Personal Use Defense Not Available for Manufacturing Marijuana

“Personal Use” Defense For Manufacturing Marijuana in New Jersey Limited to Preparation or Compounding of a CDS

In a recent Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division case (State v. Wilson, 421 N.J.Super. 301 (App. Div. 2011)), the charged defendant appealed from an unfavorable trial court decision regarding the “growing” and “use” of seventeen marijuana plants on his personal property. The defendant was charged under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-4 (first degree maintaining or operating a production facility) and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(b)(10)(b) which is a second degree offense due to the fact that he had possessed marijuana in an amount of over 10 plants but less than 50 plants. He was only convicted of the 2nd degree offense and another related drug charge, while he was acquitted by a jury of the first-degree offense. The defendant was sentenced to 5 years in prison: the minimum term of imprisonment for a 2nd degree crime. N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(a)(2). Defendant appealed the conviction on three points. The most important and far-reaching point was a “personal use” exemption, which the Appellate Division was reluctant to adopt.

John Ray Wilson, the defendant, suffers from Multiple Sclorosis (MS) and has been allegedly self medicating with the marijuana he grows. During a routine “marijuana search mission” a National Guard helicopter spotted marijuana plants growing on the defendant’s property and notified local police on the ground. When police officers arrived at Mr. Wilson’s property, they immediately noticed the marijuana plants growing. After briefly speaking with the officers, Mr. Wilson signed a “Miranda Warning Acknowledgement Card” and consent form for the officers to search his property. The search yielded the discovery of 17 marijuana plants that appeared to be healthy, cultivated, and cared for. When asked at trial, the defendant admitted that he had grown the plants from seeds he had ordered over the Internet. To plant the seeds and grow the plants, the defendant admitted to breaking up the ground to loosen the soil and continually watering them. At trial, Mr. Wilson claimed to be cultivating the plants to ease the symptoms of MS. He also tried unsuccessfully to submit testimony by a doctor in order to show the beneficial effects of marijuana on MS symptoms.

The Appellate Division spent some time weighing the defendants “personal use” defense, as it was an issue of first impression for the court. The defendant submitted a rather broad interpretation of the statute, while the State submitted a more narrow one that both the trial court and Appellate Division agreed with. The defendant asserted that a “personal use” exemption was meant to apply to the entire “manufacturing” process. The State contended that the “personal use” exemption is specifically limited to the preparation or compounding of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). These arguments both warranted merit which led the Appellate Division to analyze the language of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-2. The court noted that, “Manufacture is defined as the production, preparation, propagation, compounding, conversion, or processing of a CDS.” In addition, the statute also states that the definition “does not include the preparation or compounding of a CDS.” Since the personal use exemption was specifically limited to only two of the six enumerated activities, the other four remained with no exemption. Since the defendants activities did not constitute “preparation” or “compounding” and were more closely related to “production” the “personal use” exemption was not available to him as a defense. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial courts ruling and effectively narrowed the interpretation of the statute.

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If you have been charged with possession of or manufacturing of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), you need to contact an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney to defend your case. Call the experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyers of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. today for a free initial consultation. Call 732-965-3350 today!

State of New Jersey v. Wilson, 421 N.J. Super. 301 (App. Div. 2011).