MIDDLETOWN — Eric Hafner sees a bigger issue with his arrest in the township for possession of a small amount of marijuana late last year, as do some who joined Hafner outside the township offices on Monday.
Hafner, a 20-year-old California resident since January, was joined outside town hall Monday morning by about a half-dozen others who were carrying signs showing their support for Hafner and for the medical use of marijuana.
Hafner was scheduled to appear in Middletown’s municipal court on a charge of possession of marijuana. Hafner claims that he used the drug for medical reasons.
“They’re treating me like a criminal and I’m not,” Hafner said prior to his court appearance.
Hafner was arrested last November on Locust Terrace, while he was riding in a car owned by the driver, Matthew Olsen.
Hafner, who was a Fair Haven resident at the time, said police pulled the car over at about 2:30 a.m. for having a broken headlight,, arresting the two men when the officer allegedly discovered marijuana and a pipe in the car.
(Hafner acknowledged that a Tinton Falls police officer had stopped the two earlier in the evening for having a broken headlight.)
Hafner said he was charged with possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana and with possession of drug paraphernalia. That amount, under state guidelines, is a disorderly persons offense but does carry with it a possible maximum penalty of a six-month prison sentence, as does the paraphernalia charge.
“I could get a year in jail,” Hafner said.
Olsen was charged with the paraphernalia offense, according to Hafner.
Hafner said he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “I had a horrifying experience when I was 16 years old,” he said. But when asked about the experience, he wouldn’t offer any details other than simply saying, “It was very personal.”
Hafner distributed a letter from his California physician, William Eidelman, Los Angeles. Eidelman’s letter, dated Jan. 24, stated that Hafner does suffer from PTSD and was initially treated “with pharmaceutical medications that did not provide satisfactory results.”
Eidelman’s letter goes on to say “Mr. Hafner discovered that cannabis is effective at treating his symptoms of PTSD” such as insomnia, nightmares, panic attacks and depression, among others; and Eidelman has “recommended medical cannabis to Mr. Hafner for his treatment.”
Hafner was joined by some members of the Monmouth Patient Group, a group that advocates for the medical use of cannabis. They appeared to offer their support for Hafner and to criticize the state government’s alleged foot dragging on the issue.
Charles Kwiatkowski, a Hazlet resident and president of the group, argued medical cannabis has been shown to be effective in reliving symptoms of some conditions, including the one he suffers from, multiple sclerosis (MS). Kwiatkowski, however, acknowledged, that the list of eight conditions allowed under the New Jersey legislation permitting the drug’s use, PTSD is not one of them—but it should be (
it is under California law).
“A patient’s condition doesn’t change because they cross state lines,” said Ken Wolski, executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Use.
When Hafner and Olsen appeared in court, the matter was adjourned until March 27 at 6 p.m., as Hafner, who is defending himself, raised issues concerning his requests for discovery information. Municipal Prosecutor Gerald J. Massell told Judge Richard Thompson he intends to drop the charges against Olsen, allowing Olsen to enter boot camp for the U.S. Marines.
The state Legislature approved the use of medical marijuana and outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine signed it into law. But the Christie Administration had expressed reservations to it and advocates have charged that officials have been slow on administering it and drafting rules to regulate it.
“If you look at these regulations, they’re absurd,” Wolski said. “It’s downright Kafkaesque.”