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In Colorado, it is against the law to sell, possess, use, or manufacture certain controlled substances. If you are caught doing so, you can be subject to serious penalties that can have an impact on the rest of your life.
While some drug laws in Colorado have changed in recent years, there is still a lot to know about how the drug laws work here and what crimes are associated with drugs in the state. Below, you will find everything you need to know — from the laws themselves to the penalties you can face and even defense strategies that may help.
Of course there are. Walk into any pharmacy and you’ll find shelves full of over-the-counter drugs that are completely legal for people to buy and use as they please… at least, for the most part.
There are also drugs that are “legal” for a specific individual when prescribed by a doctor. And, of course, there is the drug that most people are probably thinking about when they ask this question: marijuana.
In Colorado, anyone over 21 can possess up to 28 grams (or one ounce) of marijuana. However, it is still illegal for anyone under 21 to possess any amount. Additionally, you cannot possess marijuana on any property owned by the federal government, since marijuana is legal only at the state level and not the federal level. These properties include airports, National Parks, HUD housing, courthouses, post offices, and the Veterans Administration.
There are also a number of other ways that marijuana can get you in trouble with the law here, but we’ll come back to those later.
In addition to the numerous legal drugs in our state, there are also a large number that are considered illegal and defined as controlled substances. These substances are divided into five schedules, or groups, which detail the level of risk the drugs entail.
These schedules also serve the dual purpose of making it easier to understand what someone found with an illegal substance will be charged with, since criminal drug charges are in part based on the type of drug someone is found with.
The schedules go from V, which contains the least serious controlled substances, to I, which houses those that both have a high risk of abuse and no known medical use. Schedule I drugs also come with the harshest penalties.
Let’s take a look at each:
The substances on this schedule include drugs that have some narcotics in them such as cough syrup with codeine or Robitussin AC. However, since they have high medical value and relatively low addiction risk, they come with the most minor penalties.
This schedule includes many prescription medications, such as Ambien, Xanax, and Valium. They have a high potential for abuse, but are still found to have medical value. Penalties for illegally using or distributing these drugs are more severe than those in Schedule V.
This schedule includes substances that are normally found in combination products such as Vicodin or non-narcotics such as testosterone, ketamine, and anabolic steroids. They still have medical value, but are more addictive and penalties are harsher.
The drugs on this schedule still have some medical uses but also come with a high risk of addiction and abuse. This list includes substances such as oxycodone, amphetamine, fentanyl, codeine, morphine, and methamphetamine. Charges involving these substances can be quite severe.
Schedule I drugs have no acceptable medical use and have a high risk of abuse. Because of this, charges associated with them come with the most serious penalties. The list of drugs on Schedule I includes substances such as LSD, methaqualone, MDMA, and heroin.
Drug laws in Colorado are complicated in part because they have undergone a number of changes very recently, as evidenced by House Bill 19-1263. This bill decriminalized the possession of small amounts of some Schedule I and II drugs.
Anyone found in possession of four grams or less of substances on Schedule I or II will now only face misdemeanor charges instead of a felony. This is meant to provide defendants with an option to seek treatment for addiction rather than sending them to jail.
That doesn’t mean misdemeanor charges associated with these drugs aren’t serious. You can still face jail time and fines if convicted. However, it is an opportunity for people to get the help they need instead of being criminalized for it.
Even with these changes to the law, it’s still illegal to have any amount of Rohypnol or GBH in your possession.
Why does our state spend so much time organizing, categorizing and constantly updating drug crimes? Are drugs really such a big deal in Colorado?
Yes, they really are.
Every year, thousands of people in our state are arrested on drug charges of all kinds. In 2017 there were over 21,000 total drug violations in our state.
Here’s a look at just some of the numbers:
Source: Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority 2021
In Denver, they even break the numbers down by month, days of the week, and time of day:
Drug and alcohol crime 2021 crime report Source: The Denver Post 10/21
Criminal activity related to drugs is occurring all the time amongst every age group and involves every substance listed in the Schedules — and often some that aren’t.
Moreover, drug crimes are often linked to numerous other types of criminal acts and a variety of societal problems, including addiction and death due to overdose and other issues, just to name a few.
It is not at all surprising that those in charge would attempt to control these kinds of activities. Whether that attempt is actually working is another question.
In Colorado, there are three major drug offenses you can be arrested for. They include:
The use of controlled substances in Colorado is, in most cases, a level II misdemeanor. The exceptions to that level of drug charge is taking a prescription drug without a valid prescription or not as prescribed and using medical marijuana or marijuana outside of a residence.
You can possess up to one ounce of marijuana recreationally in the state if you are over 21. Most other controlled substances are completely prohibited by the law.
There are three different types of possession:
Possession of controlled substances outside of what is legal will get you charged with a crime, but which level of a crime depends on what you possess and how much of it. Read on to find out specifics.
Manufacturing or selling drugs can be a felony or a misdemeanor. Which you are charged with depends on:
Most of the felonies involving drugs in Colorado are related to the selling or manufacture of narcotics. In the state, there are four levels of a felony associated with drugs. They are:
This is the most serious drug felony. It includes:
The penalties for Level I drug felonies include up to 32 years in prison and fines up to $1 million. If there are aggravating factors involved, then there is a minimum sentence of 12 years. Aggravating factors include:
Level II drug felonies are still serious, but not quite as serious as Level I. Some common crimes associated with Level II drug felonies include selling more than 14 grams of a schedule I or II substance, selling or distributing materials used to manufacture controlled substances, and possessing material unlawfully to produce amphetamine or methamphetamine.
The penalties for a Level II drug felony are up to eight years in prison and fines of as much as $750,000. Aggravating factors in the case will drive the max prison term to 16 years. These aggravating factors include being on probation or parole for another felony, being an escapee, being in confinement for a felony, or being on bond for another felony.
Level III drug felonies in Colorado are for crimes such as selling up to 14 grams of a schedule I or II drug, or distributing an imitation of a controlled substance to a minor. This level is punishable by up to four years in prison and fines of as much as $500,000. If aggravating factors are present, then the prison sentence can go up to six years.
A level IV drug felony is the least serious felony you can get related to drugs in Colorado. Some common examples of this level of felony include selling four grams or less of a controlled substance and possession of GHB or ketamine.
It is punishable by up to 12 months in prison and fines of as much as $100,000. If aggravating factors are present, then the maximum sentence will extend to two years.
There are two levels of misdemeanor drug crimes and one level of petty drug offenses in Colorado. They are:
Crimes such as possessing more than six ounces of marijuana or the unlawful possession of a schedule III or IV drug are considered a misdemeanor offense, among others.
They can be punished by up to 18 months in prison and fines of $5,000. However, if it’s your third level 1 misdemeanor offense, you can spend up to one year in jail, and community service may be ordered by the court as well.
Several types of crimes are considered level II misdemeanors. Some of the most common include abusing toxic vapors, possession of more than two (but not more than six) ounces of marijuana, advertisement of drug paraphernalia, and unlawful use of a controlled substance.
The penalties for this level of a misdemeanor include up to one year in jail and fines of up to $750. If it’s your third level II offense, then you can go to jail for up to six additional months.
Petty drug offenses are the least serious you can encounter in Colorado. Some of the most common types of petty drug offenses include possessing up to two ounces of marijuana, possessing a controlled substance in something other than the container it came in, or possessing drug paraphernalia.
For possessing two ounces of marijuana, you can face a fine of $100 and 24 hours of community service. For possessing a controlled substance that was prescribed in a container other than the one it came in, you can face a fine of $100. Finally, possessing drug paraphernalia can also get you a fine of $100.
No matter what level of drug crime you’re accused of in Colorado, you have the right to defend yourself against the charges. That’s why it’s vital to make sure you secure the services of an experienced drug crimes attorney to help you formulate the best defense strategy possible.
While the best defense for your particular case depends on the circumstances, there are some defenses that are used quite frequently to defend against drug charges. Some of the most common defenses include:
In the United States Constitution, every person is granted certain rights. One of those rights, covered by the Fourth Amendment, protects you from illegal search and seizures. It also says that a warrant cannot be granted to search your property without probable cause.
If your property, such as your car, home, or even your workplace, is searched, then the police need a warrant to do so without a valid exception. If you grant them the right to search, that’s one exception. If drugs are in plain sight, that’s another exception because it grants the officer probable cause.
However, you shouldn’t automatically assume that police have the right to search you or your things. An attorney understands what is protected under the Fourth Amendment, and it’s very possible your rights may have been violated during a search and your arrest. Get an attorney on the case to understand what happened to you and determine if this is a valid defense in your case.
Another defense often used is that the drugs found were not yours to begin with. Prosecutors have to prove that the person charged was the person in possession of the drugs.
So, if you were in a home with other people and police searched the whole home, they still need to show that any drugs found were yours and didn’t belong to someone else who lived with you.
It sometimes occurs that police engage in improper actions to argue that someone was in possession of drugs when they actually were not.
This can sometimes occur by planting drugs on a person, for example. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s a valid defense if you can show it did happen to you.
Prosecutors have to demonstrate that any drugs confiscated during an arrest were handled properly after they were taken. If the evidence can’t be accounted for completely or has been lost, that’s a potentially good way to get the case thrown out.
There are many defenses that can be used in a drug case. Which one is best for you depends on the facts. The more you can question the actions of the police or the case against you, the better shot you have at a good plea agreement, acquittal, or even having the charges dropped.
No matter your past or what you’ve been arrested for in the present, you deserve a fair trial and the best shot at protecting your future. That means working with a knowledgeable Colorado drug crimes lawyer.
Don’t just accept your fate. Fight back against your charges to give yourself the best chance at a positive outcome in your drug case.
About the Author:
Andrew Bryant is a well-respected Colorado Springs criminal attorney who has been practicing in the area for years. A Colorado native, he returned to the home he loves after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Now, he uses the knowledge he gained as an El Paso County District Attorney to fight tirelessly for his clients’ rights. He is AV-Preeminent rated, has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, and has been named to Best of the Springs lists by The Gazette for years.
Contact The Law Office of Andrew Bryant today for a free consultation concerning your criminal or family law case. You are just a click away from a top-rated and respected team with the experience and tenacity to ensure you get the best legal services offered in Colorado Springs – call or email now.