In many states there are special penalties reserved for those people accused of possessing drugs near a school or even a playground. In some areas they’ve become known as “Drug Free Zones” and to be caught with drugs in an area like this can often mean the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony charge.
While drug-free zones were originally created to protect children from drug dealers and prevent them from bringing drugs onto school property themselves, the laws have shown little to no deterrent effect. But despite the goals of these laws not being met, these laws stay on the books, and prosecutors love to use the more serious charges as leverage, in situations where the drug possession arrest had no connection to the school or drug free zone.
What Are Drug-Free Zones?
The drug-free zone laws vary widely from state to state, but all of them put a restricted area around schools where higher penalties await those accused of drug crimes. Others include playgrounds, parks, and public housing projects within the zone.
Just how much area is covered by the drug free zone depends on the state’s laws. In New Jersey the zone is 1,000 feet. But across the country it ranges anywhere from 300 feet to up to three miles.
Because of the far reach of these zones, there are many cities that are blanketed with restricted areas, making it nearly impossible to step outside of a drug free zone. This is particularly true in densely populated urban neighborhoods where hundreds of families can stay in a single city block.
Penalties For Drug Possession in School Zone
While some states have specific, stand-alone laws regarding drug crimes in a drug free zone, most are applied to the existing drug laws as a sentencing enhancement. Just how severe your penalty is, depends on the specific state laws, and how the incident is charged.
In Massachusetts the enhancement is applicable if you are charged with possession with intent to distribute. When committed within a “school zone”, possession with intent to distribute carries a felony penalty and a mandatory minimum of 2 years if convicted. A prosecutor will often threaten this type of charge to get a defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge of possession.
In New Jersey, on the other hand, a marijuana offense in a drug-free zone results in additional community service hours and higher fines. If you’re charged in Texas, you could face an increase in the charge classification. So, if you are initially charged with possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana (a Class B misdemeanor ), it could be raised to a Class A misdemeanor, or the penalty of your case could simply be doubled.
There are many variables to consider when discussing the penalty for possession of marijuana within a drug-free zone. Talking to an attorney in your area is always the best way to know for certain what you’re up against.
If you’ve been accused of possession of a controlled substance within a school zone or other drug free zone, contact us to speak to a defense lawyer in your state with experience fighting drug charges.