By Phillip Smith
New Jersey passed a medical marijuana law in January 2010 and, after delays, a series of alternative treatment centers (dispensaries) are set to open soon, but none of that has proven any help to multiple sclerosis sufferer and medical marijuana patient John Ray Wilson.
Wilson was convicted of growing 17 pot plants in 2009 after Superior Court Judge Robert Reed ruled that he could not mention his disease or that he used marijuana to control the symptoms of his disease in his defense. Left with no effective defense to offer, the unemployed, uninsured Wilson was convicted of the charge and sentenced to serve five years in state prison.
Wilson then appealed his sentence to the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division. Late last month, he was turned down, with the appeals court ruling that it would not allow a medical use exemption to the charge of manufacturing marijuana.
Now, Wilson could be jailed any day. A judge is considering his request for bail to be granted while he pursues a final appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Wilson supporters and advocates are furious with a legal system that is rigorous about the letter of the law but heedless of humanity or the spirit of the law. They are especially embittered because Wilson's original trial, where medical doctors were prepared to testify to the medical benefits of marijuana for MS sufferers, took place at the same time as the public and legislative debates over medical marijuana, yet he was not allowed to raise the issue in his defense.
"To know that a safe and inexpensive herb like marijuana is able to relieve the pain and spasticity of MS and to actually arrest the progression of this incurable disease is a compelling reason to use it therapeutically," said Ken Wolski, RN, of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey (CMMNJ). "It is an outrage that Wilson will spend many years in the prison system for this, especially since the law in New Jersey now specifically protects MS patients who use medical marijuana."
Under the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, patients with an ID card provided by the state Health Department are allowed to use marijuana with a physicians' recommendation. The law specifies a number of covered medical conditions, including multiple sclerosis.
Medical marijuana supporters and state Sens. Raymond Lesniak and Nick Scutari jointly called on then-Gov. Jon Corzine (D) to pardon Wilson last year, to no avail. They are planning a similar appeal to Gov. Chris Christie (R).
"They want to put a sick person away. It's not fair. It's sad," said Ray Wilson, John's father.
While Wilson awaits word on if and when he will be sent to prison, the operators of the six Alternative Treatment Centers have been given the go-ahead by Gov. Christie to expedite their startups. They will soon be producing hundreds or even thousands of plants for New Jersey patients.
It's been a long time coming. After the bill became law in January 2010, it faced a new governor, Christie, who was much less favorably disposed toward medical marijuana. Christie's administration spent months drafting restrictive regulations, then months more fighting with the legislature and advocates over making them more patient-friendly. Earlier this year, Christie again put the program on hold, citing the potential threat of federal action against state employees, but in recent weeks, he gave the signal to proceed.
None of this has so far made any difference to the New Jersey courts when it comes to Wilson's case. Now, only the state Supreme Court is left, and barring a favorably decision there, a pardon from Gov. Christie. And that compounds the anger of Wilson's supporters.
"Our system diligently and punctiliously adheres to the fine points of the law while rejecting any sense of compassion, no less actual justice," said attorney Ed Hannaman, a CMMNJ board member.