Understanding Drug Charges in New Jersey

To deter individuals from using, creating, and distributing illegal substances, felony drug charges are a serious offense in New Jersey. However, there isn’t a single penalty for every drug offense. Many nuances that can alter the severity of a sentence for drug charges. Here’s a look at the NJ drug laws and penalties and the factors that influence them.

An Overview of New Jersey’s Drug Classification

Before reviewing the different NJ drug laws and penalties, it is important to review how the state classifies drugs. Controlled dangerous substances (CDS) are illegal drugs that are classified into different schedules based on their potential for abuse and other factors, including whether or not they have medical benefits. Schedule I controlled substances have the highest abuse potential, whereas Schedule V is the lowest.

Kinds of NJ Drug Laws and Penalties

Possession of Drugs

If an individual knowingly obtained and had control over their ownership over a drug, it is considered possession. However, if an individual receives legal prescription drugs from a doctor or physician for medical reasons, it is not deemed an unlawful possession. Those proven to have illegally used and been under the influence of drugs, even if they no longer have them, can also be charged with possession.

Distribution of Drugs

Those possessing with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance will receive a drug distribution charge. The definition of intent is not clearly defined but can be proven in multiple ways. For example, exchanging drugs for money with another person can constitute a distribution. Additionally, if an individual possesses a large amount of drugs, it may be considered evidence of their intent to distribute.

Factors That Can Influence NJ Drug Laws and Penalties

Charges and penalties for drug crimes differ greatly based on the circumstances. Depending on the situation surrounding the charge:

  • The degree of offense
  • The maximum fine can increase considerably
  • The jail time sentence can double

Type of Drug

The drug possession charges in NJ are more severe depending on how dangerous their respective schedule is. For instance, the penalty for possessing Schedule I to IV drugs includes a five-year sentence and a $35,000 fine, whereas Schedule V drugs only result in 18 months of jail time and a $25,000 fine.


However, drug distribution charges can change considerably depending on the quantity of the drug. Possessing more than an ounce of Schedule I or II drugs can double the prison sentence, and other controlled substances have similar increases in severity.

Subsequent Offenses

Repeated drug possession charges in NJ can double the first offense’s penalties.


While the penalties of a first-time offense may be lower than any subsequent charges, they can become even higher depending on the location it was possessed. The following areas receive harsher consequences:

  • Within 1,000 feet of a school zone
  • Within 500 feet of a housing project or public park

Defending Against Drug Charges

If you were charged with a drug-related crime and need the help of a criminal defense attorney in NJ, contact The Law Office of Zapicchi and Liller LLP. Our aggressive and experienced lawyers will fight on your behalf to provide the best legal defense possible while also helping you understand the various NJ drug laws and penalties. We can also help if you’re searching for a DUI attorney near me and with other criminal matters.