It’s high time Christie started to care

When it came time to honor Whitney Houston, a noted drug addict who admitted to using cocaine and marijuana, Governor Chris Christie defended his decision to fly the flags at half-staff following her death.

 Too bad John Ray Wilson, a Somerset County man who suffers from multiple sclerosis, isn’t a better singer.

This is part of a series from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.

When it came time to honor Whitney Houston, a noted drug addict who admitted to using cocaine and marijuana, Governor Chris Christie defended his decision to fly the flags at half-staff following her death.

 Too bad John Ray Wilson, a Somerset County man who suffers from multiple sclerosis, isn’t a better singer.

If he were, maybe he wouldn’t be in prison right now.

Wilson was arrested when a National Guard helicopter on a training mission skimmed over the suburban houses of Franklin Township and spotted 17 cannabis plants outside his house.

Wilson has suffered with multiple sclerosis for over a decade. Unable to afford health insurance to cover expensive painkillers, he grew his own pot to ease the chronic pain of his condition.

Nevertheless, the New Jersey criminal justice system went after Wilson as if he were Tony Montana from “Scarface.” He was convicted and an appeals court upheld Wilson’s conviction. The state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that ruling, and as a result, Wilson began serving a five-year prison term in January.

Oh, and just to add salt to the wound, during a pre-trial hearing, Superior Court Judge Robert Reed told Wilson he wasn’t allowed to let the jury know that he has MS, or that his use of marijuana was an attempt to treat his disease.

Nice to see the system working to protect the sick and unfortunate.

I bet you’re scratching your head, asking yourself, “Didn’t New Jersey legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes?”

Yes, they did. The Compassionate Care Act allows marijuana to be prescribed to relieve pain from cancer and other debilitating illnesses – such as MS.

The problem is the law isn’t fully implemented, and as a result, there is no state-legal marijuana available. So needy patients are still forced to seek remedies through drug dealers or by growing plants in secret at their home.

Despite all of this, Christie could grant Wilson clemency and remove the prison term if he wanted to act like a compassionate conservative.

But he won’t.

And why won’t he? During his monthly call-in show on NJ 101.5, Christie said he doesn’t believe Wilson grew the pot for medical reasons, despite written pleas from Wilson’s own doctor, the governor, who must have earned a MD without anyone in the media knowing, went on to question if Wilson has MS in the first place, telling listeners, “his diagnosis has been brought into question as to whether he really has MS or not.”

Who has brought it into question exactly? Certainly not his physician, Dr. Jeffrey Pollack, who said after reviewing multiple MRI reports and neurologic consults that Wilson “with a reasonable degree of medical certainty” has multiple sclerosis. Even the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of granting clemency to Wilson and commuting his sentence.

What puts this story over the top on the aggravation scale is the fact the Governor wants to expand a program that would help send nonviolent drug offenders to treatments rather than prison. Christie said his feelings on this issue “come from the heart.” I hold off pondering where his hypocrisy originates.

So, Wilson is basically left to rot in prison for simply providing himself, with no harm to others, an effective and scientifically proven remedy to a debilitating illness, a remedy that is technically legal in New Jersey (as long as you want to spend big bucks to line the pockets of pharmaceutical companies).

Maybe someone should tell Governor Christie that even Pat Robertson came out in support of legalizing marijuana. I know, I know… Christie is a conservative tough guy who wants to be hard on crime, and he can’t have those dirty hippies smoking their weed. 

I just think in this case, he’s the one who’s a bit high.

Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.

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