Let’s say for argument’s sake that a Garden State resident smokes a little marijuana from time to time; this is the 21st Century you know. As New Jersey DWI defense lawyers, I and my staff of legal professionals are well aware that a certain percentage of the driving population will get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle in some kind of an impaired state sometime in the coming week. While a number of these individuals may fully understand that they are drunk in the driver’s seat, others may not.
Such is the case with people who take prescription medications and then drive. For some of these people, they may not take medicine very often; and without reading the label or doctor’s instructions, they might be legally impaired once they being heading down the road. Other people, those that may enjoy a little “recreational” toke from time to time, might not think twice about whether or not they are impaired by a controlled dangerous substance while operating a motor vehicle on a public roadway.
Nonetheless, state and local police are not very forgiving when it comes to drug DUI, with substances like weed, meth and cocaine. While many users may feel marijuana is a harmless form of nature-based relaxation, the courts might not feel the same. Over the past few years, many states have passed medicinal marijuana laws, which can also complicate matters when it comes to drug DUI defense.
But let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that one is not impaired when a New Jersey state trooper or municipal police officer makes a traffic stop. A driver could still be arrested for possession, depending on the amount of marijuana in the car or the location of that substance. Based on New Jersey statutes, the laws covering possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle (N.J.S.A. 39:4-49.1) prohibit an individual from driving his or her car while “knowingly” in possession of weed, cannabis, hash or whatever you choose to refer to marijuana as.
These laws include addition details as to the grounds for proving a violation, to wit: The state must establish first that the vehicle in question was actually being driving by the defendant; that the marijuana was actually found on the driver’s person; and also that the motorist “knowingly” possessed the substance. To this end, it is important to note that the driver may have a suitable argument against a possession charge if the drug was outside of his or her so-called “wingspan.” That is, the driver was not in physical control of the marijuana, i.e. another occupant of the car or truck had the weed on his or her person instead.
Naturally, there are many factors that go into making a marijuana possession case stick, which is why we always recommend that anyone accused of a marijuana-related offense contact a qualified legal professional to better understand their particular situation. One important reason for consulting an attorney prior to entering the courtroom is due to the potential penalties for possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle. Under N.J.S.A. 39:4-49.1, should an individual be convicted of the offense, there is a mandatory two-year license suspension attached. This is not a very flexible penalty, as it requires a complete ban on driving with no legal provisions for a work or conditional driver’s license.
In addition to loss of driving privileges, the court can and most likely will order fines and assessments as a result of a conviction. Motor vehicle surcharges can also flow from such a conviction. This is why, in our opinion, it is advisable to speak with a lawyer who is well-versed in marijuana-related law. One step to avoiding a conviction of marijuana possession is simply not pleading guilty to operating a motor vehicle while in possession of marijuana.
There is much more to learn and understand, but if this has happened to you or someone you know, it’s best to get a professional opinion of your specific case. Never assume that the game is up just because of a police arrest for this kind of offense.