- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 3, 2016

A former Navy SEAL who admitted transporting hundreds of pounds of pot from California to New Jersey praised the plant’s “miracle-like” properties and called for its legalization Friday before being sentenced to seven years in prison.

James E. Matthews, 51, made an impassioned plea for pot while addressing New Jersey Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor during his sentencing hearing in Morristown, NJ Advance Media reported Friday.

“I feel that cannabis, the plant that I’m being prosecuted for, in my humble opinion, should not be illegal,” Mr. Matthews reportedly 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.”

Mr. Matthews, a former SEAL and resident of Santa Cruz, Calif., was arrested in March 2015 in connection with what investigators called the largest marijuana seizure in county history. Authorities said they seized roughly 360 pounds of pot worth an estimated $1.4 million from a trailer being towed by Matthews’s truck. 

Prosecutors initially charged Matthews with drug distribution, money laundering and conspiracy, but let him plead guilty in April to a single count of first-degree possession of more than 25 pounds of marijuana with the intent to distribute. In a plea agreement, Matthews admitted to transporting marijuana from California to New Jersey, and delivering several large boxes full of pot to a Wharton, New Jersey residence on March 3, 2015.

New Jersey, like most of the United States, has implemented a state-sanctioned medical marijuana program that enables doctors to write prescriptions for patients that have been diagnosed with certain conditions. Yet while a handful of states have begun to decriminalize marijuana for non-patients by passing recreational weed laws, the U.S. Justice Department still labels cannabis to be a Schedule 1 narcotic.

“I morally have an issue with the hard substances in this country like meth, heroin, cocaine, things like that,” Matthews told Judge Taylor, New Jersey’s Daily Record reported. “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. 

“He thinks that marijuana is more akin to alcohol than heroin and cocaine,” agreed his attorney, Marcy McMann. “He did not view this as harmful as heroin or cocaine. I don’t think he felt he was committing a harm to the public.”

Defense attorneys had sought a 5-year sentence for Williams, while prosecutors asked for six, Advance Media reported. Judge Taylor split the difference.

“It’s a unique circumstance,” he acknowledged at Friday’s sentencing. “You have certain moral beliefs and the law says otherwise.”

“Oftentimes prosecutors and some judges for that matter, may not necessarily believe in certain laws that are on the books,” the judge continued. “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.”

“And even though, like views on abortion, people may not have the same views as the legislature, they may have issues with certain laws. It’s not up to the individual public servant to make a determination on which laws to enforce or not to enforce,” the judge said.

Matthews, who has no prior convictions, could be eligible for parole in as little as 14 months, Advance Media reported. His co-defendants, Salman Khalid and Kernley Saint-Victor, were sentenced to seven and five years behind bars, respectively.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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