Pubdate: Wed, 24 Aug 2011
Source: Times, The (Trenton, NJ)
Copyright: 2011 The Times
Author: Ken Wolski
Note: Ken Wolski, R.N., MPA, is executive director of the Coalition 
for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey (
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


John Wilson, a 38-year-old multiple sclerosis (MS) patient from 
Somerset, is appealing his recent marijuana conviction to the New 
Jersey Supreme Court. The trial judge kept crucial facts from the 
jury, yet an appellate court last month supported the judge's 
decision. Now the Supreme Court will determine if compassionate 
justice is possible in New Jersey.

About 10 years ago, Wilson was diagnosed with MS, a progressive, 
neurological disease for which there is no known cure. Wilson's 
symptoms were headache, blurred vision and numbness from the waist 
down. Typically, the symptoms of MS worsen over time and may progress 
to total paralysis and death.

Wilson found from experience what the National Multiple Sclerosis 
Society's 2008 Expert Opinion Paper confirmed from its research: 
Marijuana is effective in controlling the symptoms of MS, and it can 
stop the progression of the disease.

Wilson was arrested in August 2008 for growing 17 marijuana plants 
that he used to treat his MS. He was charged with "manufacturing" 
marijuana and faced 20 years in prison. At the request of the 
prosecutor, the trial judge would not allow Wilson to testify to the 
jury that he had MS and that his marijuana was for his personal use 
to treat his disease.

This shocked the conscience of the community, who felt that Wilson 
could not get a fair trial unless the jury knew all the facts.

A number of rallies were held. Many people wrote letters to the 
editor in support of Wilson, and the judge was besieged with requests 
to reconsider. The "Support John Wilson" Facebook page was started. 
Top-notch lawyers generously donated their time to Wilson, who, for 
years, had been only marginally employed, due to his disability.

Members of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey (CMMNJ) 
participated in educating the public about this injustice. CMMNJ 
supporters carried signs in front of the Somerset County Court House, 
where the trial was held, explaining that Wilson was a medical 
marijuana patient, not a criminal. Jim Miller, one of CMMNJ's 
founders, said that Wilson was prevented by the judge from telling 
"the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

New Jersey state Sens. Nick Scutari, D-Linden, and Ray Lesniack, 
D-Union, called on the governor to pardon Wilson, to no avail. Sen. 
Scutari said, "It seems cruel and unusual to treat New Jersey's sick 
and dying as if they were drug cartel kingpins. Moreover, it is a 
complete waste of taxpayer money having to house and treat an MS 
patient in a jail at the public's expense."

Wilson was convicted in December 2008 of the lesser charge of 
second-degree drug manufacturing. Trial Judge Robert Reed sentenced 
him to five years in prison. An appeals court recently said that 
Judge Reed was correct in not allowing Wilson to explain to the jury 
that he has MS and that the marijuana was used as his medicine. It 
said there is no "personal use defense to a charge of growing 
marijuana." Thus, it was irrelevant that Wilson used marijuana to 
treat his MS symptoms.

Wilson's trial lawyer, Jim Wronko, has said, "I believe those 
statutes are either unconstitutional or they do not accurately 
reflect the intent of the Legislature not to put someone in state 
prison for personal use under these circumstances."

Even the state of New Jersey now officially recognizes marijuana as a 
legitimate treatment for MS. New Jersey's Compassionate Use Medical 
Marijuana Act was originally introduced in the Legislature in 2005. 
It is the most restrictive such law in the nation, but MS is one of 
the qualifying conditions for marijuana therapy in the state. 
However, more than six years later, there is still no working medical 
marijuana program in the state for desperately ill residents such as Wilson.

Discretion, or case-by-case consideration, could have prevented this 
entire ordeal at any step in the process, from the arresting police, 
to the prosecutor, to the judge, to the governor. Wilson was arrested 
despite telling the police about his MS. The prosecutor charged 
Wilson with "maintaining a manufacturing facility," despite knowing 
full well why Wilson was growing marijuana. A jury convicted Wilson 
without hearing all the facts. The judge sentenced Wilson to prison, 
and an appeals court upheld the trial court's decisions. Clearly, it 
is a terrible injustice when a defendant is prevented from presenting 
his only defense at trial.

Wilson's hopes now rest with the state Supreme Court. We have seen 
just how thoroughly injustice is institutionalized in the New Jersey 
criminal justice system when it comes to patients using marijuana 
therapeutically. Now we will see if the Supreme Court is concerned 
merely with the letter of the law or with actual justice.
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