New Jersey Legislature Considering Marijuana Decriminalization
In recent years, marijuana has started to gain a reputation as a “soft drug” that is less dangerous to society than harder drugs like heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine. However, changes in public opinion do not necessarily translate into changes in the law. In New Jersey, possession of even small amounts of marijuana is still considered a serious drug crime.
Under current law, possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana is a disorderly person offense punishable by up to six months of incarceration and a maximum fine of $1,000. The sale of any amount of marijuana is a felony. Even a conviction for selling less than an ounce of marijuana can bring 1.5 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
This may change soon. In June 2012, the New Jersey General Assembly passed a law that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. If the bill becomes law, persons caught with 15 grams or less of marijuana – a little more than half an ounce – would only be required to pay a modest fine. The penalty would be $150 on a first offense, and would increase with each subsequent violation. After the third offense, an individual could be ordered to undergo a drug evaluation.
The bill has been sent to the Senate for further action. Governor Christie has indicated that he may veto the legislation, but the bill’s authors are hopeful they can persuade him to sign it into law.
Marijuana Crimes Have Long-Term Consequences
Even if this bill does become law, it is important to take marijuana charges seriously. A New Jersey marijuana conviction can have a whole host of consequences beyond fines and incarceration.
For example, drug convictions can render students ineligible for many types of financial aid. In addition, drug convictions will show up on a background check and could prevent a person from getting a job or qualifying for a professional license.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can work to minimize the negative consequences of a marijuana conviction. In some cases, the attorney can even keep the crime off a person’s record or help get the record expunged after conviction.
If you have been charged with a New Jersey marijuana crime, don’t make the mistake of trying to handle the charges yourself. Talk to a criminal defense attorney who can help protect your future.