Lawmakers Say Imprisonment of Somerset County Man Suffering with MS is Inhumane, Illegal and Inconsistent with Direction of State’s Drug Policies
TRENTON – Calling the prosecution of a self-medicating Somerset County man with multiple sclerosis (MS) a “severe, inappropriate, discompassionate and inhumane application of the letter of the law,” Senators Nicholas P. Scutari and Raymond J. Lesniak today urged Governor Jon Corzine to pardon Franklin Township resident John Ray Wilson, and called on the Assembly to quickly move legislation to decriminalize the medicinal use of marijuana by New Jerseyans with chronic and terminal illnesses.
“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,” said Senator Scutari, D-Union, Middlesex and Somerset. “Specifically, in the case of John Ray Wilson, the State is taking a fiscally irresponsible hard-line approach against a man who’s simply seeking what little relief could be found from the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis. Governor Corzine should step in immediately and end this perversion of criminal drug statutes in the Garden State.”
“Without compassion and a sense of moral right and wrong, laws are worth less than the paper they’re printed on,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “New Jersey’s tough criminal drug laws were never intended to be used against patients suffering from chronic and terminal medical conditions. The prosecutors and presiding judge have set up a scenario where Mr. Wilson is no different than a common street thug in the eyes of the law.”
In August of 2008, a training fly-over by a New Jersey National Guard helicopter spotted 17 marijuana plants in the backyard of John Ray Wilson’s Franklin Township home. Wilson, now 36 years old, was diagnosed with MS in 2002 and at the time, had no health insurance coverage or means to pay for the pharmaceutical drugs needed to keep the symptoms of his disease in check. According to his lawyer, Wilson turned to natural substances to relieve his suffering, including bee-sting therapy and marijuana purchased illegally.
Unable to afford purchasing expensive pharmaceutical drugs to ease his pain, Wilson attempted to grow marijuana for his own personal, medical use in the backyard of his home. Now, he’s being charged with multiple counts of possession and manufacturing of illegal drugs, the most severe of which – first degree maintaining or operating a drug-production facility – carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, and disqualifies him for the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) program, an alternative to incarceration for non-violent offenders. State prosecutors have offered a plea agreement of four years imprisonment, but the Union County lawmakers called on Governor Corzine to pardon Wilson of the drug-production facility charge in order to make him eligible to participate in PTI and avoid a prison sentence.
“It is legally inappropriate, humanly cruel and fiscally wasteful to impose any kind of prison term for Mr. Wilson,” said Senator Lesniak. “If anything, this is precisely the sort of case that should have been diverted to Pre-Trial Intervention. A lengthy prison sentence for John Ray Wilson would most likely guarantee that he will die behind bars, and the court should have pursued other options if it was truly concerned with justice.”
Last week, Superior Court Judge Robert Reed ruled that Wilson’s medical condition, and the fact that he had been taking marijuana to treat his condition, could not be revealed to the jury during the course of the trial. The trial, which will be given a starting date on Friday in Superior Court in Somerville, NJ, will likely be a “relict of New Jersey’s outdated, inconsiderate, socially irresponsible and fiscally reprehensible zero-tolerance approach in treating patients using medical marijuana to relieve their suffering like hardened criminals,” according to Senator Scutari.
“Not only is the prosecutor over-reaching and overzealously pursuing the letter of the law, but the judge is enabling this kind of witch hunt,” said Senator Scutari. “It seems patently unfair and unjust to force John Ray Wilson into jail without taking serious consideration of his medical condition. The court should have also taken into account the extenuating circumstances involving new Federal guidelines on medical marijuana and the progress of in-State legislation decriminalizing marijuana possession and use by New Jerseyans with debilitating medical conditions.”
In addition to asking Governor Corzine to issue clemency for John Ray Wilson, both lawmakers agreed that the Assembly must quickly move S-119, sponsored by Senator Scutari and co-sponsored by Senator Lesniak, when the Legislature reconvenes this fall. Entitled the “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act,” the bill would decriminalize the possession and use of marijuana by State-registered patients with “debilitating medical conditions,” as identified by a New Jersey-licensed physician. The bill would also require the State Department of Health and Senior Services to oversee the establishment and administration of alternative treatment centers, where qualified, registered patients would be able to obtain medical marijuana and any related supplies and educational materials.
“The only way we’re going see less of these cases come before the court is if the ‘New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act’ becomes the law of the land,” said Senator Lesniak. “This has been an issue that has taken years to resolve in New Jersey, and legislative approval and enactment into law are long past overdue. It’s time that the Assembly post this bill for a vote, so we can focus our attention on putting real criminals behind bars, and not piling on the suffering for terminal patients simply seeking a little relief from the symptoms of their diseases.”
“For the men and women in New Jersey who have no where else to turn to effectively manage their debilitating illnesses, the ‘Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act’ would give them an alternative, and protect them from overly harsh and unnecessary drug crime prosecution,” said Senator Scutari. “If we had just passed this legislation years ago, we wouldn’t even be having a discussion about John Ray Wilson, and he’d be able to get access to drugs to manage the pain and spasticity of MS without fear of persecution. On behalf of John Ray Wilson and the thousands of State residents suffering from long-term, chronic and terminal illnesses, I call on the Assembly to send the medical marijuana legislation to the Governor to finally be signed into law.”
The “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act” was approved by the Senate in February by a vote of 22-16, and was advanced out of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee in June by a vote of 8-1, with 2 abstentions. It is currently pending before the full Assembly before going to Governor Corzine to be signed into law.