How New Jersey’s New Medical Marijuana Laws Affect Drug Possession Charges
New Jersey laws and law enforcement efforts represent an aggressive approach toward marijuana. The state has some of the harshest penalties in the country for first-time marijuana possession offenders, and based on one study, more than 23,000 marijuana-related arrests occur in our state each year.
As a result, New Jersey drug possession lawyers must constantly remain informed about changes in the law in order to better help the public.
This is especially true in light of Senate Bill 119, or New Jersey medical marijuana laws, which was enacted in 2010. Some of the changes brought on by Senate Bill 119 have possibly confused many New Jersey residents.
To be clear, while marijuana use and possession may now be legal in very limited circumstances, you should use caution. Here are important points you should know about the law:
What Is ‘Legal’ Use of Marijuana or Cannabis in New Jersey?
First, and most importantly, you should know that marijuana is still very much treated as a controlled substance in New Jersey. Also, regardless of claims by researchers, marijuana is still widely classified as a Schedule I drug. This means that marijuana is deemed to have a high risk of abuse and no medical use.
So, you must remember, this is the default rule in New Jersey: Marijuana is illegal.
However, in the wake of the 2010 medical marijuana law, New Jersey now allows you to use marijuana to treat specific “debilitating medical conditions,” including:
- Lou Gehrig’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Seizures and spasms (including epilepsy)
- Any terminal illness from which the patient is expected to die within one year.
However, merely having one of these conditions is not enough to allow you to legally use medical marijuana in New Jersey. You still have to meet a number of other conditions, including:
- Certification – Your doctor must sign a statement saying you qualify. It must be a physician with an ongoing responsibility to treat you.
- Registration – You must register with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. If you did everything correctly, you will get a Registry ID card, allowing you to legally use marijuana to treat your condition.
How Do You Stay Legal?
If you are reading this article, you are on the right track. You need to do your research. If you are still confused, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. You must follow the law carefully and ask any time you have questions.
Above all, never use or possess marijuana until you have received your Registry ID card. Even then, be aware that you are still limited to possessing only two ounces at any time.
Can You Still Be Arrested For Marijuana in New Jersey?
Yes, but the police must have probable cause or a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. This means there has to be some valid reason to search you. Normally, without probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, anything the police find can be thrown out.
Consider a recent case where a man was searched on suspicion of cannabis possession. The police found an unlawful firearm, which led to more serious charges against him.
According to local news sources, the man argued that since he was legally allowed to have the marijuana for personal use under the new New Jersey medical marijuana laws, the police officer had no legal justification to search for it.
The court disagreed. Instead, the court held, “absent evidence the person suspected of possessing or using marijuana has a registry identification card, detection of marijuana by the sense of smell, or by the other senses, provides probable cause to believe that the crime of unlawful possession of marijuana has been committed.”
What Happens If You Are Arrested For Possession of Marijuana Even Though You Have a Registry ID Card?
Since the law is relatively new, the police will still make occasional mistakes. But be aware that having a right to use cannabis does not guarantee a shield against arrest.
As the case above illustrates, unless you are carrying your Registry ID card and have strong evidence that you are permitted to use marijuana, just the smell alone can be enough to justify an arrest. If the police find evidence of other crimes, do not expect those charges to get dropped.
In short, obey all laws, especially when in possession of or when using your medicinal marijuana. You should carry your Registry ID card and, perhaps, your doctor’s business card. This may help provide the police with the evidence they need. It may also help to demonstrate later on that the police did not have reasonable suspicion that you were breaking the law.
Nevertheless, if you are arrested, immediately contact an experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyer at the Law Offices of Anthony J. Vecchio, LLC.
My law firm features offices conveniently located throughout New Jersey. I will personally review your situation and aggressively represent you from start to finish. Contact me today to learn more.