Marijuana possession, sale, and cultivation are regulated by both state and federal laws. In New Jersey, marijuana had been classified as a Schedule I substance, but sweeping reforms enacted in early 2021 de-scheduled marijuana and legalized certain uses.
While certain uses are legal in New Jersey, it's important to remember that federal law continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug and prohibits recreational and medicinal use despite state laws to the contrary. To learn more on how conflicting state and federal laws interact, check out our article on Marijuana Possession: Laws & Penalties.
While not covered in this article, it remains illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana. Open container penalties also apply to marijuana in vehicles.
New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved legalizing recreational use of small amounts of marijuana in the November 2020 election. It took lawmakers several months, however, to agree on how to implement the voters' decision.
Starting February 22, 2021, New Jersey allows the personal possession, purchase, and consumption of small amounts of marijuana by adults age 21 and older—subject to restrictions. Along with legalizing certain uses, New Jersey lawmakers also decriminalized certain low-level marijuana offenses.
While New Jersey's new marijuana laws took effect immediately after their enactment, certain key parts of law—like licensing cannabis retailers to sell marijuana—will take some time to implement. (A.B. 21, A.B. 1897, S.B. 3454 (2021).)
Like all other states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana, New Jersey restricts such use by age, amount, location, and other factors. Here are some of the highlights of New Jersey's restrictions on marijuana possession and consumption.
An adult age 21 and older may legally purchase up to one ounce of marijuana through a licensed retailer (when they open). It's also legal for adults of legal age to possess up to six ounces of marijuana.
Smoke-free New Jersey. Similar to smoking, restrictions exist on where a person may smoke, vape, or consume marijuana and marijuana products. For instance, a person cannot smoke or vape marijuana anywhere smoking tobacco is prohibited (indoor public areas, public parks and beaches, and workplaces). This prohibition extends to grounds of a public or private university, college, or other higher education campus. A violation can mean a civil penalty of $250 to $1,000. (N.J. Stat. § 26:3D-58 (2021).)
Schools. Stiffer penalties apply to possession of any amount of cannabis on elementary or secondary school grounds. This violation is a disorderly person offense, punishable by up to six months' jail time and a $1,000 fine.
Private property; restrictions. Private property owners can also impose their own restrictions. For instance, a landlord could ban tenants from smoking or vaping on their property.
When a person possesses more than six ounces of marijuana, criminal penalties kick in. The offense is a crime of the fourth degree, and potential penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, up to 18 months in prison, or both.
In addition, a judge will order at least 100 hours of community service for possessing marijuana in a school zone or on a school bus. For crimes where the defendant possessed the marijuana with the intent to sell or distribute it (as opposed to for personal use), additional penalties will apply, as described below.
New Jersey law prohibits underage possession and consumption of marijuana, but a violation is not considered a criminal act or act of delinquency.
A person younger than 21 who possesses or consumes cannabis or marijuana will face a series of written warnings issued by police—copies of which will be kept by law enforcement to determine when subsequent violations occur.
A first warning goes to the underage individual. For a second warning involving a minor younger than 18, the officer will forward a copy to the minor's parents or guardians. Those subject to a third or subsequent warning will be referred to social services or counseling, along with notice to the agency to follow up on the referral. The officer can also take possession of the marijuana or cannabis item from the person on a third or subsequent offense.
(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:35-10, 2C:43-3, 2C:43-6, 2C:43-8 (2021).)
Selling marijuana (or possessing marijuana with the intent to do so) in New Jersey is illegal, unless the person holds a valid cannabis wholesaler, delivery, or retailer license.
Legal. Licensed retailers (once open) may sell one ounce or less of marijuana to a person age 21 or older. A person of legal age may also transfer up to one ounce of marijuana to another person of legal age, as long as no money changes hands (or other payment is exchanged).
Illegal. Violations for unlawful sales and distribution are penalized according to the amount possessed or sold, with additional penalties for violations within a school zone, on certain public property, or for violations involving a minor or a pregnant woman. Second and subsequent convictions may also be punished more harshly.
(N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:35-5, 2C:35-7, 2C:35-7.1, 2C:35-8, 2C:43-3, 2C:43-6 (2021).)
Unless an individual obtains a cannabis cultivator license, it is illegal to cultivate marijuana in New Jersey. Penalties vary according to the number of plants cultivated. Second and subsequent convictions may be punished more harshly.
Fewer than ten marijuana plants. The offense is a crime of the third degree, and potential penalties include a fine of up to $25,000, between three and five years in prison, or both.
Between ten and 49 plants. The offense is a crime of the second degree, and potential penalties include a fine of up to $150,000, between five and ten years in prison, or both.
50 or more plants. The offense is a crime of the first degree, and potential penalties include a fine of up to $300,000, between ten and 20 years in prison, or both.
(N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:35-5, 2C:43-3, 2C:43-6 (2021).)
New Jersey allows medicinal marijuana possession and use by patients with qualifying medical conditions, such as epilepsy, glaucoma, PTSD, cancer, Crohn's disease, and terminal illnesses (among other conditions). Qualifying patients (including minors) must register with the state and are subject to a monthly limit of three ounces of usable cannabis. Patients cannot grow their own cannabis plants. (N.J. Stat. §§ 24:6I-3, -4, -10 (2020).)
If you have been charged with a marijuana-related offense, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. While the penalties and consequences of a marijuana charge are governed by statutory law, the laws can change at any time. Only a local criminal defense attorney can tell you how cases like yours tend to be handled by prosecutors and judges in your courthouse.