In Colorado, the use or possession of benzodiazepine drugs is only legal for individuals with a valid prescription. This includes Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Valium and other similar drugs. Anyone who unlawfully uses, sells, or has benzodiazepine medication in their possession is guilty of a criminal offense. Under Colorado drug laws, the penalties for drug possession or sale depends on the amount of the controlled substance found, which may result in misdemeanor or felony drug charges. In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. What are benzodiazepines?
- 2. What are the legal uses of Xanax, Valium and other benzodiazepines?
- 3. What are the penalties for the unlawful use of benzodiazepines?
- 4. What are the penalties for the unlawful possession of benzodiazepines?
- 5. What are the penalties for the unlawful sale or distribution of benzodiazepines?
- 6. Can I avoid jail time for benzodiazepine drug charge?
- 7. What are defenses to benzodiazepine criminal charges?
Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs used to treat a variety of medical conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, seizures, alcohol withdrawal, and muscle spasms. Benzodiazepines are also known as “benzos” Benzodiazepines are legally available with a valid prescription from a licensed practitioner.
Controlled substances include illegal drugs, prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and synthetic drugs. Controlled substances in Colorado are classified by schedule, based on their medically accepted uses and the potential for abuse. Benzodiazepines are classified as a schedule IV drug in Colorado because of their currently accepted medical use, low potential for abuse relative to schedule III drugs, and limited risk of dependency.1
Common benzodiazepines, with their generic and brand names, include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Temazepam (Restoril)
Flunitrazepam, also known as Rohypnol is a type of benzodiazepine. However, flunitrazepam is generally treated differently than other benzodiazepines because of its potential use as a date rape drug. Flunitrazepam possession and distribution results in higher penalties compared to other benzodiazepines in Colorado.23
In Colorado, benzodiazepines are prescribed by a licensed practitioner for medical treatment.4 However, an individual with a benzodiazepines prescription cannot give or sell their prescription or medications to another person. Selling or dispensing legally prescribed benzodiazepines to another is a criminal offense.
Although benzodiazepines have a lower potential for abuse than other controlled substances, they are subject to illegal and recreational use. Individuals may seek out benzos for their sedating effects, or combine benzodiazepines with other drugs, including alcohol. Benzodiazepines can lead to physical and psychological dependence.
Under Colorado law, the unauthorized use of a schedule IV controlled substance, including benzodiazepines, is a level 2 drug misdemeanor. Under CRS 18-18-404, before March 1, 2020, the penalties for the use of benzodiazepines without a prescription include a fine of up to $750 and up to 12 months in jail. However, if it is your first drug offense, you may be eligible for a diversion program to have your charges dismissed if you successfully complete a drug education and treatment program.
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.
Under Colorado law, the unlawful possession of a schedule IV controlled substance, including most benzodiazepines, is a level 1 drug misdemeanor. Under CRS 18-18-403.5, before March 1, 2020, the penalties for possession of benzodiazepines without a prescription include from 6 to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. However, if it is your first drug offense, you may be eligible for a diversion program to place you on probation instead of serving time in jail. Upon successful completion of a court-approved drug treatment program, you may be able to have your charges reduced to a misdemeanor.
Starting March 1, 2020, the punishment for unlawful possession is:
- Probation of up to 2 years;
- Possibly 180 days in jail; and
- Up to $1,000
But for a 3rd or subsequent offense, up to 364 days in jail.
Under Colorado law, the unlawful sale or possession for sale of a schedule IV controlled substance, including most benzodiazepines, can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Under CRS 18-18-405, the penalties for sale or distribution of benzodiazepines depends on the amount of benzodiazepines and any material, compound or mixture involved.
Amount of Benzodiazepines
Not more than 4 grams
More than 4 grams
Drug Charge Level
Level 4 Drug Felony
Level 3 Drug Felony
6 to 12 Months
2 to 4 Years
$1,000 to $100,000
$2,000 to $500,000
It is also a level 2 drug felony to sell, dispense, or distribute any benzodiazepines to a minor who is at least two years younger than you.
Distribution or transfer of not more than 4 grams of a schedule IV controlled substance, including benzodiazepines without seeking payment or other remuneration is a level 1 drug misdemeanor. Penalties for a level 1 drug misdemeanor include from 6 to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Simple use of benzodiazepines may only result in a misdemeanor drug charge. A misdemeanor drug charge may have the potential for jail time; however, in most cases, you will only have to pay a simple fine and can avoid jail time.
If it is your first offense for unlawful benzodiazepine use or possession, you may be eligible for a pretrial diversion program.3 You can complete a court-approved treatment program while your trial is delayed. Upon successful completion, you may have your misdemeanor drug charges dropped. If charged with a low-level drug felony, you may be placed on probation while you complete a court-approved drug treatment and education program. Upon successful completion, you may have your felony drug charges reduced to misdemeanor drug possession.4
However, you may not be eligible for a diversion program or sentencing reduction if you have a prior conviction for a crime of violence, two or more prior felony drug convictions, or are ineligible for probation because of prior offenses.
There are a number of possible defenses to criminal charges for benzodiazepines possession or sale. Common drug crime defenses include:
- The benzodiazepines belonged to someone else
- You had a valid prescription for benzodiazepines
- The benzodiazepines was not in an area within your control
- The police found benzodiazepines as part of an unlawful search or seizure
- You gave benzodiazepines to another for free, without seeking any payment
Call us for help...
If you were arrested for possession or sale of benzodiazepines, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group. Our Colorado defense attorneys have many years of experience representing clients who have been charged with criminal drug offenses. We can also help with bail and release issues at all the state jails, including the Summit County Jail in Breckenridge. Contact us today for a free consultation by phone or in-person or in our Denver law office.
- C.R.S. 18-18-206(1)
- C.R.S. 18-18-403.5(2)(a)
- C.R.S. 18-18-405
- C.R.S. 18-18-308
- C.R.S. 18-1.3-101
- C.R.S. 18-1.3-102