Sunday, May 17, 2009

Patients Arrested: NJ Needs Medical Marijuana Law Passed

Patients Being Arrested: NJ Needs Medical Marijuana Law Passed

Chris Goldstein and Ken Wolski

We at CMMNJ and other advocates for medical marijuana speak about the patients who need this therapy so desperately. Many patients are waiting in pain for this bill to pass and refuse to engage in the underground marijuana market, fearing the legal sanctions if they are caught.

Some New Jersey patients, already forced into the underground market by the lack of a legal program, are being hauled to jail and threatened with decades of prison time for choosing a medicine that is already legal in 13 states.

The Coalition for Medical Marijuana in New Jersey hears directly from these patients when they are arrested. These cases highlight the pressing and immediate need to have the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act passed by the state Assembly this year, in 2009. These suffering individuals should not have to wait for the legal protections and freedom of treatment afforded to millions of other Americans.

MS Patient in Somerville
“New Jersey multiple sclerosis (MS) patient John Ray Wilson, 36, was told by Superior Court Judge Robert Reed during a pre-trial hearing in Somerville, NJ that he faces 35 years in prison for growing a few marijuana plants that he used to treat his MS. Wilson was arrested on August 18, 2008 after the New Jersey State Police Marijuana Eradication Squad found his garden. Wilson was charged with “manufacturing” marijuana, despite his diagnosis of MS, despite a statement in support of medical marijuana by the National MS Society, and despite pending legislation that would protect MS patients who use medical marijuana in New Jersey.” –from CMMNJ

Crohn’s Patient in Jackson
“ Mike and Marie Miceli of Jackson, NJ are some of the latest victims of a law that desperately needs to change. The New Jersey man who used medical marijuana as a last-resort treatment was arrested recently; his wife was also charged with a marijuana offense and the Division of Youth and Family Services seized their infant son. Mike has Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel condition that was diagnosed over ten years ago. He has constant diarrhea, nausea, absolutely no appetite and severe abdominal cramping. He takes a host of prescribed medications that are either ineffective or have intolerable side effects. On Thursday morning, September 4, 2008, the day of his arrest, he weighed 197 pounds. Two days later he had already lost nine pounds. He was wasting away and in severe pain. He has since endured prolonged hospitalization and major abdominal surgery. The arrest for his use of medical marijuana may turn out to be a death sentence for Mike Miceli.” –from CMMNJ

CA medical patient attends NJ Funeral, gets arrested
“Issac Jacobs (name changed by request) is a 55-year-old card-carrying medical marijuana patient from California. He has a recommendation from his physician to use marijuana for his serious medical condition. Recently, he flew to New Jersey to attend a funeral. While in a Costco parking lot here, he was found by police to be in possession of two marijuana cigarettes, or joints. He showed the police his medical marijuana card, issued by his county government in California. Instead of being let go, as he expected, he was detained, and his car was surrounded and searched by narcotics officers and dogs. He said he was treated like a major drug smuggler, and was told he faces mandatory jail time. He called me up to tell me his story and to ask if it was true that he was going to jail. Nonviolent drug offenders take up about one-third of all the prison beds in New Jersey, the highest proportion in the country. Mr. Jacobs was referred to a New Brunswick, NJ lawyer who is very experienced with marijuana cases. “–from CMMNJ

The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act would offer legal protections to each of these individuals for their individual cases of medical cannabis use, possession, cultivation and holding a registry card from California.

All of these issues are clearly addressed in A804 and legal protections would shelter patients upon apssage of the bill.

Ken Wolski, co-founder of CMMNJ, is a registered nurse and long serving medical marijuana advocate. Wolski had this to say about these cases:

WOLSKI: “For just a single marijuana joint or a few marijuana seeds, the jail sentence medical patients face from a municipal court in New Jersey can be as much as six months. New Jersey also imposes a mandatory $500.00 penalty, and the law allows discretionary fines in addition to this. There are other penalties that are imposed on anyone in New Jersey found guilty of marijuana possession—even legitimate patients who are using marijuana under a doctor’s recommendation. According to the Center for Cognitive Liberty (, there are ranges of "collateral sanctions" that are triggered by a conviction for marijuana possession, even misdemeanor possession of less than 50 grams.

New Jersey imposes some of the most severe collateral sanctions in the nation on marijuana offenders. For example:

- private employers may deny employment based on conviction or arrests

- state and federal educational aid is denied by the Higher Education Act drug provision

- there is a 3-year ban from Public Housing; Ø there is a 5-year ban from adopting a child or becoming a Foster Parent

- there is a lifetime prohibition on possession of any firearm

- the driver's license may be suspended for six months to two years, even if the offense had nothing to do with a motor vehicle

- the New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits may suspend hard-earned pension benefits due to incarceration.

As a result of these penalties, many marijuana offenders are surprised to find that the sentence actually imposed by the judge is less severe than the long-lasting social and legal consequences that follow from conviction, the Center for Cognitive Liberty said.

In short, then, New Jersey is prepared to throw patients in jail, fine them, deny these individuals employment, deny housing, deny transportation, deny education, deny income and deny parental rights...all for following the advice of their physicians.

If anyone still wonders if medical marijuana patients really get arrested in New Jersey, just ask these patients. I have heard from many many more. The excesses of this system are wretched indeed, and morally indefensible for legitimate medical marijuana patients to be treated in this manner."

The New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act is awaiting action by the Assembly Health Committee. Those in support of the bill are encouraged to contact their member of the Assembly and urge them to support A804.

Governor John Corzine has said he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Opponents of medical access scoff at patients being arrested. But the reality is clear: the most vulnerable among us need these legal protections and marijuana access through a state authorized program right now and should not have to wait beyond the 2009 New Jersey Legisaltive Sessions.

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