Conviction, Sentence Upheld In Franklin MS Patient’s Marijuana Case

The township man arrested for growing marijuana to relieve his symptoms of multiple sclerosis will return to prison after his conviction was upheld by a state appeals court.

In a ruling issued Tuesday, the court rejected John Ray Wilson’s appeal that he was entitled to use his medical condition in his defense at trial and that his five-year state prison sentence was excessive.

His attorney, James Wronko, said Tuesday that they did not plan to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Wilson, who had been free on bail pending the appeal, instead will prepare to go back to prison and reapply for the state’s Intensive Supervision Release program that could allow him to be released within months, Wronko said.

“I think at this point he would be an ideal candidate, and I would anticipate the program would accept him,” Wronko said.

Wilson, 38, was arrested in August 2008 after a National Guard helicopter crew spotted a marijuana patch behind his rented home on Skillmans Lane. Police later found 17 plants that were 5 to 6 feet tall.

As the case went to court, Wronko said his client began growing the marijuana to treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis because he did not have insurance and could not afford prescriptions.

But Superior Court Judge Robert Reed, sitting in Somerville, in 2009 barred Wilson from using his medical condition as a defense and from referencing it at trial. A jury that December found him not guilty of maintaining a drug-manufacturing facility, the most serious offense, but guilty of second-degree manufacturing marijuana plants and third-degree possession of psilocybin mushrooms.

The following March, Reed sentenced Wilson to five years in prison. He was released a month later on $15,000 bail, pending an appeal of his conviction.

On Tuesday, the three-judge appellate panel wrote that it found no abuse of discretion or error of judgment by the trial court. The judges rejected Wilson’s argument that the case constituted an exception that is allowed under the state law governing the manufacturing of marijuana.

The panel also found that the trial court’s sentence was not excessive after weighing factors such as Wilson’s ability to get treatment in prison against considerations such as his criminal record, which include charges of burglary and a restraining order.

“Although we sympathize with (the) defendant’s medical condition, the record is devoid of any evidence that he will not obtain satisfactory medical treatment while incarcerated,” the judges wrote in the 15-page opinion. “As a result, we agree with the trial court’s determination that there are no extraordinary mitigating factors in this case.”

The judges relied in part on cases from other states, noting that no other New Jersey court had previously considered whether there was a “personal use defense” to growing marijuana.

The ruling drew renewed outcry from medical marijuana advocates and state senators Raymond Lesniak and Nicholas Scutari, who had called for him to be pardoned by then-Gov. Jon S. Corzine and now are seeking his pardon from Gov. Chris Christie.

Lesniak, D-Union, said the case “cries out for clemency both under of the intent of the law and on just a pure social justice and compassion basis.” He and Scutari both said Tuesday that it was a waste of taxpayer money to send Wilson to jail.

“It makes no economic sense, it makes no social justice sense,” Lesniak said. “I would reiterate my plea to the attorney general and the governor to do the right thing and just allow him to get into pretrial intervention.”

The court’s decision comes about a week after Christie announced he would allow the state to begin dispensing marijuana to patients who demonstrate a medical need. He had held off on implementing the law since it was signed in January 2010 by Corzine, citing concerns about potential abuses of the program and prosecution by federal authorities.

Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, called it “devastating” and “unfair” that Wilson would return to jail as a result of the ruling. He pointed to public demonstrations, letters and a Facebook page that was established in support of Wilson.

“To arrest this guy and send him to prison is just so inappropriate,” Wolski said.

Wronko, Wilson’s attorney, said the outcome was disappointing after he and his client hoped that his medical condition “would have resulted in something different.”

“I still think the statute as it’s being interpreted is unduly harsh, that simply because you’re growing marijuana, as opposed to buying or carrying, you’re not allowed to exercise it as a personal defense,” Wronko said. “I think it’s unfair.”

– Article originally from My Central Jersey.