What Constitutes Drug Possession in New Jersey?

Among the many criminal chases heard every year in New Jersey, cases involving drug charges are some of the most common. Even just having controlled substances might lead to charges for possession.

The crime of drug possession is more complicated than many people realize. While simple possession generally consists of having controlled substances, you might face harsher charges and penalties depending on the circumstances. Many people are charged with possession with the intent to distribute (PWID), which carries harsher penalties. Drugs or controlled substances do not necessarily need to be illegal for you to be charged. Many defendants face charges for certain prescription drugs or synthetic substances. Many defendants are charged in relation to vehicle stops, stop-and-frisks, suspected drug deals, or searches under search warrants. If you have been arrested for drug possession or a related offense, call an attorney immediately, preferably before you answer questions from law enforcement.

Call our Atlantic City drug possession defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 for a free initial review of your case.

When Someone Can Be Charged with Drug Possession in New Jersey

Criminal charges related to drugs and controlled substances are among some of the most commonly charged offenses. When defendants face drug charges, they often face charges for possession, among others. People often refer to possession as a singular charge. However, there are multiple ways in which a person may be charged for possession. Our New Jersey drug possession defense attorneys can help you determine what kind of charges you might face and the best way to defend yourself.

Simple Possession

Possession often accompanies other criminal offenses. However, this is not always the case. When possession is charged as an independent crime, it is sometimes called simple possession. According to N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-10(a), it is a criminal offense for anyone to knowingly or purposefully possess a dangerous controlled substance or controlled substance analog.

Additionally, possession may be actual or constructive. This means you can be charged with possession for having drugs on your person or for having them somewhere else where you still have control. For example, storing drugs in your home, vehicle, or some secret place might still lead to charges for possession.

Cannabis Possession

Cannabis is perhaps one of the most common reasons for many drug possession cases. At one point in time, cannabis and marijuana were totally illegal. However, times have changed, and people may have a certain amount of cannabis for personal use without facing criminal charges. According to N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-10a, possessing an ounce or less of usable cannabis is not grounds for charges of possession.

While the possession and use of certain types of cannabis have been legalized or decriminalized, you may still be criminally charged under certain circumstances. If you have more cannabis than is allowed by law for personal use, you may be arrested.

Possession with the Intent to Distribute

Many people who are charged with the unlawful possession of drugs are also charged with the intent to sell or distribute them. Possession with the intent to distribute may be charged under N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-5. This is a more serious charge than simple possession, and penalties may be much greater.

Talk to your attorney about how you might go from possession to possession with the intent to distribute. You do not have to actually sell or distribute drugs to be charged. Instead, the police may infer your intent through the circumstances of the alleged crime. Factors like the amount of controlled substances, paraphernalia, packaging, and other details might be used by the police to justify the increased charges.

Do Drugs Have to Be Illegal for Me to Be Charged with Drug Possession in New Jersey?

Controlled substances do not have to be inherently illegal for a person to be charged with unlawful possession. In fact, many prescription medications are legal to have if you get them from a doctor but may lead to charges for possession or possession with the intent to distribute. The abuse of prescription pills and medicine is a serious problem, and the police may arrest someone if they suspect them of illegally obtaining and possessing these medications.

A possible defense to charges for possession is that you were prescribed the drugs by a doctor for a legitimate medical purpose. If this sounds like your situation, talk to your attorney immediately. We can contact your doctor and get proof that you have a valid prescription.

It is also worth noting that not all medicines or drugs lead to criminal charges. Over-the-counter medication typically does not lead to charges for possession, even if someone has it for illicit purposes. For example, you can buy mild painkillers like Tylenol in almost any pharmacy without a prescription. Not only that, but you can probably buy multiple bottles of the stuff without anyone batting an eye.

People are sometimes arrested for criminal possession because they put their over-the-counter medicine in unmarked bottles or containers. For example, you might have travel plans, and you want to take some over-the-counter painkillers with you because you suffer from frequent headaches. Instead of taking the entire bottle, you put a small handful of pills in a plastic baggie. If security scans your bags and sees a baggie full of pills, you might be in trouble if you cannot prove what kind of pills you have. It is better to keep pills in their original packaging.

Common Circumstances Involving Drug Possession Charges in New Jersey

While drug charges and charges for drug possession are common, you might be wondering what kind of circumstances lead to these charges. Of course, every case is unique, and you should talk to your lawyer about what led to your arrest. However, below are some common scenarios that often lead to charges for drug possession.

Vehicle stops, such as those for suspected DUIs, are frequently cited reasons for drug possession charges. The police might pull a driver over because of erratic driving. Upon inspection, they have reason to believe the driver is high. Perhaps the drugs are right there in the seat next to the driver in plain view. Vehicle stops often lead to drug possession charges in addition to DUIs.

Another situation that might lead to drug possession charges is known as a stop-and-frisk. This is also called a police pat-down and may only occur under limited circumstances. If you are arrested or otherwise detained by the police, they may pat you down if they have reason to believe you are armed. If the police happen to find drugs on you during the pat-down, you might be criminally charged. This situation can be tricky, as the police often overstep their boundaries when conducting pat-downs. Tell your attorney if this happened to you.

Contact Our New Jersey Drug Possession Defense Attorneys for Help Now

Call our New Jersey criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 for a free initial review of your case.

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