James Matthews, a former Navy Seal who was arrested with hundreds of pounds of marijuana in a trailer he was towing in March of 2015, used some of the time during his sentencing hearing last week to advocate for the legalization of cannabis.
During his speech to New Jersey Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor, the 51-year-old extolled the virtues of marijuana before being sentenced to 7 years in prison for transporting 360 pounds of it from California to New Jersey.
“I feel that cannabis, the plant that I’m being prosecuted for, in my humble opinion, should not be illegal,” Matthews said. “For years, this substance has been misrepresented and has been used for persecution. In my personal experience with this plant, I’ve seen almost miracle-like properties similar to the healing properties of a mold that we call penicillin.”
“I morally have an issue with the hard substances in this country like meth, heroin, cocaine, things like that,” Matthews told Judge Taylor. “The state of New Jersey, by having a list of accepted medical uses, is contradictory to the list of (Schedule I) drugs that have no medicinal value.”
“It’s so confusing to get obvious signals from this side of law that feel the way I do, but still continue to prosecute. Your Honor, if I said I didn’t do this for money or for the thrill, I’d be lying. But above all else, I would not be here today if I thought the substance was bad. I could not morally do what I did,” he said.
Cynics will see Matthews’ speech as self-serving tripe, but there is not much legalization could do for him now, even if that was close to happening in New Jersey beyond the small medical marijuana program the state has.
While the Judge Taylor seemed sympathetic to Matthews’ speech, he made it clear he had a job to do and personal feelings aside, Matthews broke the law. “Oftentimes prosecutors, and some judges for that matter, may not necessarily believe in certain laws that are on the books,” the judge said. “But the judges and the assistant prosecutors take an oath to uphold the laws, and we are a nation of laws, and when public servants such as judges or prosecutors and military personnel take an oath to uphold the law, or to protect the country, they follow through on that oath.”
Prosecutors could have hit Matthews with much more but he was allowed to plead guilty to a single count of first-degree possession of over 25 pounds of marijuana with intent to distribute. Since Matthews had a clean record prior to this he could be out in 14 months with good behavior.
One day people will be legally employed doing what James Matthews did; today is not that day.