The law in New Jersey provides individuals with one opportunity to avoid a conviction for simple possession of marijuana. This diversionary program is known as a "conditional discharge."

Certain conditions must be met in order for an individual to qualify for a conditional discharge. The guidelines for obtaining a conditional discharge for the offense of possession or use of marijuana or drug paraphernalia are contained at N.J.S.A. 2C:36A-1. This law covers not only disorderly persons drug charges relating to marijuana, but also depressants, stimulants and hallucinogenic drugs.

In order to qualify for a conditional discharge, a defendant must present an application with the Court which demonstrates the following: (1) that the defendant has no prior drug offenses; (2) that the defendant has never been afforded a diversion of charges previously (e.g. Pretrial Intervention or Conditional Discharge); and (3) that it is in the best interests of the community to afford the defendant the opportunity for a conditional discharge. There is a $75 application plus other mandatory monetary assessments totaling approximately $700.

If an application for conditional discharge is granted, the Court will suspend the proceedings for up to two years (although it is usually only one year) and place the accused on probation. The requirements of probation include remaining arrest-free and drug-free, and random drug testing is a standard requirement of the program. If the accused completes the probation period without any violations, the original charge is dismissed. If the accused violates any of the conditions of probation, the conditional discharge is terminated and the case is returned to the court for the ordinary course of prosecution.

Despite the fact that the original charge is dismissed, the record of the arrest will remain on the accused's criminal history indefinitely. However, the law allows for the record of the arrest to be expunged six months after the charge has been dismissed.

Although marijuana possession charges are less serious than certain other drug offenses, the conviction (or even the record of the arrest) can have long-term consequences. An experienced lawyer can serve to reduce the chances of any negative consequences.