Tuesday, December 1st, 2009
New Jersey so often pats itself on the back as a “progressive” state. It’s not, particularly in the area of criminal justice issues, especially drug related issues. On drug policy, New Jersey leads the way in draconian sentencing schemes and obsolete thinking. Somehow the weight of this system is also placed primarily on minorities as New Jersey’s prisons house mostly minorities.
Outside America most of the developed world has long placed marijuana in context. These nations have either legalized use, decriminalized the substance or have made it a minor offense. Inside America many states have embraced reason to allow for medicinal use of a proven medically necessary drug. Some of those same states, and others have accepted the need to make punishments less draconian.
Yet New Jersey still relies on mandatory sentences for amounts of marijuana that would be considered mere possession elsewhere. To inflict maximum unnecessary pain, New Jersey still suspends drivers’ licenses for six to twenty four months, even for less than fifty grams or if the marijuana had no connection to the use of a car. Needless to say it is surrealistic to think that where a state would want to help prevent recidivism, New Jersey helps destroy lives by preventing people to travel to employment, rehab, probation or grocery shopping.
The oddest – and most draconian– New Jersey law declares that one can be guilty of “maintaining or operating a controlled dangerous substance facility” for merely growing ten or more marijuana plants. The penalty: up to twenty years of which one half to one third must be served before one is eligible for parole and up to 750,000.00 in fines. Moreover, it doesn’t matter whether the plants are seedlings or mature. Anyone of a fair mind, in law enforcement, or otherwise knows that ten plants is minimal to the personal user who wants to avoid the distribution milieu and grow his or her own for personal use. Collective experience in places where medicinal marijuana is allowed shows that ten plants is a minimum for a treatment regime.
Enter The Nightmare of John Wilson
Showing some common sense – or fairness – there is/was a safety valve to the absurd notion that ten plants of any size should be on the same plane as horrific crimes of violence. A less well known NJ statute did not include personal use within the definition of “manufacturing.” Thus, despite the danger of other criminal penalties, MS sufferer Roy Wilson had some hope that he would not die in prison for treating his MS with marijuana. Roy found himself in a nightmare, at least in his NJ county, in front of Judge Reed.
Accepting the NJ Attorney General’s hypertecnical reading of the statute distinguishing manufacturing from personal use, Judge Reed ruled that the statute applied to almost all other drugs, but not marijuana. As Judge Reed and the Attorney General saw it truly lethal substances could be exempted from the horror of a “manufacturing” conviction but medicinally beneficial marijuana could not. Rejecting decades of common sense use of the definitions statute, Judge Reed and the Attorney General decided, without the benefit of a jury, that Roy Wilson had no defense in his upcoming trial. Wilson would not be allowed to say he grew for his use only. Wilson could not say that he had MS and marijuana helps MS sufferers.
Instead, in an era where mandatory minimums are decried even by the most conservative Supreme Court Justices, when drug policy , especially marijuana policy, is under more common sense scrutiny everywhere, Judge Reed and the NJ Attorney General cling to policies of retribution. In the mind set of the Attorney General and Judge Reed, essentially a life sentence is treatment enough for MS. Parsing of words beyond all mercy and reason is safe and alive in New Jersey.