With the national debate around marijuana legalization, it is not surprising that New Jersey’s rules for marijuana are looser than those for other drugs. Especially for a small amount of marijuana and for first offenses, the outlook is quite good for those accused of marijuana possession. Still, the possible punishments can involve jail time and high fines, plus a criminal record.

With any criminal charges, it is vital to hire an attorney to guide you through the proceedings and argue your case in court. The drug possession attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych work to help prove our clients’ innocence, get charge dropped, and help mitigate the effects that a marijuana charge could have on your future education and job prospects.

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Marijuana Law in New Jersey

New Jersey’s marijuana possession laws are found alongside the other drug possession laws at N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-10. This law makes it a crime to knowingly (or purposely) possess any controlled substance without authorization. The only legal authorizations for possessing marijuana are for things like prescription drugs and for police and lab technicians to handle drugs during arrests and testing. Besides this, there is no exception that makes it legal to have even a small amount of marijuana.

New Jersey considers 50 grams or less a “small amount” of marijuana, and there is a special exception to the general drug possession laws found in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(4) for small amounts of marijuana. With only a small amount, the crime of possession is a disorderly persons offense. This means the potential punishment is up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Note that, since hashish is more potent, a small amount of hashish is 5 grams instead of 50 grams.

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For possession of other drugs, or for more than 50 grams of marijuana, the punishments are more serious. For possession of other “hard” drugs like cocaine, heroin, or crystal meth, the fines and jail time may increase. Additionally, different amounts could increase the penalties. For over 50 grams of marijuana (or five grams of hashish), the crime is a fourth degree crime. This could mean up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000.

It is also a separate crime under N.J.S.A. § 2C:36-2 to possess drug paraphernalia, which can include things like pipes, rolling papers, or even storage containers such as plastic baggies – even if there is no marijuana residue on them.

First Offense Marijuana Charges

Since society generally considers marijuana to be a less-serious drug and considers its possession to be a lesser crime, you might have options to help avoid jail and high fines. For people who have never been convicted of a crime, like many of the young people charged with marijuana possession, there are alternatives to jail.

For first-time offenders charged with a disorderly persons offense, New Jersey offers a program called “conditional discharge.” Instead of going to trial for your charge and being found guilty, then sentenced to jail, probation, or fines, your attorney may be able to work out a conditional discharge arrangement to avoid the charges entirely, paying only for required services and for a small fee for the conditional discharge program.

The program works as follows:

  • When you appear in court, instead of challenging the charges, you enter a conditional guilty plea to the marijuana possession.
  • You are placed on supervision by the court for a term of no more than three years.
  • During that period, you may face certain requirements, like enrolling in drug education, taking drug tests, facing a drivers’ license suspension, and checking in with a court official.
  • One term will always be to not commit any further crimes.
  • If you are able to complete this time period without committing further crimes, and follow all of the other rules, your initial plea will be removed and the charges will be dismissed (after paying a small fee).

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This program is excellent for a number of reasons:

  • There is no jail time if you comply with the terms.
  • There are no high fines if you comply with the terms.
  • You may be able to avoid a criminal record.

Avoiding a criminal record is excellent for students and those seeking employment. Many times, schools and employers look at criminal records when making decisions, which may include looking at disorderly persons offenses.

South Jersey Drug Possession Defense Attorneys

To see if you might be eligible for a program like conditional discharge, talk to a defense attorney about your case. The criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych may be able to represent you on your marijuana possession charges. If you or your child has been charged with marijuana possession, call our lawyers today for a free consultation at (609) 616-4956.