New Jersey Bans Synthetic Marijuana

December 17, 2012

Synthetic marijuana has recently grown in popularity nationwide. These drugs, which were at one time legally sold in New Jersey, were available at tobacco shops and gas stations and were marketed as tea, incense, or herbs. Synthetic marijuana is made from legal chemicals and is designed to mimic the effect of marijuana.

In November, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs permanently banned all forms of synthetic marijuana, adding synthetic marijuana to the list of Schedule I Controlled Dangerous Substances. Other states have also banned synthetic marijuana. New Jersey, however, is implementing one of the nation’s most specific synthetic marijuana bans yet. The state’s regulation describes exactly what they now consider to be illegal, right down to the molecular structure. It also contains a catchall provision, banning any other compound that affects the brain similarly to marijuana.

New Jersey is the fourth state to have a comprehensive ban of synthetic marijuana in such a fashion. These laws will most likely result in a number of people being falsely arrested if an officer finds something they believe is synthetic marijuana, even though products containing synthetic marijuana are often sold as incense and the presence of such a drug requires a laboratory analysis.

If you are found to be in possession of or distributing over one ounce of this drug, you will be charged with a third-degree crime and could face up to three years in prison and a $15,000.00 fine. If you are found to be in possession of or distributing under one ounce of this drug, you will be charged with a fourth-degree crime and could face up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000.00 fine.

The Defendant’s Undeniable Right to Testify at a Criminal Trial

In a recent New Jersey appellate decision, State v. Cullen, the court addressed the issue of whether a judge abused his discretion by refusing to allow the defendant to testify at trial. The defendant was charged with third-degree burglary, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2(a).

At trial, the defendant initially waived his right to testify. Prior to the conclusion of trial, however, the defendant changed his mind and decided that he wanted to testify. After the judge asked for the state’s position, the prosecutor argued that defendant had no right to a reopening of the record, having already waived his right to testify. The judge, in the interest of expediency, concluded that it was “not the time” for defendant to “change [his] mind” and refused his request. The defendant was convicted of burglary and was sentenced to a five-year prison term.

The defendant appealed his conviction to the Appellate Division. After reviewing the case, the Court determined that the judge had erred in refusing to permit the defendant to testify and reversed the decision. The Court noted that the right of an accused to testify at a criminal trial is rooted in the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The Court wrote:

“Although consideration should be given to the prejudice to the opposing party, State v. Menke, 25 N.J. 66, 71, 135 A.2d 180 (1957), as well as to the potential for jury confusion when a defendant tardily seeks to exercise the right to testify or offer other evidence relating to guilt or innocence, those considerations will normally give way to the interests of justice.”

Thus, the Court concluded: “The judge relied on inadequate considerations and abused his discretion in denying defendant’s request to exercise his important constitutional right to testify.”

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