although Forchion submitted a petition with the required 100-plus signatures, his spot on the general election ballot is no sure thing given questions about his residency.

"Forchion acknowledges that he has lived and worked in California since 2008. He runs the Liberty Bell Temple on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, a state-registered medical marijuana clinic where he legally sells pot and claims to run the only Rastafarian ministry in the city.

"In a statement accompanying his nomination petition, Forchion said that he considers himself a political exile because of his outspoken beliefs about marijuana, but that he frequently returns to New Jersey to visit family and friends and continues to consider Pemberton Township his legal residence.

"'Never have I renounced my citizenship to the state of New Jersey,' he said. 'I am NJWeedman, not the California Weedman or the Los Angeles Weedman -- the New Jersey Weedman.'"*fn9 In an "affidavit" accompanying his nomination petition, Forchion stated: "I have always declared my official resident state as New Jersey. [¶] . . . I have always declared my existence in California as exile or 'political asylum.'"*fn10 He explained that his "extended stays in California" are necessary for three reasons: (1) "My occupation is illegal in New Jersey, while legal in California. (Marijuana Provider)"; (2) "I own and operate a business that is illegal in New Jersey. (Medical Marijuana Dispensary)"; and (3) "I am a medical marijuana patient, my medicine and use of my medicine is still treated as illegal in [New Jersey] forcing me to spend more time in California . . . ."*fn11 Forchion's affidavit indicates that his residence is located in Browns Mills, New Jersey, and provides a street address.*fn12

B. Liberty Bell Temple

"[T]he [L]iberty Bell Temple[, incorporated on May 11, 2009,] is a peaceful [nonprofit] religious organization located in Hollywood, [California] . . . that provides 'medical/spiritual marijuana' for the cannabis consuming community of Los Angeles."*fn13

"The Liberty Bell Temple comes in memoriam of a series of freedom protest[s] conducted in Philadelphia at the Liberty Bell by Edward Forchion and Patrick Duff. The protest was a deliberate attempt by these two to present the religious use of marijuana as a defense to federal marijuana charges. Beginning in [December] 2003 . . . [through] July 2004 once a month on the 3rd Saturday . . . these two freedom fighters in [an] act of civil disobedience held religious pray[er] services at Independence Hall in front of the Liberty Bell in which they concluded by ingesting marijuana at [4:20 p.m.]."*fn14

"The mission statement of the Liberty Bell Temple is to provide the sacrament of our faith '[Marijuana]' to those in need of this Holy Medicine.

"While we personally believe any individual in need of this natural medicine should be able to use it[,] the Christian [lawmakers] of America have made it illegal. Here in California 'we the people' have made this God grown herb legal for medical use. Thus we have made a strict effort to comply with California State Law (Prop 215/SB 420) and provide the 'herb' to those in need. Regardless of [an] individual[']s faith if [he or she] seek[s] our 'sacrament' and ha[s] the proper California ID [and] a California state doctor[']s recommendation in [compliance] with [Health and Safety] code [section] 11362.5 we will provide it as a duty of our faith. We regard this as one of our ministerly duties to provide [the] sacrament to those in need and want of it.[]"*fn15 The Web site describes the religious use of marijuana dating back to ancient times.*fn16

A video features Forchion giving a walking tour of the temple while explaining how to enter the premises and purchase marijuana. During the tour, he points to a "menu board" that lists the various strains of marijuana for sale, commenting that the temple has around 25 different strains which frequently change. The temple also offers marijuana products in nonsmoking form, such as popcorn, brownies, and butter. The walking tour ends with a view of the temple's smoking lounge.*fn17

A "medicine menu" shows the available strains of marijuana and their prices.*fn18 Discounts are available for certain illnesses, and new customers get a bonus with their first purchase.*fn19

On July 14, 2010, the Liberty Bell Temple was raided by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). "'The LAPD confiscated three pounds of medical marijuana, almost $7,000 of supplies and all the cash on the premises. [The] Temple staff was handcuffed and [Forchion and his] partner . . . were arrested and jailed.'"*fn20 In response, the temple filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city (Liberty Bell Temple II v. City of Los Angeles (Super. Ct. L.A. County, 2010, No. BC442491)).*fn21 The temple unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the city from conducting another raid. It did not seek a preliminary injunction.*fn22 But the temple intends to go forward with the litigation.*fn23 After the raid, the temple reopened and has continued to operate without incident.

On August 11, 2010, the city issued a press release discussing the temple's lawsuit, saying: "Operators of the Liberty Bell Temple dispensary initially sought a temporary restraining order against the City seeking to stay any enforcement against [its] location on religious grounds, which the court denied on July 29, 2010. Liberty Bell did, however, have the option to pursue a preliminary injunction against the City which it no longer intends to do, according to correspondence with the City Attorney's Office.

"On July 14, 2010 officers with the Los Angeles Police Department obtained a court-ordered search warrant for the Liberty Bell Temple dispensary, located [on] Hollywood Boulevard, after officers made undercover buys of marijuana from the facility in violation of state and local law. Declarations by Los Angeles Police Officers confirmed that the sales of marijuana occurred without any religious activity or pretense. Officers were able to recover several hundred grams of marijuana from ...


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