For anyone who has ever been stopped by police here in the Garden State for drunken driving, impaired driving due to prescription medication (aka drug DUI), or operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), you know that the potential consequences could be harsh and have long lasting effects.
Of course, alcohol use is one of the most common “legal” pastimes in Bergen, Middlesex, Ocean and Hudson counties, however other illegal substances, such as cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana, are also being used by drivers on public roads. Of those illicit drugs, marijuana is without a doubt one of the more common illegal substances encountered by state and local police across New Jersey.
Arrests of drivers from all walks of life by New Jersey law enforcement officers for marijuana-related offenses are commonplace, which is not surprising in the least considering that an estimated 35 billion dollars’ worth of marijuana is cultivated in the United States each year. In fact, with medicinal marijuana becoming more prevalent, there is a good chance that more people than ever before probably know someone who uses marijuana legally or illegally from time to time.
Even so, persons who are arrested for marijuana use or possession in Monmouth, Sussex, Passaic or Atlantic counties should take very seriously any charges levied by police. Even though marijuana may be considered to be a rather low-level drug in the grand scheme of things, the New Jersey court system treats this CDS drug no differently than any other violation of state law.
Specifically, when it comes to possession of marijuana in a car or truck, a summons is usually issued by a police officer for that instance of possession in a motor vehicle. As New Jersey drunk driving defense attorneys, a percentage of our clients are individuals who have been accused of driving under the influence of a CDS, such as marijuana, or at the very least, possession.
New Jersey state law strictly prohibits any individual from operating a motor vehicle while knowingly in possession of marijuana. The implications of this particular statute extend only to the driver himself and not to the other occupants of the vehicle. Because of this specific detail of the law, in order to convict an individual of a violation the local prosecutor in charge of the case must show the Court that the accused was (1) in fact operating the vehicle in question; that (2) there was existence of marijuana on the driver of the vehicle; and (3) that the driver did, knowingly, operate his or her vehicle while possessing said marijuana.
It is important to understand, as an individual accused of possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle, that if that person was not “within wingspan of physically controlling the marijuana” that there is a good chance of avoiding a conviction. A typical example of this kind of scenario is when the marijuana in question was found on the person of another occupant in the vehicle.
Naturally, the penalties for driving in possession of marijuana can be rather harsh. Specifically, a mandatory two-year driver’s license suspension is called for under the law. Unlike alcohol-related convictions, the license suspension resulting from a marijuana possession conviction is essentially a total ban on driving; there is no provision for a work-related driver’s license, nor any kind of conditional license. This kind of suspension is absolute, and should be avoided if at all possible.
If a person is charged with an “indictable” marijuana offense in Monmouth County, for instance, his or her case will be heard in Superior Court. When it comes to felony marijuana offenses, these are classified by degree (starting at First Degree, for the most serious offense, all the way down to Fourth Degree, for a lesser offense). Here in New Jersey, motorists can be indicted on a charge of Fourth Degree marijuana possession, but all other felony cases (those amounting to 1st, 2nd, 3rd Degree offenses) must involve an allegation of distribution.