Pot charges dropped against NJ patient
TRENTON, N.J. - March 1, 2011 (WPVI) -- David Barnes is finally off the legal hook in the New Jersey town where he was busted for marijuana possession last year.
His case has become a rallying point for medical marijuana advocates here. New Jersey legalized marijuana for patients with certain conditions last year, but implementation has been delayed as the state labors over regulatory details.
In the meantime, Barnes had drug charges filed against him, and then, last week, dropped.
If the program had been up and running, probably no one would have considered the 50-year-old former internal auditor a criminal.
Barnes has cyclic vomiting syndrome. He says that with little warning, he'll get painful, persistent vomiting attacks that last from one to three days. He regularly throws up so much that he loses 10 percent of his body weight.
Back in the late 1990s, he said, a doctor recommended he use pot - which is illegal - to soothe the symptoms. He said that while cannabis doesn't prevent the attacks, it makes them milder.
His was the type of case that persuaded New Jersey lawmakers in January 2010 to make the state the 14th to legalize marijuana for people with certain medical conditions. People with seizure disorders like Barnes would be allowed to use the drug. Patients say marijuana reduces pain and nausea.
A month after the law was signed, the resident of Tewksbury, a rural community 45 miles west of New York City, borrowed a neighbor's plow and headed out after a snowstorm to dig out a vacationing friend's home in Readington.
The plow got stuck. He says he asked neighbors of the friend's for help, but that they summoned police. Officers said he smelled like marijuana - and found a small amount of the drug and a pipe on him.
He was charged with possession and carrying paraphernalia, offenses that could have landed him in jail for up to a year.
Barnes said took his doctor with him to meet with the municipal prosecutor and reached a deal. As soon as he could present his state-issued card authorizing him to access pot legally, the charges would be dismissed. Prosecutor Robert Ballard did not immediately return a call about the deal.
Over the past year, Barnes has become a regular at hearings about medical marijuana implementation. He even twice stepped to the microphone at Gov. Chris Christie's town hall meetings to ask him when his card would be issued so his legal case could be resolved. Both times, the governor was sympathetic and answer was the same: soon.
Finally, the prosecutor apparently got tired of waiting for Barnes to able to produce his card. The municipal court confirms that the case against him was dropped last week.
"I'm glad it's over," he said Tuesday. "I really credit the judge and prosecutor in this for seeking justice rather than just seeking a conviction."
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, declined to comment on the case. "Those are local, discretionary calls by police and prosecutors," he said in an e-mail.
Chris Goldstein, a spokesman for the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of New Jersey, said there are other similar cases around the state, but the patients are usually afraid to speak publicly about them because of fears of offending prosecutors and judges.
Unfortunately for Barnes, all his legal worries didn't go away when the case was dismissed. He's also dealing with more complex charges: He was arrested for marijuana possession in Sayreville back in 2009, before the state legalized medical marijuana. He's never had a court appearance in that case and is arguing in court that he's been denied his right to a speedy trial.
And the underlying issue remains in limbo. The state is planning a hearing on March 7 to get public input on a proposed set of regulations that many prospective medical marijuana patients and distributors say is too strict. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are considering whether to force new regulations to be written.
medical marijuana, new jersey, local/state
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