SOMERVILLE — A Franklin man with multiple sclerosis, who was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for growing marijuana that he said was used for medicinal purposes, may be eligible for parole in little more than a year.
John Wilson, 37, could also be eligible to enter the state’s Intensive Supervision Program in six months, said state Superior Court Judge Robert Reed, who sentenced Wilson.
In the program, certain offenders, sentenced to state prison, are given an opportunity to work their way back into the community under intensive supervision.
“It’s the least period of imprisonment I could impose,” said Reed.
A jury in December convicted Wilson of second-degree growing marijuana at his home in Franklin and third-degree possession of psilocybin mushrooms. A second-degree charge carries a maximum sentence of five to 10 years.
The jury found Wilson not guilty of a first-degree charge of maintaining a drug-manufacturing facility, the most serious offense in the three-count indictment brought against him by the state Attorney General’s Office. If found guilty of that charge, Wilson could have faced from 10 to 20 years in state prison.
Wilson’s attorney, James Wronko, said he will file a motion to stay Reed’s sentence pending an appeal.
The state Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case, was asking Reed to impose a seven-year sentence.
Reed said a presentencing report indicated that although Wilson was diagnosed with MS in 2002, when he was 30, he had been smoking marijuana on a daily basis since age 15. Reed also said that Wilson has been charged with burglary and criminal mischief in 1993, but those charges were dismissed because he successfully completed a pretrial intervention program.
Wronko said Wilson began growing his own marijuana to treat the symptoms of MS because he did not have insurance and could not afford prescriptions.
Before Reed delivered the sentence, Wilson admitted breaking the law.
“I am not a bad person,” Wilson told the judge. “I just made a horrible mistake.”
“I’m truly sorry for what I’ve done,” Wilson said. Because he couldn’t afford insurance, Wilson said he has used alternative treatments, including vitamins and bee venom.
Wilson said he recently had three flare-ups of MS and has ended up in the hospital twice. Susan Wilson, John Wilson’s sister, said the legal proceedings have been “difficult” for the family.
Susan Wilson, whose face was streaked with tears, said the family was expecting her brother to go to prison, but did not expect five years. She said that her brother, whom she described as “very strong,” has not been able to exercise because of his MS attacks.
John Wilson’s mother burst into sobs as her son was led away in handcuffs after Reed handed down the sentence.
Chris Goldstein, a board member of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, said Wilson’s sentence raises interesting legal issues.
When he is released from prison, Goldstein said, Wilson will be subjected to drug tests, but under the state’s medical marijuana law which goes into effect on July 1, Wilson will be able to smoke marijuana to alleviate his MS symptoms.
Goldstein said state law does not contemplate such an issue, and whether Wilson will be allowed to use medicinal marijuana when he is paroled from prison.
By MICHAEL DEAK