As a New Jersey criminal defense attorney, I have helped countless clients charged with possession of marijuana avoid conviction. Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana Under 50 Grams, under sub-section (4) of 2C:35-10 is one of the most common disorderly persons offenses a criminal lawyer encounters. Why? Because it is a very popular controlled substance, there is a very casual attitude about it’s use, and it has a strong distinct odor. This means that there are a greater number of people using marijuana than other controlled substances. Because of the casual attitude towards marijuana, people sometimes forget that it is in fact illegal, or resent having to behave in a secretive way about using it when they ought to be more discreet in order to avoid detection. Both raw, unburned marijuana, as well as marijuana smoke have a strong odor which permeates cars, hair, clothes, and even tends to linger outdoors. This gives law enforcement a big advantage in detecting the presence or use of the drug. All this translates into a large number of arrests. My office is located near Rutgers University. I have spoken to many Rutgers and New Brunswick police officers who candidly tell me how prevalent marijuana use seems to be, the high frequency with which they smell it, and how easy making those arrests are.
Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana is a disorderly persons offense which is charged when a person possesses under 50 grams of the drug. This makes the way it is prosecuted different than any other drug. It is the only drug whose illegal possession is handled as a disorderly persons offense in Municipal Court, rather than an indictable offense in Superior Court. A disorderly persons offense has a statutory maximum penalty of 6 months in jail, a $1,000 fine. For marijuana possession, a 6 month suspension of driving privileges, whether a car was involved or not, is also added as a penalty. A hardship exception may be made by the judge with respect to the license suspension, at The Court’s discretion. The penalty is designed to be a slap on the wrist compared to other drug offenses. Possessing even the tiniest fraction of a gram, even residual amounts, of any other drug will be charged as a third degree indictable offense, which has a 5 year statutory maximum period of incarceration in state prison; a very serious offense.
What can a criminal lawyer do for you if you’re caught red handed? Of course, it depends on many factors. When I become a person’s attorney, I become entitled to receive all of the evidence that will be used in the prosecution of the case. Once I analyze that evidence, I formulate my defense strategy. Proving possession may be difficult for the state to establish if there were several people present when the marijuana was discovered by law enforcement. If a person is detained or charged because law enforcement believes the defendant is under the influence, the quality of the identification of that alleged impaired state becomes an issue, and hence a viable defense. If the marijuana was discovered by law enforcement in someone’s pocket or pocketbook, car, or house, the Constitutionality of the search becomes an issue which I focus on extremely carefully, as the police need probable cause and a warrant to conduct a search (or consent, which I know you didn’t give them because you’ve been reading my blog and are too smart for that). The police also have to submit the sample of the alleged marijuana to the State Police Lab for analysis. The State Police will weigh and chemically analyze the substance to prove, to the appropriate degree of scientific reliability, that the substance is in fact marijuana. Failure to do this in accordance with carefully mandated protocols and statutory procedures, or to properly establish a chain of custody for collection, control, transfer and transport of the evidence could result in the substance or the lab results being deemed inadmissible by the court. These issues are complex, which is why it is important to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney who has successfully represented many clients charged with this offense. When all else fails, it is possible to qualify for the Conditional Discharge Program, which may also allow defendants to avoid a conviction if they meet certain criteria, and will be discussed in a future post. If you’ve been charged with possession of marijuana call my office, talk to me, and learn what I can do to help you with your case.