Another Victim of the War on Drugs: N.J. Man with Multiple Sclerosis gets Prison for Growing Marijuana

medical-marijuana-john-ray-wilson.JPGMarch 20, 2010 –  John Ray Wilson, a multiple sclerosis patient, is lead out of Superior Court in Somerville after being sentenced to five years in state prison for manufacturing and drug possession. A jury convicted him for growing 17 marijuana plants behind the house he rented in 2008. His case drew national attention amid the medical marijuana debate.

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP (Somerset) — The judge who sentenced a Somerset County man to five years in prison Friday for growing marijuana to treat his multiple sclerosis noted there are others who suffer from the disease who don’t resort to illegal behavior.

“Many people who suffer from MS and other chronic diseases do not use it as justification to break the law,” Superior Court Judge Robert Reed told a Somerville courtroom packed with supporters of the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, which takes effect in July and will give patients with debilitating diseases structured access to the drug.

In handing down the sentence, Reed noted the defendant, John Ray Wilson, began using marijuana at age 15, years before he was diagnosed with MS in 2002. The judge also said he took into consideration Wilson’s four prior arrests, including a 2004 guilty plea for harassment.

Wilson, 37, of Franklin Township, was tried in December and a jury convicted him of second-degree drug manufacturing for growing 17 plants, and third-degree possession of psilocybin mushrooms.Jurors acquitted Wilson of the most serious offense, first-degree operation of a drug-manufacturing facility.

In court Friday, Reed said he recognized the sympathy many had expressed for Wilson, but said there were not enough factors to justify giving Wilson probation or to sentence him for a lower-degree crime. Instead, he gave Wilson the lowest possible sentence for a second-degree crime and gave him a concurrent three years for possession of the mushrooms.

“For me to decide that Mr. Wilson is ‘morally blameless’ and therefore should not be subject to criminal sanctions, is to decide that I am the arbiter of justice, guided by no more than my own view of what is morally right and wrong,” Reed said.

During the trial, Reed barred Wilson from using his illness as a defense. Under the law, there is no personal-use exemption for the cultivation of marijuana and at the time of the trial, there was no law that permitted the medicinal use of the drug.

The judge allowed Wilson to make a brief reference while he was on the witness stand, but only to rebut testimony of two State Police detectives who said they never asked why he was growing the plants behind the home he rented in Franklin Township.

Reed’s sentence reduced Wilson’s mother and sister to tears as his father glared at the judge.

Before the sentencing, Wilson apologized.

“I don’t want to stand up here and make excuses for what I’ve done,” he said. “I had no malicious intents to start a drug distribution facility. Honestly, it was trying to treat my MS.”

Defense lawyer James Wronko said Wilson was uninsured and other alternative treatments for his MS had failed. “Mr. Wilson’s acts never affected any other members of society, except for the drug companies,” he said.

Deputy Attorney General Daniel Bornstein argued for a seven year sentence, highlighting Wilson’s criminal history.

Chris Goldstein, a board member for the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, said he felt the judge showed as much leniency as he could.

“If the Legislature had passed the bill prior to 2008, John would be part of a state medical program for cannabis, and he would not have had to grow his own,” he said.

“I continue to be amazed that in our system of justice, an individual who is growing marijuana to treat his personal multiple sclerosis ends up in state prison,” said Wronko, who promised an appeal. “I find it extremely ironic that an individual who could not afford medicine and had to resort to growing marijuana is now going to state prison where he will be given access to all the drugs available to treat multiple sclerosis.”

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