Penalties in New Jersey involving marijuana are enhanced when the offense occurs within a school zone. New Jersey defines school zone as any school property used for school purposes. The property must be owned by or leased to an elementary or secondary school, or school board. It also encompasses areas within 1,000 feet of those properties. Additionally, school zone includes any area within 1,000 feet of a school bus. These provisions are contained in N.J.S. 2C:35-7.
Persons convicted of third- and fourth degree offenses involving distribution of marijuana in New Jersey are often able to avoid a prison sentence. But distribution of marijuana in a school zone is, itself, a separate third degree offense. In such situations, a sentence to state prison becomes very likely. In conjunction with that imprisonment, as originally enacted, the judge was required to specify a period during which the convicted person could be released on parole. Where the quantity of marijuana was one ounce or more, that period was a minimum of one-third of the total sentence, or three years, whichever is greater. Where the quantity was less than an ounce, the parole ineligibility was required to be at least one-third of the sentence, or one year, whichever is greater. These periods of imprisonment and parole ineligibility applied equally to New Jersey convictions for possession with intent to distribute, even when no actual distribution ever occurred. Further, the intent to distribute, itself, need not have been in a school zone. These enhanced penalties apply so long as it was within the school zone that the possession with intent occurred.
N.J.S. 2C:35-7 also specifies certain factors that cannot be used as defenses. It is no defense that school was not actually in session. It is no defense that no children were the area. And it is no defense that the person did not know that he was in a school zone.
The requirements just stated began with the New Jersey Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987. Those requirements remained inflexible for many years. They were relaxed somewhat in 2009. This relaxation allows the judge under some circumstances to lower the period of parole ineligibility. The judge can even sentence the defendant to probation, with no imprisonment at all. Here are factors that that judge can consider:
- The defendant's prior criminal history
- The seriousness of the offense for which the defendant was convicted
- Whether school was in session at the time of the offense
- Whether children were in the immediate area
- How far the offense was from the school or school property itself
Allan Marain and Norman Epting, Jr. are New Jersey marijuana lawyers. They have been successfully representing clients in school zone cases since the law was first enacted in 1987. Exposure upon conviction is incredibly severe. Their assistance can make all the difference in the world. You owe it to yourself to discuss your situation with them when facing charges such as these. They are available to discuss your situation in a no-charge no-obligation office conference. Call them!
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