Drug Policy

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

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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]