Wednesday, August 24, 2011
By Times of Trenton guest opinion column
By Ken Wolski
John Wilson, a 38-year-old multiple sclerosis (MS) patient from Somerset, is appealing his recent marijuana conviction to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The trial judge kept crucial facts from the jury, yet an appellate court last month supported the judge’s decision. Now the Supreme Court will determine if compassionate justice is possible in New Jersey.
About 10 years ago, Wilson was diagnosed with MS, a progressive, neurological disease for which there is no known cure. Wilson’s symptoms were headache, blurred vision and numbness from the waist down. Typically, the symptoms of MS worsen over time and may progress to total paralysis and death.
Wilson found from experience what the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s 2008 Expert Opinion Paper confirmed from its research: Marijuana is effective in controlling the symptoms of MS, and it can stop the progression of the disease.
Wilson was arrested in August 2008 for growing 17 marijuana plants that he used to treat his MS. He was charged with “manufacturing” marijuana and faced 20 years in prison. At the request of the prosecutor, the trial judge would not allow Wilson to testify to the jury that he had MS and that his marijuana was for his personal use to treat his disease.
This shocked the conscience of the community, who felt that Wilson could not get a fair trial unless the jury knew all the facts.
A number of rallies were held. Many people wrote letters to the editor in support of Wilson, and the judge was besieged with requests to reconsider. The “Support John Wilson” Facebook page was started. Top-notch lawyers generously donated their time to Wilson, who, for years, had been only marginally employed, due to his disability.
Members of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey (CMMNJ) participated in educating the public about this injustice. CMMNJ supporters carried signs in front of the Somerset County Court House, where the trial was held, explaining that Wilson was a medical marijuana patient, not a criminal. Jim Miller, one of CMMNJ’s founders, said that Wilson was prevented by the judge from telling “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
New Jersey state Sens. Nick Scutari, D-Linden, and Ray Lesniack, D-Union, called on the governor to pardon Wilson, to no avail. Sen. Scutari said, “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.”
Wilson was convicted in December 2008 of the lesser charge of second-degree drug manufacturing. Trial Judge Robert Reed sentenced him to five years in prison. An appeals court recently said that Judge Reed was correct in not allowing Wilson to explain to the jury that he has MS and that the marijuana was used as his medicine. It said there is no “personal use defense to a charge of growing marijuana.” Thus, it was irrelevant that Wilson used marijuana to treat his MS symptoms.
Wilson’s trial lawyer, Jim Wronko, has said, “I believe those statutes are either unconstitutional or they do not accurately reflect the intent of the Legislature not to put someone in state prison for personal use under these circumstances.”
Even the state of New Jersey now officially recognizes marijuana as a legitimate treatment for MS. New Jersey’s Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act was originally introduced in the Legislature in 2005. It is the most restrictive such law in the nation, but MS is one of the qualifying conditions for marijuana therapy in the state. However, more than six years later, there is still no working medical marijuana program in the state for desperately ill residents such as Wilson.
Discretion, or case-by-case consideration, could have prevented this entire ordeal at any step in the process, from the arresting police, to the prosecutor, to the judge, to the governor. Wilson was arrested despite telling the police about his MS. The prosecutor charged Wilson with “maintaining a manufacturing facility,” despite knowing full well why Wilson was growing marijuana. A jury convicted Wilson without hearing all the facts. The judge sentenced Wilson to prison, and an appeals court upheld the trial court’s decisions. Clearly, it is a terrible injustice when a defendant is prevented from presenting his only defense at trial.
Wilson’s hopes now rest with the state Supreme Court. We have seen just how thoroughly injustice is institutionalized in the New Jersey criminal justice system when it comes to patients using marijuana therapeutically. Now we will see if the Supreme Court is concerned merely with the letter of the law or with actual justice.
Ken Wolski, R.N., MPA, is executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey (cmmnj.org).
John Ray Wilson was taken into custody today at the Somerset County Courthouse. He will begin serving a 5-year prison sentence. The 38-year-old MS patient was found with seventeen cannabis plants in 2008. After serving five weeks in prison in 2010, Wilson was allowed to remain with his family pending an appeal. The NJ Appellate Division upheld his conviction and sentence in late July. Wilson appeared before Superior Court Judge Angela Borkowski in a hearing today to consider a continuation of his bail.
Judge Borkowski ruled that her court was not an appropriate jurisdiction to deviate from the trial decision and appellate court affirmation. Any bail appeal should be made to the Appellate Division.
Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ) was in the courtroom today.
“CMMNJ is still hopeful there is a chance for justice in the state Supreme Court. But we are very disappointed that John is back in jail.”
MEDIA ALERT: Medical Marijuana Patient John Wilson Faces Bail Hearing Today
WHO: MS Patient John Ray Wilson
WHEN: 9AM-11AM Wednesday August 24, 2011
WHERE: Somerset County Courthouse – Somerville, NJ
WHY: Bail hearing
CONTACT: Ken Wolski 609 394 2137, Chris Goldstein 267 702 3731, William Buckman 856 608 9797
John Ray Wilson will appear in the Somerset Count y Courthouse for a bail hearing today. He has been free on bond pending an appeal. Wilson was sentenced to five years in state prison. The Appellate Court upheld his conviction of “manufacturing” marijuana in late July. Attorney William Buckman has filed a petition to the State Supreme Court.
The bail hearing today will determine if Wilson can remain with his family as the Supreme Court appeal is considered. The 38 year old man lives with multiple sclerosis and without healthcare. Wilson helps to care for his elderly grandmother and disabled brother.
“New Jersey already has some of the most draconian laws in the nation with respect to marijuana, costing taxpayers outrageous sums to incarcerate nonviolent, otherwise responsible individuals-- as well as in this case -- the sick and infirm,” said Buckman. “As it stands, the case now allows a person who grows marijuana to be exposed to up to 20 years in jail, even if that marijuana is strictly for his or her own medical use. No fair reading of the law would ever sanction this result.”
Wilson’s conviction in January 2010 came just as New Jersey’s compassionate use law was passed. The state now recognizes MS as a qualifying condition for marijuana therapy.
Depending on the outcome of the hearing, John Ray Wilson may be taken into custody to begin serving his prison sentence today.
CONTACT: Ken Wolski 609 394 2137, Chris Goldstein 267 702 3731, William Buckman 856 608 9797
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Monday, August 8, 2011
Trenton, NJ 08618
August 8, 2011
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
733 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017-3288
The National MS Society, in an Expert Opinion Paper published in 2008, acknowledged "that cannabinoids have potential...for the management of MS symptoms such as pain and spasticity" and that "there are sufficient data available to suggest that cannabinoids may have neuroprotective effects."* In 2011 the Society revised the Executive Summary of this paper. The older Executive Summary went on to say, “The Society cannot at this time recommend that medical marijuana be made widely available to people with MS for symptom management” partly because of "existing legal barriers to its use." This language no longer appears in the updated Executive Summary.
The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ) is glad to see this change. CMMNJ called on the Society, in a letter dated 8/13/08, to “better serve its members by joining numerous other organizations that are calling for the legalization of medical marijuana.” CMMNJ noted that this suggestion was consistent with the actions of a number of states that have rescinded their laws prohibiting use of marijuana where medically indicated.
While the Society stopped short of endorsing medical marijuana, it dropped the statement of its opposition to widespread availability of medical marijuana for MS patients. CMMNJ urges the Society to take a more active role in advocating for large scale clinical trials of medical marijuana, so that the limits of marijuana’s therapeutic utility in symptom management and neuroprotection can be determined.
Yet the Society continues to insist that, "Studies to date do not demonstrate a clear benefit (of cannabis) compared to existing symptomatic therapies." CMMNJ wonders what other symptomatic therapy is also neuroprotective, i.e., what other therapy besides cannabis can “reduce neuronal damage and thereby…limit disease progression” as the Society’s Expert Opinion paper suggests? The Society might also wish to consider the following benefits of marijuana therapy: Marijuana can be grown at home for pennies, it is easy for patients to self-titrate, and no fatal overdoses have ever been associated with its use. These are surely clear benefits of cannabis/marijuana compared to existing therapies.
Nor should cannabinoids have to demonstrate that they are clearly superior to other therapies. No other drug is held to that standard. Cannabinoids should only have to demonstrate that they are effective and safe.
The Society is also concerned that "issues of side effects, systemic effects, and long-term effects (of cannabis) are not yet clear." Apparently, these issues are no clearer to the Society in 2011 than they were in 2008, because the language is exactly the same. CMMNJ believes that the Society is wrong when it says that the effects of marijuana are not clear. Marijuana has been in common usage in American society since the 1960’s. Millions of Americans have used and continue to use marijuana, both episodically and continuously, for over forty years. The effects are quite well known—they are mostly benign, rarely harmful, and often decidedly therapeutic. The “fears” about marijuana that the Society cites in its Expert Opinion Paper (marijuana’s possible long-term effects on cognition, motor skills, cancer, etc.) are unfounded and have been repudiated by decades of popular use, as well as scientific studies, both in America and world-wide.
Moreover, even if these fears were valid, they would have to be taken in the context of the patient population that the Society represents—patients stricken with a dreaded, incurable disease that produces pain and muscle spasms for which, the Society acknowledges, “standard therapies often provide inadequate relief.”
MS patients themselves should be the only ones who decide if the risks of engaging in clinical trials of marijuana therapy outweigh the benefits.
Over 20 years ago, on Sept. 6, 1988, Administrative Law Judge Francis L. Young, after studying the issue for two years, ruled favorably on the issue of medical marijuana. Judge Young said: "The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record."**
The Administrator of the DEA overturned Judge Young’s ruling and the DEA continues to this day to obstruct access to and research on medical marijuana.***
The Society’s Expert Opinion Paper contains a list of 14 “problems” that are associated with clinical studies of cannabis usage in MS. It is cruel of the Society to continue to insist that the “perfect” clinical research trial be designed before moving forward. In the three years between the original publication of this paper and its update, not a single new clinical trial has been noted. Apparently, not a single one of the objections raised by the Society has been addressed. This is unspeakably irresponsible, especially when given the predictable outcome of MS that is unmitigated by any neuroprotective therapy.
CMMNJ is calling on the Society to advocate for immediate access to a large scale clinical trial--a National MS Clinical Cannabis Trial. CMMNJ suggests that the federal government reopen and expand its Investigational New Drug (IND) trial of marijuana to include every patient in America with a diagnosis of MS. Every MS patient should have access to a continuous supply of marijuana, as long as these patients and their physicians agree to participate in this trial. The trial would be entirely voluntary, of course. If MS patients do not want to participate, they don’t have to. If MS patients do want to participate, however, have the federal government make marijuana continuously available to them in an amount determined to control their symptoms. Have their physician note side effects and adverse effects, clinical improvements and program withdrawals.
Have the trial computerized from the start so that periodic patient evaluations are easily entered by the clinician, and the national data seamlessly compiled. In two years there will be abundant results from this large scale clinical trial. CMMNJ predicts that evidence from this trial will be so compelling that the trial will not only be continued but expanded to include other neurological conditions as well.
The federal government--with the encouragement of the Society--must begin to facilitate large scale clinical trials, not continue to obstruct them. It is time to determine the limits of marijuana’s therapeutic potential, especially in terms of its neuroprotective capacity. CMMNJ urges the Society to strongly advocate for immediate access to a National MS Clinical Cannabis Trial. MS patients are suffering and dying now. They need and deserve this option. MS patients throughout the country would be very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this clinical trial. Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.
Ken Wolski, RN, MPA
Executive Director, Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, Inc.
The Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, Inc. (CMMNJ) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the public about the benefits of medical marijuana (cannabinoids).
Monday, August 1, 2011
Monthly Public Meeting Minutes
Tuesday, July 12, 2011; 7:00 PM -- 9:00 PM
7:00 PM: Call meeting to order. June 2011 minutes approved. Discussion:
There will be no monthly meeting in August 2011. The next public meeting will be Sept. 13, 2011 from 7 - 9 PM in Room #1 at the Lawrence Twp. Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike, Lawrence Twp. All are welcome. September’s Agenda will be sent at a later date.
NJ's Medicinal Marijuana Program is "on hold" according to Governor Christie. NJ AG asks guidance from feds; U.S. Dept. of Justice issues memo from DAG James Cole:
Patients are not at risk from feds; the law was about bringing this therapy to patients. If this law can’t do it, home cultivation needs to be reintroduced. No response from Gov. Christie yet. (Note: on July 19, Gov. Christie said the program should move ahead “expeditiously”. See below for an update.)
Opinion: “N.J. should allow medical marijuana home cultivation” 6/27:
DEA Ignores Evidence, Rejects Medical Marijuana Rescheduling Petition: See the Federal Register at: http://americansforsafeaccess.org/downloads/CRC_Petition_DEA_Answer.pdf
Infants Exposed to Cannabinoids During Gestation Have Lowest 2-Year Mortality Rate of All: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/100/1/79.abstract
Recent CMMNJ events: Letter written to state police re: cancelled Cheryl Miller Memorial Vigil, 6/7/11 at the State House. Medical Marijuana Expo in Atlantic City 6/25/11. Southern Shore Music Festival 6/18/11. CMMNJ Board meeting 6/19/11 at Peter's house.
Upcoming events: NJ Medical Marijuana Documentary--free screening at the Princeton Public Library on 7/21/11 at 7:00 pm.
Treasury report: Checking: $4106; PayPal: $3079.
Ken Wolski, RN, MPA, Executive Director, Coalition for Medical Marijuana—New Jersey, Inc., www.cmmnj.org
219 Woodside Ave., Trenton, NJ 08618 (609) 394-2137 firstname.lastname@example.org
New Jersey Patients Say Medical Marijuana Regulations Still Need Work:
Drug War Chronicle » Issue #693
NJ Governor Gives Okay to Medical Marijuana Program
by Phillip Smith, July 19, 2011
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced Tuesday that he will allow the Garden State's medical marijuana program to go into effect, despite vague threats by federal prosecutors that state workers involved in implementing the program could face prosecution. Christie's decision should bring an end to nearly 18 months of delayed implementation of the program, which was signed into law by his predecessor, Gov. Jon Corzine (D).
State officials will "begin work immediately" to get six Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs) up and running by year's end, Christie said at a Trenton press conference. "We're moving forward with the program as it was set up," he said. "The need to provide compassionate pain relief to these citizens of our state outweighs the risk we are taking in moving forward with the program."
Christie had been accused of foot-dragging by legislators and medical marijuana supporters, who have waited with decreasing patience as the months rolled by without the program actually getting underway. First, state officials took months laboring over how to regulate the program, then Christie halted implementation of the program, saying he sought clarification from federal prosecutors on whether state officials could move ahead without fear of federal prosecution.
That in turn followed a year of delays during which the governor first sought to delay implementation of the law, floated a proposal to limit medical marijuana dispensing to the Rutgers University medical complex (they declined), and in which the state health department twice issued draft regulations that sponsors and advocates charged would effectively make the program unworkable.
The more recent delays were understandable. Federal prosecutors in a number of states with or considering medical marijuana distribution systems have this year sent threat letters to state officials warning that any distribution of medical marijuana remained a crime under federal law and that anyone involved in it -- including state officials -- could be subject to prosecution. Those letters were followed late last month by a Justice Department memo from Deputy Attorney General James Cole that seemed to indicate a tougher line from the Obama administration on large medical marijuana providers, pulling back from a previously stated (though imperfectly implemented) position that medical marijuana suppliers acting in accordance with state laws were not suitable targets for federal prosecutors.
The Cole memo, however, did not mention state employees. Despite the lack of explicit of reassurance on the matter, Christie decided to move forward anyway. "After reading both the letter from Deputy Attorney General Cole and also reading remarks from then-candidate Barack Obama, and most importantly, the way we've set up the program, I have decided to move forward as expeditiously as possible to implement the medical marijuana program in New Jersey as outlined," he vowed.
The New Jersey medical marijuana program will allow patients suffering from specified illnesses or conditions to use marijuana with the approval of a physician. The law will create a registry of patients and a system of six ATCs scattered across the state. It will be administered by the state Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). Advocates have criticized some of the program's regulations as overly restrictive, and Christie's announcement today doesn't change that.
"We still have a number of concerns about the regulations put out by the DHSS for this program," Registered Nurse Ken Wolski, who is executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana-New Jersey, told the Chronicle Monday. "The physician registry is unnecessary and will disqualify numerous patients. Plus the cap on THC level is arbitrary. Home delivery is not being permitted which is just another roadblock to patient access by the Christie administration."
Still, it's a happy week for Wolski. "We are happy that the governor is moving forward with the medicinal marijuana program," Wolski said Monday evening. "Patients have suffered too long waiting for this. In thousands of cases patients in NJ have already died without the improvement in quality of life and relief of suffering that marijuana can bring," he noted.
New Jersey multiple sclerosis sufferer Elise Segal was pleased as well. "I am extremely pleased that the governor decided to move forward with the program," Segal said. "I have nothing but feelings of gratitude toward him and his administration. I hope the program can get up and running now as soon as possible, so that people like me who are suffering will soon have relief." It looks like Segal will get her wish before year's end.
Christie's announcement was greeted with relief by national groups as well, who called on officials in other states to follow his lead. Since federal prosecutors started sending out the threat letters earlier this year, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) gutted a bill passed by the legislature that would have set up a state-licensed distribution system, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) delayed implementing her state's program, and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D) has put his state's program on hold.
"If Gov. Christie can implement his state's medical marijuana program in the face of recent attempts by the federal government to intimidate public officials, then states like Arizona, Rhode Island and Washington should be empowered to implement theirs as well," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "Gov. Christie's decision to move ahead with New Jersey's medical marijuana program should be a clarion call to other public officials like Gov. Brewer that the health and welfare of their people are paramount," Sherer added.
"We are absolutely thrilled that the governor has decided to move forward with the program and we hope that officials in other states who are contemplating options for their programs will follow New Jersey’s lead," said Roseanne Scotti, who lobbied the legislature for years on the issue as state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Gov. Christie’s thoughtful analysis regarding state medical marijuana programs shows that states can and should move forward with well-regulated and responsible programs," she added.
NJ's Medical Marijuana Law Comes With a Slew of Restrictions Read more: http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/news/New-Jersey-Medical-Marijuana-Law-Comes-With-a-Slew-of-Restrictions.html#ixzz1ToSwNKaN
Persistence does pay off for medical marijuana supporters
John Wilson’s appeal: Conviction, sentence upheld in Franklin MS patient's marijuana case:
CMMNJ’s Press Release on the John Wilson appeal denial: