A Look at New Jersey’s Many and Varied Penalties for Marijuana-related Offenses

With the recent passage of ballot initiatives in the states of Washington and Colorado legalizing marijuana for recreational use, it’s a fair bet that more than a few individuals in the Garden State probably feel the same way as voters in those states; marijuana is more and more becoming an accepted form of relaxation, not unlike the use of alcohol has been for decades across the United States. As New Jersey DWI-DUI defense attorneys, we know that just believing something is benign, harmless or just plain “okay” is not a sufficient defense in a court of law.

Law is the key here. Even if states do begin to loosen up their legal restrictions on the use of cannabis, weed, hash or whatever one chooses to call it, legal use of marijuana on a national scale make take longer. And, while the significance of these two separate state referendums should not be underestimated, experts tend to agree that this was just the first major victory for the marijuana legalization advocates in what will likely be a long battle. The sticking point is that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, which overrules these states’ rights.

So we’ve established that marijuana may have a future as a legal substance, but here in New Jersey, as in most every other state, it is still a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) in the eyes of the government, and state and local law enforcement. Regardless of its status as one of the most commonly used drugs, at least that we have seen in our work as drug DUI defense lawyers, marijuana remains an illegal substance that can really cause a driver problems if convicted of driving while impaired by the substance.

The penalties imposed by New Jersey courts following a conviction for possession or distribution of this drug can vary depending on the particular charge or charges against a defendant. Where only a small quantity of the substance is involved, the penalties for marijuana possession are rather limited. But don’t take that as an all-clear to use at will without fear of severe penalties. As with most drug-related offenses, the punishment usually gets more severe as the seriousness of the offense increases.

When it comes to penalties for possession, a less than 50gm quantity typically generates a “disorderly persons” offense, which can result in up to six months in jail. Up the ante to greater than 50 grams and a defendant will likely be staring at a “fourth degree” offense, which can get a person jailed for as long as 18 months. It can probably be said that neither of these maximum penalties would sound pleasant to most average citizens.

We will skip the penalties for distribution, since most individuals are likely smoking the product, not necessarily selling it outright. For anyone who wonders, the related penalties start to edge up into the “years in jail” range following a conviction. The monetary penalties range from fines of up to $25,000 to as much as $300,000 or more.

When it comes to one’s driving privileges, a conviction for possession or distribution also entails a mandatory license suspension for six months. With the right marijuana defense lawyer on one’s side, showing the court that there is a legitimate hardship involved in a driver’s license suspension can help the defendant to avoid that suspension altogether, though the outcome may vary based on the particular circumstances. This is why, as qualified drug DUI and drunken driving lawyers, we always recommend that anyone accused of these kinds of offenses seek an experienced attorney with proficiency in this area. Mitigate one’s exposure to the penalties associated with driving under the influence of a CDS, possessing drugs in a motor vehicle or even being charged with intent to distribute can be one of the benefits of retaining a legal professional.