"This is as good an example as we could possibly have of allowing people who are suffering progressive disease to get some pain relief," said State Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Union County), of Wilson, who will stand trial on drug charges next month.
Lesniak is supporting a measure in the Legislature that would make New Jersey the 14th state in the nation with a medical marijuana program.
A National Guard training flight spotted 17 pot plants growing in Wilson's backyard two summers ago, and notified lawmen. The most severe charge they filed was first degree maintaining or operating a drug production facility. That crime carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Wilson, who has no medical insurance and is self-employed, selling items on E-bay, says he simply can't afford the $2,000 a month that his doctors say he would need in prescription medicine.
"I've never been in prison before and don't want to go there because I know my health with definitely deteriorate," said the 36-year-old.
The judge who will preside at his trial has already ruled that Wilson's medical condition cannot be used in his defense. Attorney James Wronko could only say, "Jurors are pretty good at discerning the facts of cases. They get a feel for it."
Opponents of medical marijuana argue that legalizing the drug even for a few in need still sets a bad precedent for young people that society is trying to keep off drugs.
But supporters say strict enforcement of laws they generally endorse, without the medical marijuana exception, turn people like Wilson into criminals.
While the state legislature decides in the next few weeks whether or not to approve a medical marijuana law --one version has already passed the State Senate -- Sen. Lesniak says he is writing Governor Jon Corzine now to ask him to pardon Wilson, even before the trial begins.