A somerset County man who tried to use a medical defense for several marijuana charges received a split verdict from a jury in Somerville.
John Wilson suffers from MS and was caught growing 17 pot plants at his rental home in the summer of 2008.
Despite his attorney's effort to use Wilson's medical condition as a defense, the jury convicted him on a "manufacturing" charge, as well as a separate count for possession of a baggie of psychedelic mushrooms.
However, the jury did find him not guilty on the most serious charge of maintaining a manufacturing facility for marijuana.
It did not appear, however, that the decision on that count had anything top do with the medical marijuana defense his attorney was briefly able to raise during the two day trial.
"We asked the judge to be lenient," said juror Ron Dimura just moments after they convicted Wilson on two of three drug counts.
Dimura said Wilson may not "have been the smartest person," but the jurors' "hearts went out to him." And he said that was brought up at their post-trial meeting with Judge Robert Reed, when they asked for leniency.
The judge in the case had reversed course yesterday, allowing Wilson to testify about his medical condition.
But then, after taking the stand in his own defense Wednesday, and after multiple conferences among the lawyers and the judge, Wilson was allowed to say "I told them(the arresting officers) I was not a drug dealer and I was using the marijuana for my MS(Multiple Sclerosis)."
But no followup was allowed. There was no chance to expand on Wilson's claim of MS, and Judge Reed made clear there will not be as the trial goes to closing arguments on Thursday in the Somerset County Courthouse.
Wilson faced up to 20 years on the drug manufacturing charge, much to the frustration of medical marijuana advocates.
"These (laws) were intended for cocaine kingpins and heroin dealers, not for an MS patient growing 17 cannabis plants for his own personal use," said the Coalition's Miller.
But any crack in the wall against medical marijuana does not go down well with many drug addiction experts. A block from the courthouse in Somerville, the feeling at the Somerset Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency is that medical marijuana may lead to increased recreational use of pot.
Executive Director Sharon Lutz quoted a recent study at the University of Michigan that draws that conclusion. "It's(marijuana use) going to skyrocket once this occurs and you've seen it in other states that have passed it," said Lutz. "There's no way to monitor it and the message to the kids is 'Yes, this is OK, it's safe, it's medically used, then I can do it,'" she added.
Police say Wilson never denied growing the marijuana when they came to his house on August 18th, 2008 after a National Guard helicopter spotted the plants from the air.
When they searched his home, they also found two sandwich bags of pot, along with another small bag of what turned out to be illegal, hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Two sympathetic state senators want Governor Jon Corzine to pardon Wilson before Corzine leaves office January 19th.
Those two senators, Nicholas Scutari and Ray Lesniak, are also leading an effort in the lame duck legislature to pass a Medical Marijuana law before Republican Chris Christie takes office that day. Although Christie has said he supports Medical Marijuana, it is not clear he would approve the current version before the legislature.