Colorado Laws re Use, Possession or Sale of Codeine

Colorado law makes it a crime to consume or possess codeine without a valid prescription; and to engage in the black market manufacture, transportation or sale of codeine. In this article, our Colorado legal defense lawyers will discuss:

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Unlawful possession of codeine is prohibited by Colorado law.

1. What is Codeine?

Codeine is an opiate drug similar to hydrocodone, that is commonly prescribed to relieve pain, suppress coughing and provide relief for a cold or the flu. When consumed, it converts to morphine within the body, and acts to disrupts the receptors used to transmit the sensation of pain to the brain. Since codeine is only recommended for mild to moderate pain, it is often coupled with acetaminophen (Tylenol) to relieve pain more effectively.

Codeine also acts as a sedative as it has the ability to make those who consume it drowsy. It slows breathing and makes users feel euphoric when initially taken. The drug's ability to alter the way pain and pleasure is perceived makes it popular among those who consume codeine for recreational purposes. If taken in large dosages, the likelihood of addiction significantly increases.

Although codeine has been approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration, Colorado law prohibits the unlawful possession, sale and distribution of this narcotic. Any person arrested for crimes involving prescription drugs that contain codeine may face significant consequences include fines and time behind bars.

1.1. Codeine Drug Classifications in Colorado

The state of Colorado classifies codeine along with several other controlled and illegal substances into five various subdivisions labeled “schedules.” These schedules range from the most hazardous drugs to those that are considered least dangerous by the federal government. A separate schedule containing information regarding the possession of cannabinoids and salvia is also listed in Colorado law.

Codeine can be classified as either a Schedule II or Schedule III substance depending on the amount of the drug a suspect is discovered with.

  • Schedule II: Drugs that fall under this schedule are considered extremely addictive. However, they may be used in clinical settings if prescribed by physicians. Severe psychological and physical dependencies on these types of drugs will develop if abused. Codeine, as well as other opioids like hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Oxycontin), fentanyl, methadone and morphine are also included in this category. Drugs used to stimulate the body like cocaine and methamphetamine belong in this schedule as well
  • Schedule III: Drugs in this category are less likely to be abused as the drugs in Schedule II, and can also be used for medical purposes if prescribed. The likelihood of becoming physically dependent on these drugs is lower than the rates of becoming psychologically dependent on the substances in this schedule. Narcotics in this category include smaller amounts of codeine, ketamine, anabolic steroids, and barbiturates.

The amounts of codeine discovered, its categorization within the schedule and, and the intent of the accused to possess or sell the drug are factors that can affect the penalties one could receive if found guilty of a Colorado prescription drug crime.

2. The Unauthorized Use, Possession or Sale of Codeine in Colorado

According to Colorado law, an individual can be sentenced for a drug conviction if they knowingly use, possess, distribute, or sell a controlled substance like codeine.

2.1. Unlawful possession

A person may be found guilty of the unlawful possession of a controlled substance if they are found with:

  • Any material, compound, mixture, or preparation weighing four grams or less in schedule I or II
  • Any material, compound, mixture, or preparation weighing more than four grams in schedule I or II
  • Any material, compound, mixture, or preparation that contains any quantity of a controlled substance listed in schedule III, IV, or V 1

2.2. Unlawful possession penalties

Possession of codeine is a felony. There are different classes of felonies in Colorado and each class carries a different penalty. The class of felony that a person in possession of codeine can face depends on the amount of codeine a person is discovered with.

  • When the discovered quantity of codeine weighs four grams or less it is classified as a Colorado Class 6 Felony, punishable by a fine of $1,000-$100,000 and imprisonment from 1 year-18 months
  • When the discovered quantity of codeine weighs more than four grams it is classified as a Colorado Class 4 Felony, punishable by a fine of $2,000-$500,000 and a prison sentence of 4-12 years.

2.3. Unlawful distribution, manufacturing, dispensing, or sale

Colorado law also prohibits individuals from knowingly conspiring to, or possessing codeine with the intent to commit any of the following acts:

  • Sales
  • Possession for sale
  • Distribution
  • Dispensing codeine
  • Possess one or more chemicals, supplies or equipment with intent in unlawfully manufacturing codeine 2

2.4. Unlawful, distribution, manufacturing, dispensing, or sale penalties

If convicted of doing at least one of the acts mentioned above with this controlled substance an individual may be charged with a Colorado Class 3 Felony. This is punishable by a fine of $3,000-$750,000 and a prison sentence of 4-12 years.

3. Unlawful use of codeine

Using a controlled substance, if unauthorized, is illegal, but penalties rarely result in imprisonment in Colorado.

3.1. Penalties for the unlawful use of codeine in Colorado

The use of a controlled substance is classified as a level 2 drug misdemeanor. Before March 1, 2020, it is punishable by a fine of $50-$750 and a maximum prison time of up to 12 months. 

Starting March 1, 2020, the punishment is:

  • Probation of up to 1 year;
  • Possibly 120 days in jail; and
  • Up to $500

But for a 3rd or subsequent offense, up to 180 days in jail.3

Since Colorado focuses more heavily on rehabilitating those with drug addictions as opposed to incarcerating them, the court has granted those with drug addiction the option of attending treatment centers at their own expense. If all goes well in treatment and it is successfully completed, the misdemeanor charges may be dropped.

4. Defenses for Colorado Codeine Charges

Drug offenses can be incredibly complex. Each case has its own unique set of facts and circumstances, and any defenses to a case will depend on what happened in that case. A few common defenses that may be applicable include:

  • Police misconduct (coerced confession, false evidence, failure in procedural process etc.)
  • There is no evidence you used, sold, possessed or distributed a controlled substance
  • The drug test is unreliable
  • The drug test you took was a violation of your constitutional rights
  • The drugs were discovered as the result of an illegal search and seizure
  • The was a valid prescription and instruction from your physician to use this medication

Call us for help...

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Our skilled Colorado criminal attorneys are dedicated to ensuring you get the help you need. Call our home office in Denver at (303) 222-0330 for a consultation. Our attorneys also assist inmates and families with bail and release at jails throughout Colorado, including the Gunnison County Jail.

Legal References

  1. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-18-403.5 (1)(2)
  2. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-18-405 (1)(a)
  3. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-18-404(1)(a)

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