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NJ Drug Laws and Penalties

September 5, 2019

When facing any type of drug charges in New Jersey, it is important to learn more about drug laws and penalties.

No matter how minor your drug charge case might seem, it is critical to hire a New Jersey drug defense attorney.  An experienced lawyer will begin working with you on a defense strategy tailored to the specific facts of your case.

A criminal defense attorney at our firm can discuss your case with you. In the meantime, we want to provide you with more information about New Jersey drug laws and penalties.

Drug Possession in New Jersey

The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice (N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:35-10) governs most drug possession offenses in New Jersey, including possession of drug paraphernalia (N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:36-1).

Drug possession is when “any person, knowingly or purposely,” obtains or possesses, “actually or constructively,” any controlled substance without a prescription.

New Jersey state law and federal drug laws classify drugs into five categories. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous and have the most serious penalties, while schedule V drugs are the least dangerous and have the lowest penalties.

  • I: examples may include marijuana or heroin;
  • II: examples can include methamphetamine, cocaine, and oxycodone;
  • III: examples can include vicodin, codeine, and other prescription painkillers;
  • IV: examples include lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and diazepam (Valium); and
  • V: examples include cough medicines containing low levels of codeine.

The statute of possession of drug paraphernalia states that the possession of all materials used in anything from planting to packaging, ingesting or inhaling, or otherwise introducing controlled dangerous substance to the human body. 

Examples of drug paraphernalia according to the statute include:

  • Kits for planting or growing controlled substances;
  • Tools used to process or prepare controlled substances;
  • Devices used to increase the potency of a controlled substance;
  • Testing equipment to determine the purity or strength of a controlled substance;
  • Scales and balances used for weighing or measuring drugs; and
  • Containers used to package controlled substances.

Distribution of Drugs Under New Jersey Law

New Jersey law (N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:35-5) makes it unlawful for anyone, knowingly or purposely, “to manufacture, distribute, dispense, or to possess or have under his control with intent to manufacture, distribute or dispense, a controlled dangerous substance or controlled analog.” The statute also makes it unlawful to “create, distribute, or possess or have under his control with intent to distribute, a counterfeit controlled dangerous substance.”

Having a certain amount of a drug can increase the offense to a distribution offense. The amount of the drug will suggest that the defendant had the intent to distribute it. 

Penalties for Drug Convictions in New Jersey

The penalties for drug possession, distribution, and manufacturing convictions depend on many factors. These include the type of drug and the specific offense. Distribution and manufacturing charges tend to be more severe than possession charges. Even drug possession charges can result in many years of imprisonment. The following are possible penalties based on the classification of the drug offense:

  • First-degree crime: This is the most serious of all offenses. Examples include large-scale drug distribution charges. Penalties include up to 20 years in prison and up to $200,000 in fines.
  • Second-degree crime: Lower-scale drug distribution charges are an example of a second-degree crime. Penalties include up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
  • Third-degree crime: Examples include possession of a Schedule I, II, III, or IV drug. Penalties include up to five years in prison and up to $35,000 in fines.
  • Fourth-degree crime: Examples include possession of a Schedule V drug. Penalties include a term of imprisonment up to 18 months and a $15,000 fine.
  • Disorderly persons: This is the least serious type of offense. Examples include possession of marijuana (50 grams or less) and possession of drug paraphernalia. Penalties include a jail term of up to six months and a $1,000 fine.

First Offense Drug Charges in New Jersey and Diversionary Programs

For low-level first offenses in New Jersey, an offender may be eligible for the Conditional Discharge Program for disorderly persons offenses.

The Conditional Discharge Program allows the defendant to have the charge dismissed after a period of time. This is only as long as the defendant follows all the requirements of the program. Enrollment in this program means that the defendant will not get the penalties for the offense. They can also be eligible to have the charge dismissed if they complete the program.

To be eligible for Conditional Discharge, the following must be true:

  • No prior criminal record (be a first-time criminal offender);
  • No previous entry into a diversionary program; and
  • Be charged with a lower level drug offense.

Program completion requires the defendant to pass all drug tests and stay out of the criminal justice system for six months to one year.

If you are facing a higher-level drug offense (for example, a third-degree crime or a fourth-degree crime) you may be eligible for a diversionary program known as Pretrial Intervention (PTI)–a program for first-time offenders. They can have the charges dismissed after a probationary period of one to three years. 

Contact a Drug Defense Attorney in New Jersey

Are you facing drug charges?

A drug crimes defense lawyer in New Jersey can assist you.

Contact the Law Offices of Anthony J. Vecchio LLC today.

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