Senators Urge Governor to Pardon John Ray Wilson, Say Bail Decision Yesterday is a Step in the Right Direction
TRENTON – Noting that a decision to grant bail this week is a step in the right direction, New Jersey State Senators Raymond Lesniak and Nicholas Scutari today renewed their calls for clemency for New Jersey medical marijuana user John Ray Wilson, a Franklin Township resident who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) and grew marijuana plants in his backyard to help relieve the symptoms of his disease.
Earlier this year, Mr. Wilson was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of possession and second-degree drug manufacturing. The second-degree manufacturing charge – an offense that was designed to be brought against drug cartels and large-scale drug pushers and not against individuals growing marijuana for personal, medical use – precludes Wilson from entering into supervised probation, which the legislators say would be a more appropriate setting for someone suffering from a chronic illness like MS.
On Monday, an appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision not to grant bail while Wilson’s appeal of the charges is pending, sending the case back to the trial court to set the bail amount. Yesterday, the trial judge set bail at $15,000 – well below the usual bail for such serious drug-related offenses. Both Senators said they were gratified that the trial judge set bail at a level substantially lower than judicial guidelines, and that the low bail amount is an acknowledgment by the judge that Mr. Wilson’s actions had no relationship to the charges brought against him. However, the Senators said that commuting Wilson’s prison term and enrolling him in supervised probation is the only remedy that will ensure that justice is truly being served.
“Given the court’s decision to grant bail, I think Governor Christie should review the particulars of this case and pardon Mr. Wilson from the most serious charges,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “It’s simply cruel and unusual punishment, and serves no State purpose to lock away an individual suffering from multiple sclerosis and treat him as if he were a drug kingpin. It would be a far more rational, compassionate use of State resources to get Mr. Wilson into supervised probation, and help him find a legal avenue to relieve the symptoms of his disease.”
“The initial prosecution and sentencing of John Ray Wilson is a prime example of the lack of compassion and understanding that was inherent in the system before we legalized the medicinal use of marijuana in New Jersey,” said Senator Scutari, D-Union, Middlesex and Somerset, and a sponsor, along with Senator Lesniak of the ‘New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act’ which was signed into law by Governor Jon Corzine in January. “However, we’re both glad that the court has come to its senses and granted bail while Mr. Wilson appeals his case. I hope Governor Christie will recognize that a prison sentence for Mr. Wilson is not only severe and inhumane, but also contradicts the idea of justice that most people in this State hold dear.”
In a letter to Governor Christie, the two lawmakers recommended that the Governor commute Mr. Wilson’s sentence to supervised probation. The senators had previously written to the Governor to request clemency for Wilson after he was sentenced in March, but have not yet received a reply from the Governor regarding their request.
“The court recognized the cruelty of incarcerating an MS sufferer under these circumstances. We think Governor Christie should likewise recognize this injustice and pardon Mr. Wilson from the most serious charges,” said Senator Lesniak. “We believe that such an egregious injustice demands prompt action. Through the power of clemency invested in this State’s Chief Executive, Governor Christie can overturn an unjust and overly cruel sentence for a man simply seeking a small measure of relief from chronic pain and illness.”
“We remain hopeful that Governor Christie will see the light and order a more appropriate sentence for John Ray Wilson through a gubernatorial pardon,” said Senator Scutari. “Given our State’s budgetary woes, it does not make sense to incarcerate a non-violent offender for the personal use of medical marijuana, especially when the Legislature and the previous Governor have since legalized the medical use of the drug. Governor Christie should recognize the will of the Legislature, and of the public, and step in to overturn a prison sentence for a very sick man who felt he had nowhere else to turn for relief from his symptoms.”