CMMNJ: Multiple sclerosis patient John Ray Wilson will appear at the Somerset County Courthouse today at 8:30AM. He is expected to be taken into custody to serve the reminder of a five-year prison term for growing seventeen cannabis plants. The NJ State Supreme Court refused to hear his latest appeal. He was convicted just before the New Jersey medical marijuana law was passed in 2010.
Wilson was arrested on August 18, 2008 and was charged with “manufacturing” 17 marijuana plants that he used to treat his MS. Wilson faced 20 years in state prison for this crime. At trial, Superior Court Judge Robert Reed would not let the jury hear the reason that Wilson grew the marijuana plants, essentially removing Wilson’s only defense. Many members of the community felt this was an injustice and protested outside the court house in Somerville. In December 2009 Wilson was acquitted of the most serious charge, but he was convicted of a second degree charge of manufacturing marijuana. He was sentenced to five years in prison on March 19, 2010.
On July 26, 2011, an Appellate Court affirmed the conviction and sentencing. The Appellate Court agreed with the trial judge that there was no “personal use” exemption to the charge of manufacturing over ten marijuana plants. It did not matter that Wilson was using the marijuana to treat his MS, the Appellate Court ruled. They agreed that five years in prison for this crime was an appropriate sentence.
The National MS Society confirmed in an Expert Opinion Paper that standard therapies often provide inadequate relief for the symptoms of MS and that marijuana helps with MS symptoms such as pain and spasticity and could limit disease progression. An estimated 15% of people with the disease use marijuana for symptom relief, according to the MS Society. MS is a qualifying condition for marijuana therapy in New Jersey according to the two-year-old Compassionate Use Act, but the state’s Medicinal Marijuana Program is not operational yet.
Governor Chris Christie could intervene, but so far he has ignored appeals from State Senators Scutari and Lesniak for a pardon for Wilson. State Senator Raymond Lesniak issued a press release yesterday also renewing that call: “I am disappointed by the recent decision of the Supreme Court to deny the appeal of John Ray Wilson. Mr. Wilson was not selling drugs on our streets. He was merely trying to alleviate the symptoms of a dreadfully painful and regressive disease. It is unconscionable that this Friday he will be behind bars. MORE
RELATED: On Jan 18. 2010, the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was signed into law to aid in alleviating the chronic pain of seriously ill New Jerseyans like Elise Segal. Nationwide, a number of health care authorities have reported that components of the plant can be successfully used to manage chronic pain when processed into lozenges or used in inhalation therapy.
After the legislation was enacted, the state Department of Health and Senior Services selected a half dozen entities to run Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs) for the state’s medicinal marijuana program.
However, finding locations willing to grow and distribute the marijuana seems to have become more of a headache than a pain reliever for the six nonprofit organizations granted permission to operate marijuana facilities in this state.
“If someone told me then that I would still be fighting now for the compassion that seriously ill New Jerseyans deserve, I never would have believed them,” Segal added. “It’s appalling that, after five years of intense advocacy before passage and another two years after enactment, we are still in the same horrible predicament because there has been no implementation of the bill.”
As patients anxiously await access to therapeutic cannabis — an alternative proven beneficial in treatment for debilitating conditions by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine in 1999 — all of the South Jersey municipalities approached by state-approved organizations so far have rejected treatment centers in their neighborhood. MORE