A New Jersey man on trial for growing 17 marijuana plants on his property was found not guilty yesterday of the most serious charge against him, that of operating a drug production facility, which carries a potential 20-year sentence. But multiple sclerosis-sufferer John Wilson, 37, still faces the possibility of five to 10 years in prison, because the jury found him guilty of second-degree manufacturing and third-degree drug possession. It's possible that Wilson avoided conviction on the most serious charge because he cast doubt on the credibility of state troopers who arrested him in August 2008—with a little help from the National Guard.
Wilson maintains that he was growing the marijuana because it helps alleviate his MS symptoms, but Superior Court Judge Robert Reed had ruled that the validity of medical marijuana was a matter for the Legislature and inadmissible in court. Nevertheless, Wilson was able to make one mention of his condition during his testimony on Wednesday, when he contradicted the state troopers who swore they did not discuss why he was growing the drug. "I told them I was not a drug dealer and I was using the marijuana to treat my M.S.," Wilson said.
Juror Mark Imbriani, who is actually a criminal defense lawyer in Somerville and a former assistant prosecutor in Union County, tells the Star-Ledger that some jurors "didn’t feel as though (the detectives) were being candid when they responded to those questions." The trial prompted sick marijuana users to protest outside the courthouse, and two state senators who sponsored a medical marijuana bill have been seeking a pardon for Wilson. "This case has been a horrible waste of taxpayers’ dollars and just a cruel and inhumane use of prosecutorial powers, which is one of the things pardons are designed to overcome," New Jersey State Senator Ray Lesniak said.
Speaking of wasting taxpayer dollars, it also emerged during the trial that the military helped bust the sickly pot grower. Deputy Attorney General Russell Curley told the jury during closing arguments that the plants were spotted by a National Guard helicopter because they were 6 feet tall: "These weren’t plants. These were trees." And before his arrest, Wilson was surprised to see a helicopter hovering over his two-bedroom farm house, testifying that "it looked like some sort of Army, or I guess National Guard helicopter."