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 descheduled 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.
This article will review New Jersey's recreational marijuana laws, as well as sale, cultivation, and medicinal-use laws.
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 decriminalized certain low-level marijuana offenses, making them violations. The new laws also made major changes to policing of marijuana. For certain marijuana offenses, police can no longer arrest, search, or detain a violator. And the law prohibits police from conducting a stop or a search for a possession offense based on the odor of marijuana.
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 permitted uses and restrictions on marijuana possession and consumption under the law.
The big question: What exactly does New Jersey's recreational marijuana law allow? Here are the key provisions.
Purchase. An adult age 21 and older may legally purchase up to one ounce of marijuana through a licensed retailer. (It will take some time for the state to develop regulations to license adult-use retailers—possibly in 2022 or later.)
Possession. It's also legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to six ounces of marijuana. Possession of drug paraphernalia intended for use with marijuana is also no longer a crime.
Use. Smoking and vaping marijuana are lawful on private property when permitted by the owner. Hotels and lodging establishments may also designate rooms for smoking. Generally speaking, you can smoke or vape in your own home but even this rule has a caveat. If you live in multifamily housing or are renting, the building owner, association, or landlord may prohibit marijuana smoking and vaping.
Similar to smoking, restrictions exist on where you can possess or consume marijuana.
Smoke-Free Air Act. Under New Jersey's Smoke-Free Air Act, a person cannot smoke or vape marijuana anywhere smoking tobacco is prohibited, such as 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.
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 on possessing or smoking marijuana.
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. However, as noted above, police may no longer detain or arrest the individual for a possession offense.
New Jersey law prohibits underage possession and consumption of marijuana, but a violation is not considered a criminal act or act of delinquency. Officers cannot ask an underage person to consent to a search for marijuana, nor can they arrest or detain the person for a possession violation or crime.
Six ounces or less. A person younger than 21 who possesses or consumes six ounces or less of 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. Written warnings go to the underage individual and, for a minor younger than 18, their parent or guardian. 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.
More than six ounces. An underage person who possesses more than six ounces of marijuana commits a fourth-degree crime and may be issued a complaint-summons.
(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:33-15, 2C:35-10, 2C:36-2, 2C:43-3, 2C:43-6, 2C:43-8, 26:3D-58, 39:4-50, 39:4-51b (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 distribution. 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 distribution. 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. §§ 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 (2021).)
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.