New Jersey Drug Possession Laws Explained by an Essex County Drug Lawyer

The New Jersey state government keeps strict tabs on what drugs can and cannot be used legally, and among the substances deemed illegal, the state ranks these according to different “schedules” or categories. Within these categories, controlled dangerous substances (or CDSs) are evaluated according to their potential for addiction, the harm they could cause to users and the pharmaceutical value they hold. Each schedule is separated and assigned a rank of danger, which corresponds to potential criminal charges and sentencing. Although most drugs are scheduled according to the laws of the federal government, some drugs differ from state to state. Scott Gorman, an Essex County drug lawyer, can answer any questions you may have with regard to your specific circumstances and drug-related legal issues.

Did You Know That Most Drug Crimes in New Jersey are Felonies?

In general terms, a felony is any crime that carries a potential sentence of one or more years in prison. Crimes carrying less than a year of jail time are misdemeanor offenses. While New Jersey law establishes a number of felony and misdemeanor drug-related offenses, most drug crimes prosecuted at the federal level are felonies.

What are the Degrees of Felony Drug Charges?

In New Jersey, felony drug crimes can be charged as first, second, third or fourth-degree indictable offenses. The potential penalties for drug crimes in each of these categories are as follows:

  • First-Degree Indictable Offense – Up to $200,000 in fines and a maximum prison sentence ranging from 10 years to life depending upon the specific drug crime charged.
  • Second-Degree Indictable Offense – Up to $150,000 in fines and five to 10 years of imprisonment.
  • Third-Degree Indictable Offense – Up to $15,000 in fines and three to five years of imprisonment.
  • Fourth-Degree Indictable Offense – Up to $10,000 in fines and 18 months of imprisonment.

At the federal level, things get more complicated. Federal law establishes 43 “offense levels” for felony crimes, and drug crimes can fall anywhere along this spectrum. Additionally, some federal drug crimes (and related crimes, such as money laundering and tax fraud) are subject to statutory minimum penalties that differ from those that would otherwise apply under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. When facing a federal charge, it is critical that you speak with an Essex County drug lawyer.

Drug Schedules

There are five schedules for illegal drugs currently in use, starting with the most dangerous in Schedule I, and ending with the least dangerous in Schedule V. Each schedule’s qualifications are broken down below:

Schedule I:

  • Highest potential for abuse
  • No medical value or use in the United States
  • No accepted safety regulations for using these substances
  • Examples: ecstasy, LSD, and heroin

Schedule II:

  • High potential for abuse
  • Some restricted medical uses in the US
  • Users have potential for addiction
  • Examples: cocaine, morphine (50 mg per 100g or greater), Adderall, and Oxycodone

Schedule III:

  • Lower potential for abuse than drugs in Schedules I and II
  • Currently used for medical purposes
  • Low potential for addiction
  • Examples: anabolic steroids, Valium, morphine (less than 50mg per 100 g), and Vicodin

Schedule IV:

  • Low potential for abuse
  • Currently used for medical purposes
  • Users could become dependent, but less likely than drugs in Schedule III
  • Examples: Xanax, Lorazepam, roofies and Phenobarbital

Schedule V:

  • Lowest potential for abuse
  • Currently used for medical purposes
  • Users are least likely to become dependent, but some small potential for either physical or psychological dependence
  • Typically, this schedule includes drugs in higher schedules, but in low dosage form.
  • Examples: Lacosamide, Pregabalin

Our Essex County Drug Lawyer Explains Penalties for Drug Possession

The penalties for possession with intent to distribute any controlled dangerous substances are outlined in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5. Generally speaking, crimes of this nature involving a smaller amounts of Schedule I, II, III or IV drugs are third-degree crimes, and a convicted person can be fined up to $25,000, and the penalties are enhanced for several specific substances. Distribution crimes involving schedule V substances are treated as fourth-degree crimes and can be penalized with fines of up to $25,000 as well.

In New Jersey, heroin and cocaine are classified according to the drug schedules (Schedules I and II, respectively), but they are treated differently in terms of criminal penalties for anyone caught selling these drugs. Anyone caught selling more than five ounces of heroin or cocaine can be charged with first-degree crimes of sale and possession, which carries criminal penalties of up to 20 years in jail and fines up to $500,000.

Prescription Drug Crimes in New Jersey

Prescription medications are subject to numerous regulations at the state and federal levels, and individuals charged with prescription drug crimes can face charges state prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Scott represents clients charged with all state and federal prescription drug offenses, including:

  • Unlawful Possession of Prescription Drugs – Possessing a prescription medication without a valid prescription or medical purpose is minimally a disorderly persons offense; and, if arrested with four or more dosage units, you can be charged with a fourth-degree indictable offense.
  • Unlawful Use of Prescription Drugs – Unlawful use of a prescription medication is a disorderly persons offense. If found guilty of being under the influence, you can face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
  • Unlawful Distribution of Prescription Drugs – Unlawful distribution is a serious crime that can be charged as high as a second-degree indictable offense (in cases involving 100 or more dosage units). Distributing five to 100 dosage units is a third-degree indictable offense, while distributing four or less dosage units can be charged as either a fourth-degree crime or disorderly persons offense.
  • Prescription Drug Fraud – At the state level, prescription drug fraud is a third-degree indictable offense carrying the potential for three to five years of imprisonment and a $50,000 fine. Federal prescription drug fraud offenses carry even greater fines and terms of imprisonment.
  • Prescription Forgery – Similar to prescription drug fraud, prescription forgery is a third-degree indictable offense under New Jersey law. At the federal level, prescription forgery is considered a form of drug diversion, which is a heavily-prosecuted felony offense.

Intent to Sell (or Intent to Distribute) a Controlled Dangerous Substance

The crime of intent to sell (or intent to distribute) is outlined in Section 2C:35-5 of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice:

“[I]t shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or purposely: (1) . . . to possess or have under his control with intent to manufacture, distribute or dispense, a controlled dangerous substance or controlled substance analog; or (2) . . . possess or have under his control with intent to distribute, a counterfeit controlled dangerous substance.”

“Controlled dangerous substances” include all drugs listed on Schedule I through Schedule V, with the only exception to criminal culpability being for lawful distribution of prescription medications. At the Gorman Law Firm, we represent individuals throughout New Jersey facing charges for intent to sell:

  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • All other illegal drugs

Criminal Penalties for Intent to Sell in New Jersey

As with other drug crimes, the penalties for intent to sell in New Jersey vary depending upon the specific drug and quantity involved. Examples of penalties for some of the more-common intent-to-sell charges include:

  • Intent to sell five or more ounces of heroin or cocaine – 10 or more years of imprisonment (with a mandatory minimum term of one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed) and up to a $500,000 fine
  • Intent to sell at least one-half ounce but less than five ounces of heroin or cocaine – Five to 10 years of imprisonment and up to a $150,000 fine
  • Intent to sell less than one-half ounce of heroin or cocaine – Three to five years of imprisonment and a $75,000 fine
  • Intent to sell five to 25 pounds of marijuana (or 10 to 49 plants) – Five to 10 years of imprisonment and up to a $150,000 fine
  • Intent to sell at least one ounce but less than five pounds of marijuana – Three to five years of imprisonment and a $25,000 fine
  • Intent to sell less than one ounce of marijuana – Up to 18 months of imprisonment and a $10,000 fine

If you have been charged with intent to sell, you are facing prison time; and, if you do not take effective measures to protect yourself, you will almost certainly be convicted at trial. Essex County drug attorney Scott Gorman has extensive experience representing individuals charged with intent to sell and other drug crimes.

Protect Your Rights and Contact a Top Essex County Drug Lawyer Today

At The Gorman Law Firm, Scott Gorman represents anyone who has been charged with a drug crime, from distribution and possession to drugged driving. If you have been caught with an illegal or dangerous narcotic and need help fighting your charges, contact an Essex County drug lawyer at The Gorman Law Firm for a consultation today.

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