NJ Marijuana Distribution Charges

Charges for selling, distributing, and intent to distribute marijuana are definitely on the rise. We have our theories as to why so many individuals are charged with a fourth, third, second, and even a first-degree offense for distribution. The push to legalize marijuana is certainly a factor.

There isn’t a doubt that the level of skill possessed by your attorney is a factor in how your marijuana distribution case is resolved.  Just like any other profession, legal defense comes in all shapes and sizes. You need the very best criminal lawyer in NJ you can find to ensure a favorable outcome.

We are the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall, one of the largest criminal defense firms in New Jersey, and can provide the opportunity you need for defending a distribution of marijuana charge. Our team can offer you:

  • Over 200 years of combined experience representing clients arrested for selling marijuana in NJ
  • 10 lawyers that specialize exclusively in defending those accused of violating the law
  • Former county prosecutors that have served as the Director of the Drug Task Force, Major Crimes Bureau, Juvenile, Special Operations and even an entire Trial Division
  • Certified criminal trial attorneys

If you have been charged with distributing marijuana and would like the benefit of a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you, call 877-450-8301 for a free consultation. An attorney is available 24/7 to assist you.


A criminal charge for illegally selling, distributing, or dispensing marijuana arises out of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5. This NJ Law makes it a crime to knowingly or purposely create, manufacture, distribute, or possess a controlled dangerous substance (“CDS”) with intent to distribute. Since marijuana is still considered a form of CDS, it is a violation of the law to distribute or sell the drug.

An individual acts knowingly in violation of 2C:35-5 if, based on the facts and circumstances, they are aware or should be aware that they are selling, distributing, or possessing marijuana with intent to sell it. Conduct is purposeful if it involves a conscious intention or objective to sell or distribute marijuana. The point is that the accused must have either been aware and/or intended to engage in marijuana distribution in order to commit a violation of this law.

Selling or Distributing Marijuana

The term distribution (e.g. selling) means the actual or attempted transfer of marijuana from one person to another. Although distributing also includes sharing a substance with another person, it does not apply where the recipient is a joint possessor of the marijuana (e.g. both individuals bought or received the drug). Please keep in mind that there is no need for there to be an exchange of consideration such as money for distribution to occur since all that is required to distribute is deliver or transfer.

There are three (3) elements of proof that must be established by the prosecutor in order to convict someone for the distribution of marijuana. First, the controlled dangerous substance in question must be marijuana. Second, the defendant must have distributed, dispensed, or sold marijuana. Third, the prosecution must prove that the conduct was knowing or purposeful.


Intent to Distribute Marijuana

It is also a crime to be in possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. This pedigree of 2C:35-5 violation applies where the actor knows he/she is in possession of marijuana and intends to distribute, dispense, or sell the substance (although not engaging in this conduct currently).

Possession can be actual, constructive, or even joint and provide a basis for intent to distribute. Actual possession means that you had the marijuana under your direct control such as on your person. Constructive possession arises when marijuana is outside your actual possession but nevertheless can and will be possessed by you in the future such as where the drug is hidden in an apartment, storage unit, or car. Joint possession applies where two or more individuals have actual or constructive possession of marijuana.

The elements needed to prove intent to distribute marijuana are similar to those for actual distribution. First, the substance in question must be marijuana. Second, it must be established that you actually or constructively possessed the substance (either individually or jointly). Third, you must have known that you possessed the CDS. Fourth, the state must prove that you intended to distribute the marijuana sometime in the future.

Grading of Offense

The severity of a marijuana distribution charge depends on the quantity being sold or distributed. The grading is as follows:

  • It is a first-degree crime to distribute or possess with intent to distribute 25 pounds or more of marijuana.
  • Distributing at least 5 pounds but less than 25 pounds is a second-degree crime.
  • It is a third-degree crime where the weight of the marijuana being sold or distributed is at least one ounce but less than 5 pounds.
  • The lowest grade of distribution is a fourth-degree crime and applies where the weight is less than one ounce.

The quantity of marijuana being sold or possessed with intent to distribute in individual transactions or incidents may be aggregated (i.e. combined to compute quantity for purposes of grading). In other words, if there were undercover buys of 5 pounds each and there were 6 individual buys, the prosecutor could add the quantities together and pursue a  first degree charge for distribution of 25 pounds.

Penalties & Sentencing

First Degree Marijuana Distribution

The most serious form of marijuana distribution is a first-degree crime under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(b)(10)(a). It carries a fine of up to $300,000 and 10-20 years in prison.

Second Degree Marijuana Distribution

A second-degree crime for distributing marijuana or possession with intent to distribute marijuana results in 5-10 years of imprisonment and a potential fine of $150,000.

Third Degree Marijuana Distribution

The penalties for a third-degree crime for selling or intent to distribute triggers a fine that can reach $25,000 and up to 5 years in prison.

Fourth Degree Marijuana Distribution

If you are convicted for a fourth-degree crime for distribution of marijuana, you face up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

You should also know that the Brimage Guidelines apply if the defendant has a prior conviction for distribution/intent to distribute. What this means is that there will be a period of parole ineligibility that must be imposed at the time of sentencing in the event of conviction for a second or subsequent incident under 2C:35-5.

The court must also impose a Drug Enforcement & Demand Reduction Penalty (“DEDR”) at the time of sentencing. This penalty is $3000 for a first degree crime, $2000 for a second degree crime, $1,000 for a third degree crime, and $750 for a fourth degree crime.


Distributing in a School Zone

There are enhanced consequences when someone distributes marijuana in a school zone in New Jersey. The definition of “school zone” for this purpose is the area within 1,000 feet of property used for school purposes and leased or owned by a school or school board.

When someone sells marijuana within a school zone, they face a separate third-degree criminal offense and the penalties outlined in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7. In this regard, there is a period of parole ineligibility that must be set at between one-half and one-third of the sentence imposed, or three years, whichever is greater. If the conviction is for distributing less than one ounce of marijuana, the mandatory minimum sentence is to be set at between one-third and one-half of the sentence or one year, whichever is greater.

There is also a fine of up to $150,000 that may be imposed for the distribution of marijuana in a school zone.

Distributing in a Public Park Zone

When someone distributes marijuana within 500 feet of a public park or housing project in NJ, they are exposed to another criminal offense under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7.1. Unless the quantity involved is less than one ounce, the distribution of marijuana in a public park zone is a second-degree crime that results in an additional 5-10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $150,000. It is a third-degree crime to violate 2C:35-7.1 by distributing/selling one ounce or less of marijuana.

Contact Our Highly Skilled Marijuana Distribution Attorneys

A New Jersey criminal complaint or, worse yet, indictment for distributing marijuana has significant consequences that require representation from an attorney who is skilled in defending these types of charges. Here at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall, we feature a team with credentials that are clearly exceptional when it comes to representation in marijuana and other drug trafficking cases. The lawyers at our firm not only have over two centuries of experience handling distribution cases but have also served as Director of the Drug Task Force and even the Major Crimes Bureau. We are ready to put our knowledge and skill into action to defend charges in:


If you would like to speak to a lawyer with the know-how to help you avoid a conviction and penalties for a New Jersey marijuana distribution offense, you are encouraged to contact one of our offices. We are ready to explore your entire case to determine whether the police acted properly, for example, whether there was a legal basis for the search and seizure that led to your arrest. It is certainly clear that mistakes are made by the police and we will ensure that your rights are fully protected so that a bogus charge is dismissed. Lawyers are available now to discuss your marijuana case at 877-450-8301.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are popular questions when it comes to marijuana distribution charges in New Jersey. The following are some of the more frequently encountered inquiries by the attorneys at our firm.

Can You Distribute Marijuana If It Is Decriminalized?

The only individuals or entities that will be permitted to dispense, sell, or distribute marijuana will be licensed dispensaries. You would have to possess a license issued by the State of New Jersey to engage in the distribution of marijuana in any form.

Is A Conviction for Selling or Possession With Intent to Distribute a Felony?

Yes. All charges involving the distribution of a controlled dangerous substance like marijuana are considered felonies because they trigger potential incarceration that exceeds six months.

Will I Go To Jail If I Am Convicted for Distributing Marijuana?

It is possible to avoid imprisonment in a distribution case and the level of knowledge and skill of your attorney, along with the facts surrounding your offense, will determine the outcome. Do not be fooled into thinking, however, that incarceration isn’t a risk for you just because your case involves marijuana rather than a hard street drug.

Do I Need A Lawyer If I Was Arrested For Selling Marijuana?

Yes. A criminal charge for distribution of marijuana carries severe consequences that include years in prison, thousands in fines, loss of your driver’s license, and a felony record. There is no doubt that an accomplished New Jersey marijuana distribution defense attorney like those on our team can help you avoid life-altering consequences such as those just described.