Senators Say Five-Year Sentence Amounts to ‘Cruel and Unusual Punishment’
TRENTON – A resolution sponsored by Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Nicholas P. Scutari which would urge Governor Christie to exercise executive clemency to commute the five-year prison sentence for John Ray Wilson, a multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferer who was convicted of marijuana manufacturing in an attempt to self-medicate for his disease was approved today by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 8-1 with two abstentions.
“It rises to the level of ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment to imprison a man who was only seeking some small measure of relief for his debilitating disease,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union, and a member of the Judiciary Committee. “In the case of John Ray Wilson, the court system is seeking to make an example of a man suffering from multiple sclerosis, who was seeking to self-medicate because he could not afford the high cost of prescription drugs. Rather than treat this man with the leniency and decency that basic fairness and human compassion would warrant, the courts decided to throw the book at him, and now it’s up to Governor Christie to correct this injustice.”
“Whether you agree or disagree with the provisions of the medical marijuana law, the particulars in the John Ray Wilson case are so extreme that you have to wonder what purpose is served by locking away a man suffering from multiple sclerosis for five years,” said Senator Scutari, D-Union, Middlesex and Somerset, and the Chair of the Judiciary Committee. “I would think that it would make more sense – given that medical marijuana is now legal in New Jersey – to commute John Ray Wilson’s sentence, and get him access to the medications and health coverage he needs to control his symptoms. Instead, we’re wasting taxpayer dollars to incarcerate a nonviolent offender who grew marijuana for personal use.”
The resolution, SCR-89, would urge the Governor to commute the sentence of John Ray Wilson. The resolution notes that imprisonment for Mr. Wilson is an injustice, because he cultivated marijuana to treat his multiple sclerosis, was barred from presenting a personal use defense at trial or referencing his medical condition, and was convicted for the criminal manufacturing of marijuana, a crime which holds much higher penalties than other drug offenses on the books. The sponsors noted that the sentence is even more egregious considering that the State legalized the medicinal use of marijuana in 2010 with the “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act,” a bill sponsored by Senator Scutari and co-sponsored by Senator Lesniak.
John Ray Wilson was convicted for the criminal manufacturing of marijuana – a crime usually reserved for drug cartels and large-scale pushers – in early 2010, just as the State’s medical marijuana law was signed. In August of 2008, a National Guard helicopter conducting a “marijuana search mission” identified marijuana plants growing in Mr. Wilson’s backyard in Somerset County. At the time of sentencing, Mr. Wilson asserted that he did not have health insurance and could not afford the cost of prescription medication, and was resorting to alternative treatments, including “bee venom therapy” and daily use of marijuana to control his disease.
The resolution now heads to the full Senate for consideration.