cocaine possession charges new jersey
Drug Crimes

Last updated on April 19, 2024

Drug Possession Charges and Penalties in New Jersey

Are you facing a legal predicament after being caught in possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS) in New Jersey? The penalties and severity of drug charges imposed on you can vary depending on several factors. These factors include the type of substance involved, such as marijuana or heroin, as well as the weight of the CDS. The repercussions often involve imprisonment, hefty fines, license suspension, and other potential consequences. 

At Lustberg Law Offices LLC, attorney Adam M. Lustberg and our team of skilled New Jersey drug crimes lawyers may be able to help you navigate through these challenging circumstances. Call us today at (201) 880-5311 to schedule a consultation.

First, Second, Third, and Fourth Degree Drug Charges

Drug charges are categorized by degree and range, in ascending order of severity, from a disorderly persons offense to a First Degree indictable crime. The degree of the crime depends on the type of drug, the amount of the drug found in your possession, and certain other facts. The closer to a First Degree crime you are, the more severe the potential penalties are.

New Jersey penalties associated with the following drug crime charge degrees are:

  • First-Degree Drug Charges – Up to 30 years, and in some cases life imprisonment, up to $1,000,000 in fines, and possible loss or suspension of driver’s license.
  • Second-Degree Drug Charges – Up to 25 years in prison, up to $500,000 in fines, and possible loss or suspension of driver’s license.
  • Third-Degree Drug Charges – 3-5 years in prison, up to $35,000 in fines, and possible loss or suspension of driver’s license.
  • Fourth-Degree Drug Charges – Up to 18 months in prison, up to $15,000 in fines, and possible loss or suspension of driver’s license.
  • Disorderly Persons Offense Charges – Up to 6 months in the county jail, up to $1000 in fines, and possible loss or suspension of driver’s license.
Drug Crime Charge Degrees Maximum Prison Sentence Maximum Fines Driver’s License Penalty
First-Degree Up to 30 years Up to $1,000,000 Possible loss or suspension
Second-Degree Up to 25 years Up to $500,000 Possible loss or suspension
Third-Degree 3-5 years Up to $35,000 Possible loss or suspension
Fourth-Degree Up to 18 months Up to $15,000 Possible loss or suspension
Disorderly Persons Up to 6 months Up to $1,000 Possible loss or suspension

Regular Possession Charges and Penalties

As mentioned, the degree of crime you will be charged with depends on the type of drug and how much of it you have. If you were only found in possession of it, and not found to have also had the intent to distribute the drug, the penalties are less severe.

Possible possession charges in New Jersey include:

  • Less than 50 grams of marijuana – chargeable as a disorderly persons offense
  • More than 50 grams of marijuana – chargeable as an indictable offense, the degree of which depends on the weight of the drug.
  • Any amount of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, acid, ecstasy, GBH, and any other illegal narcotics stimulants, hallucinogens, opiates, or depressants – chargeable as an indictable offense, the degree of which depends on the weight of the drug.
  • Drug paraphernalia such as needles, baggies, pipes, bongs – chargeable as a disorderly persons offense
  • Unauthorized prescription drugs – Often charged as a third-degree offense

Possession with Intent to Distribute Charges and Penalties

New Jersey laws get more severe if a drug possession charge is accompanied by evidence of manufacturing, distributing, or possession with intent to distribute. This is because now your crime is not only affecting yourself but spreading those illegal substances within your community, oftentimes for profit.

Degree of crimes for these level of drug possession and drug distribution charges are:


Less than one ounce = 4th degree
One ounce up to just under five pounds = 3rd degree
Five pounds to 25 pounds = 2nd degree
Over 25 pounds = 1st degree

Heroin or Cocaine

Less than half an ounce = 3rd degree
Over half an ounce but under five ounces = 2nd degree
Over five ounces = 1st degree


Less than 100 mg = 2nd degree
Over 100 mg = 1st degree

Any other drug and their potential charges may be found in New Jersey law N.J.S.A 2C:35.

How to Get a Possession Charge Dismissed

If you’re facing a possession charge and want to explore ways to get it dismissed, it’s important to consider various legal defenses. Here are four strategies that could potentially lead to a dismissal:

Challenge the Legality of the Search:

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. If the search that led to the discovery of drugs was conducted unlawfully, the evidence may be excluded, resulting in the dismissal of your case. Generally, warrantless searches are considered invalid, except in specific situations like when an item is in plain view or when the police have probable cause to search a motor vehicle.

Dispute the Possession:

If the prosecution can’t prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you had actual or constructive possession of the drugs, the case may be dismissed. Actual possession means the drugs were found on your person or in an area exclusively under your control, while constructive possession applies when drugs are found in an area controlled by multiple individuals. Your attorney can challenge the state’s ability to prove your intent to control the drugs and your knowledge of their contents.

New Jersey drug possession lawyer

Question the Substance’s Legality:

The prosecution must establish that the substance in question is an illegal drug. Usually, a certified lab report is used as evidence, but you can challenge the report by raising timely objections and questioning the lab’s procedures or findings. If the validity of the lab report is undermined, it could lead to the dismissal of the case.

Raise Discovery Violations or Entrapment:

You have the right to access all evidence held by the prosecution. If the prosecution fails to provide crucial evidence, such as the actual drugs, the case may be dismissed. Additionally, if you can demonstrate that you were entrapped by the police—coerced into committing a crime you wouldn’t have otherwise committed—entrapment may serve as a viable defense.

Getting a possession charge dismissed requires the assistance of a skilled drug defense attorney who can thoroughly examine the specific details of your case and determine the most effective defense strategies.

Do First Time Drug Offenders Go to Jail in NJ?

Whether first-time drug offenders go to jail in New Jersey largely depends on the details of the charge. For a first offense of drug possession (excluding marijuana), the state’s legal system can impose a sentence that varies from 3 to 5 years in prison, accompanied by fines that may reach up to $35,000.

The situation is more severe if the charge involves the intent to distribute. Even as a first-time offender, you could face anywhere from several months to 20 years of incarceration, based on the type and quantity of drugs involved in the case.

New Jersey’s drug laws are stringent, and while every case is unique, the state does enforce its penalties with consistency. First-time offenders are not exempt from these rules, and the court’s determination will rest upon the specifics of the offense. It’s important for those charged to seek legal counsel to navigate the complexities of the law and to understand the full scope of potential consequences.

Contact an Experienced Hackensack Drug Defense Attorney About Your Drug Possession Charges in New Jersey

Have you been charged with a drug-related offense in New Jersey? A drug crime conviction can carry with it heavy fines, jail time, and driver’s license suspension! That is why it is imperative that you speak with a qualified drug defense lawyer about your case. The lawyers at Lustberg Law Offices represent clients charged with use, possession, production, distribution, and related drug offenses in Fort Lee, Fair Lawn, Bergenfield, Ridgewood, and throughout New Jersey. Contact us at (201) 880-5311 or fill out our confidential online form to schedule a free consultation about your case. We have an office located at One University Plaza Dr Suite 210, Hackensack, NJ 07601, in addition to offices located in New York.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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