MS Patient Gets 5 Years in Prison for Growing Pot

Jersey medical marijuana law too late for John Ray Wilson

A New Jersey Superior Court judge gave a man who suffers from multiple sclerosis the lowest possible jail term for growing marijuana plants outside his home two years ago.

But that penalty is still five years behind bars for 37-year-old John Ray Wilson.

"We're pretty disappointed," Chris Goldstein of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana said of the sentence.

Wilson could qualify for Intensive Parole Supervision after four to six months in prison, but the jail sentence still pains the man whose lawyer says cultivated the crops only to alleviate his suffering.

At Wilson's trial in Somerville, attorney James Wronko told the jury that his client grew and used the marijuana solely to relieve the pain of his MS. Jurors found Wilson not guilty of a charge of operating a medical marijuana facility, but convicted him on separate manufacturing and possession charges.

The state had asked for a 7-year prison term for Wilson's conviction on growing more than 10 marijuana plants, as well as possession for psilocybin mushrooms.

Jurors told NBC New York after Wilson's December conviction that they had asked the judge to go easy on Wilson.

Goldstein quoted Judge Robert Reed as saying "John does not represent the heartland of cases of growing marijuana" in explaining why he gave him the minimum sentence.

Former Gov. Jon Corzine signed the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act in January, making New Jersey the 14th state in the country to legalize marijuana for medical use. But the program likely won't be implemented until the end of the year.

Wilson couldn't argue he used the drug for medicinal purposes because there was no such provision in the state at the time of his arrest. He wasn't even allowed to mention his medical condition at trial. 

Now, according to Goldstein, even if Wilson were to get out on probation later this year, it's not clear if he could use the program for years to come, since parolees are usually banned from using any controlled dangerous substances -- a list that includes marijuana.

"We'll support him as much as we can," said Goldstein, who added that Wilson "will probably have better medical care in prison" than on the outside because he doesn't have health insurance.

Wilson said he grew his own marijuana because he couldn't afford the high-priced drugs sold by pharmaceutical companies.

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