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Feature: With Passage of Medical Marijuana Bill Pending, New Jersey Patient Faces 20 Years for Growing His Medicine

Update: Wilson was convicted of some charges Thursday, but not the most serious one.

Just weeks before the New Jersey Assembly votes on pending medical marijuana legislation, a trial is set to take place that demonstrates precisely why such a law is needed. A sick Somerset County resident, John Ray Wilson, is looking at up to 20 years in prison for growing his own medicine.
courthouse demo supporting John Ray Wilson, 2009
In the summer of 2008, Wilson, a Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferer, was broke, had no health insurance, and was desperate for relief from the debilitating symptoms of his disease. Unable to afford pharmaceutical medications and having already resorted to alternative healing practices, when Wilson saw fellow MS victim Montel Williams talk on TV about how medical marijuana had helped him, he decided to try it for himself.

Wilson had even resorted to bee-sting therapy in a bid to relieve his symptoms, but it was marijuana that worked best, he said. "I was diagnosed with MS in 2002," he said. "I suffer from blurred vision, pain in my joints, and muscle spasms. I didn't have any medical benefits, so I tried to get some financial assistance to actually get some MS medicine, but that didn't succeed. I even tried getting stung by bees. Then I saw Montel Williams on TV saying he had MS and smoked marijuana and it helped. So I tried it, too, and it definitely helped, especially in relieving the pain and the muscle spasms."

Lacking access to medical marijuana, Wilson decided to try his hand at growing his own in the backyard of his Franklin Township home, and that's when his life took a real turn for the worse. A National Guard helicopter on a training flight spotted Wilson's garden and reported him to state authorities, who promptly seized his 17 plants, arrested him, and charged him with a number of drug possession and drug manufacturing offenses that could get him 20 years in prison. If convicted on the most serious charge -- maintaining a drug production facility -- Wilson would be ineligible for pre-trial diversion and would have to go to prison.

Wilson and his attorney explored plea bargain negotiations with prosecutors, to no avail. "We were prepared to settle for a reasonable deal, but the best they offered was five years in prison," he said.

Now, Wilson is going on trial. Jury selection is set to begin Monday.

It will be tough for Wilson to prevail. In October, Superior Court Judge Robert Reed ruled that his 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.

"By striking my medical history from the trial, they've pretty much tied my hands behind my back," said Wilson. "Hopefully, we can get a jury that can see through what they're doing to me, but it's more than a little scary. The consequences of what they're doing would be horrendous for me. My health would definitely deteriorate in prison. Stress makes all the symptoms worse, and going to prison would definitely be stressful."
Wilson with Jim Miller and Ken Wolski
"Wilson tried marijuana and found it does in fact help," said Ken Wolski, head of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, which has lobbied hard to pass a medical marijuana bill in the Garden State to protect patients. "Interestingly enough, a National MS Society expert opinion paper recently acknowledged that conventional therapies don't adequately control MS symptoms and marijuana does. But he will not be able to tell the jury he has MS, and that's the only reason he was using marijuana in the first place," said Wolski. "He's got no job, no health insurance, no access to medicine that might bring him some relief. He tries to eke out a living on eBay."

"This is exactly why New Jersey needs a medical marijuana law," said Roseanne Scotti, head of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office, who has been walking the statehouse corridors in Trenton for years trying to get medical marijuana passed. "John Ray Wilson's case is every medical marijuana patient's worst nightmare," she added.

"He was using for medical purposes, but is precluded by the courts from introducing evidence as to why, and the court is correct -- this is the law in New Jersey," Scotti continued. "But that's exactly why we need to change the law -- so people like Mr. Wilson can get safe and legal access to medical marijuana, and we don't go around arresting and prosecuting someone patients seeking some relief."

"John Ray Wilson is a poster child for the legalization of medical marijuana," said Wolski. "So many people are outraged that he is facing 20 years for trying to treat himself and will not even be able to tell the truth during the course of his trial."

In a cruel twist of fate, Wilson is being prosecuted just weeks before New Jersey is likely to adopt a medical marijuana law. The state Senate has already passed it, and the Assembly will vote on it early next month. Outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has indicated he will sign it. Two of the bill's sponsors, Sens. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) and Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), have highlighted Wilson's plight as indicative of why New Jersey needs a medical marijuana law.

"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 Scutari. "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."
But Corzine hasn't stepped in or stepped up. Instead, his office said it would wait until Wilson was convicted to consider a pardon.

"The attorney general and the governor didn't want to take any action, but they could make this case go away by exercising prosecutorial discretion," said Wolski. "They chose to let it move forward, and now its getting a lot of regional and national attention, and rightfully so, because it shocks the conscience of the community."

"The only way we're going see fewer of these cases come before the court is if the 'New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act' becomes the law of the land," said 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 posts 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."

But while an Assembly vote is now set for next month, John Ray Wilson's trial will be over by then. Barring a miracle of jury nullification, Wilson will be drug felon. And in the meantime, he's going without his medicine. "I'm not going to buy marijuana on the street," he said. "That would get me thrown back in jail."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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drug lords

Looks like the druglords in washington have good compatetion with NJ .Cops dont want to loose the power of kicking down doors .Look what power they had with the people that were saying to hell with the veitnam war protesters.If you had one joint you were gone for ten years,(Like it was about marijuana.)How do you control the world and have freedom?

That's just it in a

That's just it in a nutshell. You don't control the world and have freedom. This is not about drugs, the drug is not about drugs, none of this bullshit is about drugs. It is about control of the populace by any means. This is a war on Americans by their own government. The more people who become felons because of drugs the easier it becomes for the government to control that portion of the populace that is still eligble to vote. IE; The brainwashed. Rebel against this so called war any way you can, your freedom is a stake.

this literally makes me nauseous

and the ridiculous thing about it is that the right wing screaming for blood is the same conservative base forever trying to justify their closed-minded homogenous views with religious rhetoric despite the obvious truth that Jesus preached love, specifically to the poor, orphaned and sick of the world. The prosecutor needs to turn off fox news and STOP THIS PROSECUTION NOW.

And how many of these right

And how many of these right wing religious nutjobs got drunk this week or are suffering form alcoholism? How many are screwing around on their spouses. Morality - what a joke. I am so tired of these morons in power trying to tell me how to live...... excuse me it's time for a hit of escatsy so I can get back to reality.

Countering "Drug" production facility charge

What stands out in cannabis persecutions like this is that someone's opinion, that marijuana is a "drug", has been written into law (by legislators whose very salary-- not to mention campaign donations etc.-- was partly paid by by tobackgo corporate donations known as "taxes"). The public for many years has bought the "drug" label and I know of no publication, outside some comments on this and other sites, which addresses this phony language manipulation which translates into political dictatorship.

Publicity clarifying this "drug" issue would begin with noting that heat shock and carbon monoxide are widely agreed to be drugs and that when hot burning overdose serving methods (such as the tobackgo industry's favorite cash cow, $igarette) are used with an herb (tobackgo, cannabis, peppermint or any), hot-burning overdose "drug" effects occur which are then conveniently blamed on the herb used.

As a famous midwestern poet frequently said in long poems, "It's a drag." (The eponymous drag-expert Bogart died age 57 of $igarette cancer.)

I'm sure the demonstrations will have some good effect in making juries that are ignorant enough to meet the above mentioned selection standard hard to find. Meanwhile, the strategy could be to equip Defendant with vaporizer, tiny-headed long-stemmed screened one-hitters etc. and some legal herbs such as thyme, sage, peppermint (some of which may help with MS too) and argue publicly beforehand that his method of cannabis use also was non-drug (non-hot-burning-overdose) and that consequently the cannabis herb in the garden was also non-drug in fact and intent.

Good Post Maxwood

Good Post Maxwood

Jean Boyd's picture

National Guard Helicopter?

Well it is clear who the real criminals are here. So this guy in a helicopter spies the 17 plants and reports it. What else do National Guard do besides upset demonstrations and look for plants?
It is a human trait to find relief when one is in pain. I guess John could be going to prison for being human. I will be thinking positive, rising above this mess and hoping that the good people of NJ will not allow this man to be sent away to prison.

how can a judge gag the

how can a judge gag the explaination or reason that led up to usage?

five years in prison?

the judge and the prosecuters are the criminal here.

wait for the cost of the appeal, more tax dollars wasted, housing of this man (jail) are they providing him proper medical care?

Corzine should put a stop to the wast of taxpayer dollars immediatley instead of waiting to pardon!

Another fine example of why the state is almost broke misuse of taxpayers dollas.

both the judge and the govener should be impeached!

Surely the jury will see the

Surely the jury will see the protest outside or will find out somehow that this man is an MS patient, right?

Can anyone shed some light on the likelihood of a jury nullification in this case?

Justice requires the truth!

How can the court justify suppressing the truth in this case? Don't witnesses take an oath to tell all the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Or is that just on TV?

If I were the defense attorney, I would present a string of witnesses who refused to take the oath because the court gagged them and they were not allowed to tell the truth. That would tip off the jury in any event, and at least result in a mistrial.

If history is any indication

The jury will never know he's self medicating and the prosecution will force their inhumanity.

HAIL to the land of the free

HAIL to the land of the free !!

I show my respect for the

I show my respect for the government by doing as many drugs as I can when I can. At least then I have the Illusion of freedom.......wait a minute, I have that same illusion when I am sober..... is there a difference?

Jean Boyd's picture


Perhaps if more people shared the Illusion of freedom it would become a reality.

You're right

Some serious guerilla theater needs to take place in that courtroom, as well as outside. I hope the defense attorney in this case is not afraid to make waves - big ones.

Until the people really rise up, nothing will change. The sick & the "poor" (read: the new middle class) will continue to be trampled on. I'm old enough to know that the marijuana prohibition of today was simply a very successful attempt to stifle the counterculture and the collective action for change that happened in the 1960s. We need to learn from history and then rise up and change things. Americans, let's listen to our souls and our consciences, not to the din of conformity and materialism.

It is truly disturbing when

It is truly disturbing when the government has reached such great proportions that it can make a plant illegal, and actually send people to prison for using the plant to assist in illness. Something is definitely wrong, and it looks like the entire 'justice system' in the case needs to be taken down.

John Wilson and millions of others have gone w/o their medicine

today because of fanatic selective drug warriors who hate cannabis and love alcohol. Even if they had good grounds for hating recreational cannabis it would be monstrous to deny suffering people the best available medicine.

But people who like or condone alcohol simply cannot hate and criminalize so much safer recreational cannabis and retain their moral integrity. The law cannot be this hypocritical and keep it's claim to the respect of citizens. When the law reaches this level of hypocrisy, it is just a piece of junk.

How much tax money is being used for this?

How much tax payer money is being used to try this sick man for allegedly growing his own medicine? More importantly who could POSSIBLY benefit from this? How is justice or society in general served by this trial? Are all new Jersey politicians as ignorant as the prosecutor in this case? Is it REALLY right to deny someone their legal defense in court? How does one tell the "whole truth" in court if that is the case? So many questions, so few answers...but then when you look to government for answers you obviously do NOT get what you pay for.

Jury Selection

Has any one contacted FIJA? FIJA stands for fully informed jury association. A little education on the rights, POWERS, and responsibilities may help this hapless man.
Thank you,
Robert Walker

In land of the guilty, and home of the cowards.

I believe the judge should allow all the facts to be presented to facilitate a fair trial. However, since I do not know all the facts myself, I cannot suggest such.

I can see how this man should be sent to jail over this offense. You bleeding heart left-wingers can whine about this comment for a while. But it is too often you lefties who try to exploit loopholes in laws, so for that main reason, I can see why this should put an ill man in jail.

Let us first assume he is released with no sentence. After all, this is what you want.

Any person who believes his/her illness cannot be better treated other than by the use of pot should be allowed to grow pot.

Any doctor could allow the growth of pot only by those who are ill. But, if you are ill, chances are you haven't the ability to grow it yourself. So, what if you have someone else grow it for you. How about if you have a small group grow and cultivate your crop. You could let them have some and you get some. But, before you know it.. You are a pot farmer.

This is back to the old regulation standards of tobacco. Individuals cannot grow their own stash for distribution because the sale or distribution of the plant cannot be regulated by the government. This is a main source for taxation. Furthermore, if tobacco can not be taxed because of individual growth and distribution, then that big tax on it cannot help pay for this imaginary health care problem. Yes I said it. Imaginary! Less than 10% of our citizens are not insured. And we have enough in our unused stimulus money to insure those citizens for over 60 years. Is it really right-wing's problem now? Really? If government really cared about it's citizen's ability to have health care, those citizens who need it most would already be covered. And this man would not be forced to grow his own stash. He would not be faced with jail time. None of this would be happening. But since it is happening, it has to be the fault of the right-wing. Typical buck passing.

Read the Bill of Rights!! Right-Wing tries to uphold the Constitution. Read Article 4.
We in America cannot even say what's on our mind without being prosecuted. Media cannot report the truth. Think about it. How much negative coverage do you hear about our President. But you heard tons of negative coverage when Bush was in office. Biased? Yep.

I hope someone out there took basic US History. Remember the Boston Tea Party? Remember what it was about? Taxation without representation. Today we are being taxed more than ever on everything and we are being taken advantage of by those who keep making more taxes. Many of us are fed up with this situation. Many of us have joined together in our own version of a Tea Party. You may call us extremists or whatever, but maybe we just want our voices heard. Maybe we think the Constitution means something. Maybe you should read it at least once if you live here in USA and call yourself a citizen.

By the way. I am NOT a Republican nor am I Right-Winged. I am an independent thinker. I do NOT let others decide for me what they think I should believe. I look at all the facts. Information and such. I make up my own mind. You should too, rather than following the crowd. If even half of the previous responders had taken the time to research all the information surrounding this case, you should have come to some other conclusion than whining about the mean old Bush people.

borden's picture

whining where?

Uh, I don't see ANY prior comments made here talking about the Bush administration. Therefore no one has been whining about the Bush administration, because it's necessary to mention the Bush administration. A couple of commenters did bash the right, but most didn't. Guess what -- there is some opposition to medical marijuana among Democrats, but most of the opposition does still come from the right.

I think you're missing the basic point here. This guy who is ill and grew marijuana to get relief from a very serious medical condition, and is facing up to 20 years in prison for it. That's an atrocity, committed by the government. It's not whining to point out that basic moral truth.

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Jean Boyd's picture


Bobby, your comment is funny. It is apparent that you do not know all the facts. At least DPF is attracting more "diverse" characters.

Hi, Dave Bush was a huge dispointment The right are mostly

Wrong the left are mostly wrong too! Imagine the only way they ever get anything passsed is to add some crap to every Bill that they work on nothing or almost nothing is Passed on it's own merrit . Who do we blame , How could we ever even have a court that would'nt allow the mans illness to be brought up in court , Where are we? Tehran
Ohh ! Wait I guess good Christian 's are no better than any other extremely always right pompas Asses, God knows I wish this suffering man good luck , because wishing is his only real hope for Justice and that my friend is just Sad .

Lack of Knowledge

I wish the man the best of luck. Knowledge is power in this country. Keeping the jury from knowing why he was growing, and they are forced to convict unless a Juror knows his rights.

To the rant above about loopholes... guess you never researched the fact that individuals can grow their own tobacco in most states for personal use. In mine it is up to 1/10th of an acre. To spit out "known" facts that are just not true shows a lack of knowledge. But more power to the tea partiers... after all, they divide the conservative vote.

Governor's will not step in to interfere with a court case, but they do have the power to issue a pardon after a conviction. In a case like this, they want to allow the people (jury) a chance to do their civic duty first.

Arm yourself with the truth, as it is the real power in this country.

If it is a fact that medical

If it is a fact that medical marijuana helps with M.S. how can that be with held from the court? That is like withholding critical information. What is the point of law and order if you can't share the facts? Our forfather are rolling in there grave knowing that we are becoming what they did not want? Extreme Taxs? Choosing what you want for yourself as long as it does not hurt or effect people around you? Are those not the main reasons the United States of American are a country? YOU SAY WE ARE FREE............SHOW ME!!!!!!!!!!!

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