Drug Policy

20 Years for Growing Pot to Treat M.S.?


The New Jersey legislature is on the verge of approving a medical marijuana law that Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign. But that prospect has not deterred the New Jersey Attorney General's Office from throwing the book at John Wilson, a Somerville man who grew 17 marijuana plants to treat his multiple sclerosis. Although there is no evidence that Wilson provided marijuana to anyone else, he is charged with running a "drug manufacturing facility" and faces up to 20 years in prison. After turning down a plea deal that would have resulted in a sentence of a few years, he now finds that he is not allowed to tell the jury at his trial why he was growing the cannabis or even mention that he has M.S., since those facts are irrelevant under current law.

Edward R. Hannaman, an attorney who serves on the board of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, notes that legislators who support the pending medical marijuana bill have condemned Wilson's prosecution:

The state senators who sponsored our long-overdue and aptly named Compassionate Use Act passionately expressed their dismay over this prosecution, calling it "a severe, inappropriate, discompassionate and inhumane application of the letter of the law." Sen. Scutari went on to label it "cruel and unusual to treat New Jersey's sick and dying as if they were drug cartel kingpins" and characterized it as a waste of taxpayer money. Sen. Lesniak observed, "Without compassion and a sense of moral right and wrong, laws are worth less than the paper they're printed on."

From the judge's pretrial rulings in this case, I gather that New Jersey does not recognize a "medical necessity" defense against drug charges, which can be used even in states that do not explicitly allow medical use of cannabis. An AIDS patient successfully used it in Texas last year, for example. Perhaps a reader familiar with New Jersey law can explain why Wilson is not allowed to try a similar defense.

Wilson's case is reminiscent of what happened to Richard Paey, a Florida M.S. patient who was convicted of drug trafficking for improperly obtaining prescription narcotics that he used to treat his own chronic pain. In Paey's case as in Wilson's, there was no evidence that he provided drugs to anyone else, and prosecutors offered what they considered to be a magnanimous plea deal. Turned down by a defendant who did not believe he had done anything wrong, they treated him like a drug kingpin. Paey received a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and was released after four only because he was pardoned by the governor.

Information about a December 14 rally and fundraiser for Wilson here.

Update: The Drug War Chronicle has more, including comments from Wilson, who says the best deal prosecutors offered him involved five years in prison. According to the Chronicle, Gov. Corzine's office "said it would wait until Wilson was convicted to consider a pardon."

[via the Marijuana Policy Project]

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  1. Can the Gov pardon him the day he signs the bill?

  2. “”he now finds that he is not allowed to tell the jury at his trial why he was growing the cannabis or even mention that he has M.S., since those facts are irrelevant under current law.””

    I would say it on the stand anyway and let the DA object.

    The Gov could pardon him.

    1. I would do the same. They may object, but at least it would be in the juror’s mind. Could you be held in contempt?

  3. We had to kill the patient to save the patient . . . .

  4. “reply to this” link is not functioning. state run?

  5. Dude, 17 plants is a little excessive for personal use.

    1. He rolls big joints.

    2. We’re missing a lot of details to make that sort of assertion.

      1. If it the plants were found during the vegetative phase, there would be more of them, since you don’t know which ones are male until you start the flowering phase. Means you have to grow more plants to end up with enough females.

      2. Not every plant will grow 6lbs of tight nuggs. Perhaps he was using a sea of green technique, with lots of short plants; each plant in that case will only result in an ounce or two tops.

      3. I’m thinking he was growing enough to last himself till the next crop was ready. Enough weed to last 4-8months* really adds up. (*We have no idea how long his “season” took to complete)

      4. Also, no idea on how much he actually smokes for relief. Someone treating pain is likely to smoke a lot more than someone who likes to get baked and watch the simpsons a few times a week.

      So yeah, couple hundred plants and I wouldn’t really believe the “no intent to distribute” claim. But 17 is well withing the realm of believability.

      Belief aside, they have no proof of distribution. But i guess the law was written to not require proof of distribution: just having the plants is all the proof they need.

      1. You appear to have a surfeit of expertise on this topic, mon frere.

      2. they call ’em fingers, but I never seen ’em fing… whoa! there they go!

      3. You are correct sir. Also, an amateur grower will not achieve much yield compared to pro grower so he will need more plants by perhaps a factor of 2x or 3x. Typically, “hot rod” type of growing techniques yield higher quantities but any errors can devastate the plants so an amateur is better off with lower risk options until more proficient. His 17 plants could conceivable not even meet his needs if he is growing from seed and sexing.
        Sucks for this dude, having to deal with jail over 17 plants.

        1. Can you provide more information or a link to this ‘Hot Rod’ technique as this is something I have not heard about. Thank you.

    3. 17 plants makes sense when you think of how long it takes…

  6. Jebus. Is there *any* D.A. who doesn’t deserved to be repeatedly kicked in the dick?

    1. Not really, except that guy from Dallas.

      1. Anyone catch him on the Daily Show?

  7. While I think that would make a great TV show, I think the problem is more with legislators creating laws that allow asshole DAs to do what they do in the manner that they do it.

  8. A while back I met an NJ marijuana activist who informed me at the time that you could make an argument for jury nullification on the basis of the substantive (in)justice of the law but only if you decided to represent yourself.

    Apparently his story is that the cops caught him smoking in a parking lot and he was about to lose his kids (who he had sole custody over). Thus began his adventure in jurisprudence.

    You can decide for yourself whether or not to believe his story.

    His website is here.

  9. Why is a legislature allowed to defined what constitutes a legitimate defense. Shouldn’t that be the solely up to the jury?

  10. If I were a juror I would tell the judge I would not vote guilty unless I heard why he was growing the marijuana. Are jurors required to not think when on jury duty? It sure makes it easier to convict when the jury is ignorant of the facts.

    1. Bailiff: Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?

      Defendant: I’ve been told I’m not allowed to.

      1. Bailiff: Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?


    2. If I was a juror I wouldn’t tell the judge anything; I would simply vote to acquit.

  11. Meanwhile, the MFers selling crack and heroin on the streets of Camden get a 4 with a 1, first offense.

    But I’ll tell you what. If he pleads to a flat number (no mandatory minimum), he’ll be eligible for Intensive Supervision Program, and be out in 3 months, even if it’s a 10 flat. ISP is run by the Administrative Office of the Courts, and the AG has no say in who they place on the program.

    But what I would like to know is, why the hell is the state’s AG office involved in this? This should have never gone past the county prosecutor’s office. There’s more to this story than they are letting on to.

    1. But what I would like to know is, why the hell is the state’s AG office involved in this?

      Because AGs are grandstanding motherfuckers who care more about their political careers than they do about the rule of law?

      I survived the Spitzer administration, but it looks like we’re going to get another AG-turned governor in New York….

  12. 17 plants is a little excessive for personal use

    First, ignoring the fact that marijuana should be legal to smoke for whatever reason you want, this says nothing about the size of the plants. He could have had 17 seedlings. Or the plants could have been spread out in age.

  13. After turning down a plea deal that would have resulted in a sentence of a few years, he now finds that he is not allowed to tell the jury at his trial why he was growing the cannabis or even mention that he has M.S., since those facts are irrelevant under current law.
    This is what singes my nostril hairs. I thought the right to raise extenuating circumstances at trial was fundamental to our jurist prudence going back to British common law.

    It certainly should be the right of any defendant to present testimony to the jury that’s pertinent to the case. Motive is always pertinent.

    Fucking establishment.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly. If the da can argue his seventeen plants were for distribution shouldn’t he at least be able to say “No, the plants were for medicine, I have ms.”

      Fuck it, I’d have ’em wheel me into courtroom and get on the stand and, take 20 min to answer a question, let the jury see that.

    2. Warren,

      Generally, extenuating circumstances figure into sentencing, not guilt or innocence. The circumstances that figure into guilt or innocence are generally ones that affect the state of mind of the defendant (e.g., “I was drunk off my ass and didn’t know I was breaking into my neighbor’s house. I was so drunk I thought it was mine, etc.”).

      Here, the fact that he’s growing the plants to treat M.S. is a factor mitigating how harshly he ought to be sentenced, not whether or not he understood that growing these plants is against the law.

      [standard libertarian disclaimer]

      1. I’m not Warren but I have a question.
        How much leeway does the judge have in sentencing someone for this particular crime? Is there a mandatory minimum involed?

        I figured I’d ask because of your handle, and I have no knowledge of New Jersey jurisprudence.

        1. I poked around for a while but didn’t find an answer. Sorry.

          1. No big deal.
            I found this;

            Seems as if the judges hands are tied to at least 10 yrs. Basically a life sentence for an ms patient, damn shame if you ask me.

            1. This is why it is imperative that the case be dropped and the DA be made to lick his sweaty nutsack. His motive speaks to the fact that his pain was greater than anyone cares about any law ever.

  14. In NJ the state attorney general and all the county prosecutors are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the Governor. If Corzine is willing to sign the bill then he could/should just pick up the phone and tell the prosecutors to knock it off.

    1. What would prevent the incoming Gov from telling the prosecutors to recharge?

      1. Exactly. Corzine can’t prevent a future governor from going after this guy unless Corzine lets the process reach the stage of double jeopardy. I don’t remember exactly, but I think a trial has to be reached to get to double jeopardy in NJ.

        1. The legislators and Corzine need to move asap to get the law passed and they need to plea the poor guy down to “an apology for getting caught.” That way, he can’t get double jeopardy for this or have the charges brought up later, we don’t have to wait for the trial to proceed into the next governor’s term where the current law would be enforced because he committed the crime prior to the law change and the new gov could potentially prosecute, and in the future when he uses MJ the new law will be in effect.

    2. Same thing I wondered. After all, Corzine is still the chief executive of the state and the DA is subordinate to him, so if Corzine says to knock it off, the DA is supposed to. (Which isn’t to say that he wouldn’t grandstand and fight it.)

  15. I have several times heard people brag ” we have the greatest judicial system in the world” Hmmm???

    1. Well, he’s not going to lose a hand if convicted. 😉

      1. I’d trade a hand for 20 years.

        1. A governor can’t replace your hand. But he/she can grant you clemency or a pardon.

  16. ‘he now finds that he is not allowed to tell the jury at his trial why he was growing the cannabis or even mention that he has M.S., since those facts are irrelevant under current law.’

    Perhaps someone familiar with New Jersey law can explain – why can’t he argue a necessity defense to the jury?

    1. Because, under the law, pot is not recognized as necessary for relief of MS? It’s more odd is Florida won’t allow the prescription defense when you’re caught with your 30 day supply of prescribed painkillers.

      Allowed or not, I would make sure the jury knew why, even if it meant saying it out of nowhere while on the stand. The prosecution could object all they wanted. I’d tell the judge that by oath I’m obligated to tell the whole truth. It doesn’t matter how the judge rules on the objection, what’s important is that the jury hears it.

    2. I checked the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, and the ruling appears to be that necessity cannot be a defense because NJ does not recognize marijuana as medically necessary for anything.

      That seems pretty stupid, though. Shouldn’t the jury decide what is necessary or not? The question is factual – was marijuana medically necessary for Wilson – not legal – is marijuana medically necessary as recognized by NJ law.

      Congrats, dude, grounds for appeal if you don’t die in the interim.

      1. The problem is he will be in great pain while incarcerated awaiting appeal. He needs to get on a plane and move to Amsterdam and tell the US and NJ governments to kiss his ass.

  17. I have several times heard people brag ” we have the greatest judicial system in the world” Hmmm???

    They’re right. It’s a “hottest waittress at the Denny’s off Exit 68” kinda deal.

    1. … winning gold at the special olympics…

  18. Thanks to Wikipedia, I have found a case from New York’s highest court about the necessity defense. New York is basically the same state as New Jersey, since it’s in the same region of the country, it’s named after a part of England, it has the word “New” in its name, and it’s filled with Guidos.*

    Anyway, this New York case involved a *drunk driver* who struck and *killed* a pedestrian and got convicted for negligent homicide. The court said he should have had the chance to present a necessity defense to the jury. The defense was this: The reason the defendant killed the pedestrian was that he was speeding, and the reason the defendant was speeding was that he was fleeing the scene of an earlier accident, when he hit another motorist who seemed to be trying to kill him.

    The court explained the necessity doctrine in New York as follows:

    ‘Under the “choice of evils” theory of Penal Law ? 35.05(2), conduct that would otherwise constitute an offense is justified when it is “necessary as an emergency measure to avoid an imminent public or private injury which is about to occur by reason of a situation occasioned or developed through no fault of the actor, and which is of such gravity that, according to ordinary standards of intelligence and morality, the desirability and urgency of avoiding such injury clearly outweigh the desirability of avoiding the injury sought to be prevented by the statute defining the offense in issue.”‘

    Under this doctrine, the jury was entitled to consider whether the threats from the other motorist made it desirable and urgent, under ‘ordinary standards of intelligence and morality,’ to drive off at an excessive rate of speed and negligently run into the now-deceased pedestrian. Apparently, the threats from the other motorist were ‘through no fault of the’ defendant, even though the defendant was driving drunk.

    In the New Jersey case, we have an uninsured guy with MS who grows marijuana to relieve the pain of his disease. But the jury has no right to decide whether that kind of disease and suffering, which isn’t the defendant’s fault, creates a situation of such gravity that, under ordinary standards of intelligence and morality, the urgency of alleviating his suffering outweighs the harm to the public from 17 marijuana plants.

    This guy should have simply driven drunk at excessive speeds ? he would have had a better chance of getting his necessity defense before the jury.

    *I’m only kidding about New York and New Jersey being the same. I’m getting in a dig against a person I met in New York who was unclear on the distinction between North Carolina and South Carolina. I mean, they’re both Southern states with similar names, right? And they’re both filled with toothless rednecks, right?

    1. (and the reason the other motorist was allegedly trying to kill the defendant in New York was that the defendant had an accident with the other motorist’s car)

      1. But that wasn’t through any fault of the defendant! I mean, cut him some slack, it’s not like he’s some kind of MS sufferer!

  19. “Turned down by a defendant who did not believe he had done anything wrong, they treated him like a drug kingpin.”

    I think this is the key phrase. In both Paey’s and Wilson’s cases, they didn’t believe they’d done anything wrong, thus pissing off the DA’s.

    I have a good friend with MS, and on his good days he’s blind as a bat and needs a walker to get around. For those DA’s to even think about sending someone with that disease to jail for nothing more than trying to ease his pain a little – well, “despicable” is too generous but it’s all I can say on my work computer. Personally, I liked the idea of a reality show featuring DA’s getting kicked where it hurts most. Rack ’em!

    1. Did you mean “dickmilking pusbags” for despicable?

      1. That’ll work. 😉

  20. The judge (probably a former prosecutor) should be kicked in the nuts here, too.

    You know, for being a heartless prick…unless he is following the letter of the law, fully expecting the Defense to blurt it out in court anyway. Then the judge should just ignore any objections, and not find anyone in contempt. Let the DA sweat this one out.

    Maybe we need to ensure the DA sleeps with the judge’s wife and then tell him about it right before the Defense blurts out “what should not be said.”

  21. If that ever happened to me I would shout it out that I have MS and the Marijuana was for the pain,I won’t be silenced.17 plants is about right if he is using it in edibles,which is what my Dr. recommended I do.I can grow up to 25 plants if I choose to,and it is cheaper than buying it!

  22. I have been summoned for Federal jury duty. I do so hope it is a drug war case. But I suppose I will be ejected during the voir dire. We’ll see.

  23. I can’t believe this poor guy Wilson will have to stand trial for such a baloney charge.

    I hope things improve in New Jersey soon. For one thing, fire that DA who is prosecuting the case.

  24. I just read an article that said MS is caused by a blockage in the veins of the neck. This guy should look into it.

  25. To those of you saying 17 plants is excessive for personal use i must disagree. In rhode island, medical marijuana patients are allowed to have 12 plants in the mature state, and 12 plants that have yet to reach the flowering state, so technically 24 plants at a time. When factoring in that a plant can die from many different factors suddenly, how long it takes for a crop to be properly grown dried and cured from seed to joint , that the patient does not know if they will be feeling well in the next few months (considering most are terminally ill or have some form of a debilitating disease) which may prevent them from future grows meaning they will want as much as possible whenever they do have a succesful grow, and the fact that people who medicate them self with marijuana are not casual smokers looking to get stoned. Most are in such bad health that smoking 3 or 4 joints to be able to get out of bed in the morning is common, 20+ joints a day would not be something to bat an eye at.

    Then , if you really want to get technical, each patient is allowed 2 ‘caregivers’ who basicly have the same rights regarding marijuana as the patient, minus the being able to smoke it without consequence. This includes allowing them to also have 12 baby plants and 12 adult plants at a time. To sum it up, to those of you saying “17 plants how can that ever be for personal use” the state of rhode island sees no problem with a patient having 24 plants, and each of there caregiver providing 24 plants at a given time, meaning rhode island gives the green light for medical MJ patients to have 72 total plants on there behalf at any given time, and thats following laws and being in complete accordance.

  26. Wow thats messed up dude, seriously.


  27. Hey Reason.org; all the mention of the Wilson rally and there is NOT the correct link! http://cmmnj.blogspot.com/2009…..nj-ms.html

  28. “Perhaps a reader familiar with New Jersey law can explain why Wilson is not allowed to try a similar defense.”

    A small minded man in a large black dress said “Because I said so”.

    The truth has no place in an American court room.

  29. We are now the majority according to a recent national poll. 53% would vote to out right legalize cannabis and regulate it like we do alcohol. Use your vote people! These
    DA’s and his friends did not get into office by magic. You voted them in and now please vote them out. WE ARE THE MAJORITY NOW. Keep repeating that. We now have what is the life blood of the politician…majority vote. Either educate yourself concerning cannabis and work to remove the draconian laws or I will not give you my vote. It is as simple as that.

  30. hey governor corzines!!! lets pardon him

  31. I have several times heard people brag ” we have the greatest judicial system in the world”?

  32. getting more time than Michael Vick

  33. This story makes me sick. Even if you are not pro-medical marijuana, you have to admit that this man was not the type of so called “criminal” that the writers of the law had in mind. The D.A. must be one of the most uncompasionate human being on the face of the earth. Look at the length a mentaly sick D.A. will go through to make sure what he probobly considers immoral stays illegal. What a sick man. Someday we will all be judged in the end, and I have a feeling this piece of trash D.A. will pay dearly.

  34. Remember to listen and Vote Your Mind when selected for Jury Duty. Its up to YOU to decide if this is a punisable offense *irregardless of what the Judge tells you just prior to deliberation. Your the juror, a decision of “no merit” would end the insanity. Yeah, 17 plants-(75% male)leaves 4f plants(+-1), -pilferage & infestation leaves 2 if yer lucky so for 4 months work you get 2 lids for your efforts,(about $100-200)
    So thats occasion to spend HOW MUCH STATE(our)MONEY on prosecution?
    Vote ‘NO MERIT’, its OUR government!Lets take it BACK!!!

  35. This is why you MUST accept jury duty when you are chosen. If you get lucky and it’s a petty drug case (or another case that affects nobody but the person being charged, jaywalking for example) vote to acquit. It’s your constitutional right to refuse to convict someone based on a law you feel is unfair. Waste 2 weeks of the DA’s time and see if he feels the need to retry after you force a hung jury. If enough people do this, the District Attorneys will stop prosecuting these petty cases. One person can make a difference, but a group can make a CHANGE.
    It’s time we stand up to these Draconian drug laws and take back personal freedom. What I do in the privacy of my own home is my business and mine alone (provided I do not negatively impact anyone or anything by my actions). It’s the Libertarian mantra.

  36. what kind of marijuana plant is best for medical?

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