Colorado drug laws make it a crime to possess, sell, manufacture, or use controlled substances.
As of March 1, 2020, it is now a misdemeanor rather than a felony to possess up to four grams of such narcotics as methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, or heroin. Plus courts may impose two years of misdemeanor probation instead of the standard 6-to-18 months in jail.
There are many potential defenses to fight Colorado drug charges, including that you never had control over the drugs, that law enforcement performed an illegal search, or that the police entrapped you. If you complete a drug diversion program, you may be able to get your possession charges completely dismissed.
To help you get started understanding Colorado’s drug laws, our Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:
- 1. What drugs are legal in Colorado?
- 2. What drugs are illegal in Colorado?
- 3. What are the drug penalties?
- 4. What are common defenses to drug charges?
- 5. Links to articles on specific drugs
1. What drugs are legal in Colorado?
Colorado has approved the legalization of the possession of marijuana in limited circumstances if you are 21 or older. However, possession of more than two ounces of marijuana or any amount by people under 21 other than medical marijuana – is a crime in Colorado.
You can obtain more information about both medical and retail marijuana in our article on Colorado Marijuana Laws or from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s marijuana information page.
1.1. Federal law
Marijuana possession is also illegal on federally owned property within the state of Colorado, which is subject to the more stringent requirements of 21 USC 812 — the federal Controlled Substances Act. Federal property includes
- National Parks,
- the Veteran’s Administration,
- HUD housing and
- post offices.
2. What drugs are illegal in Colorado?
Colorado state law divides controlled substances into five “schedules” according to the drug’s likelihood for abuse. These drugs are illegal unless you have a current and valid doctor’s prescription for them.
Colorado drug schedules are:
- Schedule I: drugs with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use, or those that are unsafe for use in treatment, even under medical supervision. Schedule 1 drugs include heroin and hallucinogens such as
- psilocybin (magic mushrooms),
- mescaline and
- Schedule II: drugs with a high potential for abuse, but which have an accepted medical use and can result in severe psychological and physical dependence if abused. Schedule II drugs include opium and prescription opioid pain pills such as
- oxycodone (Oxycontin),
- hydrocodone (Vicodin),
- methadone, and
- stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine.2
- Schedule III: drugs with a lesser abuse potential than Schedule I or II drugs, and which have an accepted medical use, but which can lead to low or moderate physical dependence and high psychological dependence. Schedule III drugs include:
- anabolic steroids, and
- medications including small amounts of codeine.3
- Schedule IV: drugs with a lower potential for abuse than Schedule III drugs, and which have an acceptable medical use, but may lead to limited psychological and physical dependence. They include prescription anti-anxiety medications such as
- diazepam (valium) and
- non-barbiturate sleep medications such as zolpidem (Ambien).4
- Schedule V: the least dangerous drugs, with the lowest potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical use, and which are likely to lead to only limited physical or psychological dependence. Schedule V drugs include: medicines that have very small amounts of certain specified narcotic drugs – for example, over-the-counter cough syrups and cold medications containing small amounts of codeine.5
There is also a separate schedule that applies to possession of synthetic cannabinoids and salvia.
3. What are the drug penalties?
Colorado drug laws favor treatment over imprisonment when it comes to personal use – at least initially for drug possession charges.
3.1. Drug use or possession
As a result, drug use (CRS 18-18-404) and drug possession (CRS 18-18-403.5) charges are usually a misdemeanor. Though possession of a controlled substance can be a felony when it involves
- more than four grams of schedule I or II drugs, or
- any amount of GHB, Ketamine, or flunitrazepam.
Colorado has many alternatives to jail time for drug offenders, including specialized drug courts, Veterans Treatment Courts, help with mental health issues, and deferred sentencing for people who plead guilty to Colorado drug offenses.6
3.2. Drug sales and manufacturing
When the offense is sales (CRS 18-18-405), manufacturing, and/or manufacturing of imitation drugs (CRS 18-18-422), you may find yourself charged with a felony. Penalties for Colorado felony drug offenses can include both prison time and hefty fines, depending on a number of factors including:
- The “schedule” on which the drug is listed (the more serious the drug, the more serious the sentence),
- The quantity of drugs involved,
- Whether the drugs were for personal use, sale, or large-scale distribution,
- Whether you are a habitual drug offender or have a history of drug convictions, and
- Whether you are on probation, on parole, or incarcerated for a felony offense.
At the low end, consequences of Colorado felony drug charges can be as little as six months in county jail and/or a fine of $1,000.
The most serious Colorado drug felony convictions can carry a sentence of up to 32 years in prison and up to $1,000,000 in fines. Learn more in our article about aggravated drug felony sentencing.
3.3. Drug crime classifications
Colorado’s criminal justice system has seven separate classes of drug crimes. From most serious to least serious, they are the following:
- Level 1 drug felonies
- Level 2 drug felonies
- Level 3 drug felonies
- Level 4 drug felonies
- Level 1 drug misdemeanors
- Level 2 drug misdemeanors
- Drug petty offenses
Note that certain drug crimes are wobblers, meaning they can be either felonies or misdemeanors.
Learn about sealing drug crimes in Colorado and expungement.
4. What are common defenses to drug charges?
In our experience at Colorado Legal Defense Group, there are seven primary defenses we rely on in an effort to get drug charges lessened or dropped:
- Unlawful search and seizure: This defense argues that law enforcement violated your Fourth Amendment rights. If the police conducted a search without a warrant, consent, or probable cause, any evidence obtained might be thrown out of court.
- Lack of possession or ownership: Simply being near or in the same location as drugs does not automatically make you guilty of a drug crime. The prosecution must prove that you knowingly had control over the drugs. In shared spaces, like a home or a car, proving this can be challenging.
- Drugs belonged to someone else: This is a more specific version of the lack of possession defense. If we can show that the drugs belonged to another person, you might be able to avoid a conviction.
- Entrapment: If a law enforcement officer induced you to commit a drug crime that you would not have committed otherwise, this could be a case of entrapment.
- Missing drugs: In some cases, the actual drugs that serve as the main evidence might get lost. If the prosecution cannot produce the actual drugs at trial, it might be possible to argue for a dismissal.
- Lab analysis: Just because a substance looks like a drug does not mean it is. An official lab analysis is required to confirm that a seized substance is indeed an illegal drug. If the substance was not sent to a lab or the results are inconclusive, this defense could be used.
- Planted drugs: Although it is difficult to prove, if there is evidence that drugs were planted by law enforcement, the charges can be dismissed.
5. Links to articles on specific drugs
For more information you may wish to visit our Colorado-specific pages on:
- Cocaine laws,
- Ecstasy / MDMA / Molly laws,
- GHB and flunitrazepam laws,
- Heroin laws,
- Hydrocodone laws,
- Ketamine laws,
- LSD laws,
- Marijuana laws,
- Marijuana concentrate laws,
- Methamphetamine laws,
- PCP (Angel Dust) laws, or
- Psilocybin mushrooms
Also see our pages on counterfeit drugs (CRS 18-18-423), drug paraphernalia (CRS 18-18-428), and abusing toxic vapors (CRS 18-18-412).
Call us for help…
If you or someone you know has been arrested for violating Colorado drug laws, let us help. Don’t take a chance on being labeled a drug offender and losing your rights and freedom. We negotiate with the district attorney in an effort to get your charges reduced or dismissed.
Our Colorado drug crime lawyers offer free consultations by telephone, in-person, or via email. Reach out to our DUI and criminal defense lawyers by using the form on this page or, if you prefer, contact us at our Denver home office:
Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver CO 80211
- CRS 18-18-203; see, for example, People v. Holmberg, 992 P.2d 705 (Colo. App. 1999).
- CRS 18–18–204; see, for example, People v. Frantz, 114 P.3d 34 (Colo. App. 2004).
- CRS 18-18-205.
- CRS 18-18-206.
- CRS 18-18-207.
- CRS 18–18–403.5; See also People v. Gonzales, 2017 COA 62, 415 P.3d 846 (2017); People v. Yeadon, 462 P.3d 1087 (CO 2020); see also new law House Bill 19 – 1263 and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.