Colorado Law re "Sale or Manufacture of an Imitation Controlled Substance"
(18-18-422 C.R.S.)

Colorado's law on imitation drugs

In Colorado it is a felony to sell, distribute, manufacture or possess with intent to sell any substance that purports to be a genuine controlled substance but is not.

Penalties for violating Colorado's imitation drug law can include:

  • Up to 1 year incarceration, and/or
  • A fine of up to $100,000.

And advertising an imitation drug – even if you don't actually sell any – is a serious misdemeanor. Penalties include:

  • 6-18 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $500-$5,000.

To help you better understand Colorado's law on imitation drugs, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

1. What is an imitation controlled substance?

Section 18-18-420 (4) of the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.) provides:

An “imitation controlled substance” means a substance that is not the controlled substance that it is purported to be but which, by appearance, including color, shape, size, and markings, by representations made, and by consideration of all relevant factors as set forth in section 18-18-421, would lead a reasonable person to believe that the substance is the controlled substance that it is purported to be.

18-18-421 C.R.S. (1) provides:

In determining whether a substance is an imitation controlled substance, the trier of fact may consider, in addition to all other relevant factors, the following:

(a) Statements by an owner or by anyone in control of the substance concerning the nature of the substance or its use or effect;
(b) Statements made to the recipient that the substance may be resold for inordinate profit which is more than the normal markup charged by legal retailers of similar pharmaceutical products;
(c) Whether the substance is packaged in a manner normally used for illicit controlled substances;
(d) Evasive tactics or actions utilized by the owner or person in control of the substance to avoid detection by law enforcement authorities;
(e) The proximity of the imitation controlled substance to any controlled substances when conduct purported to be illegal under this article is observed.

1.1. The difference between an imitation and a synthetic controlled substance

Imitation controlled substances or counterfeit substances are drugs intended to be mistaken for the real thing. They are sometimes known as fake or “bunk” drugs.

A synthetic controlled substance ("designer drug"), on the other hand, doesn't purport to be another drug. It is an alternative to a controlled substance that is intended to be chemically similar and to produce a similar effect. Unlike an imitation or counterfeit drug, it might or might not look like its “real” equivalent.

Examples of synthetic controlled substances include:

2. What does Colorado's laws on imitation drugs prohibit?

2.1. Sale, manufacture, distribution and possession for sale

18-18-422 C.R.S. makes it unlawful for a person to manufacture, distribute, or possess with intent to distribute an imitation controlled substance.

To sustain a conviction under 18-18-422 C.R.S., you do not need to know that the substance is fake. If you knowingly represent that a drug is a controlled substance, it doesn't matter whether you actually know that it's a fake or you mistakenly believe that it is real. Your actual knowledge of the nature of the substance is irrelevant.1

2.2. Advertising or solicitation for an imitation controlled substance

18-18-422 C.R.S. also makes it unlawful to place in a newspaper, magazine, handbill, or other publication, or to post or distribute in a public place, an advertisement or solicitation that you know will promote the distribution of imitation controlled substances.

2.3. Exception for authorized professionals

Colorado's law prohibiting the sale of imitation controlled substances does not apply to practitioners – whether licensed, registered, or otherwise – who are authorized by the state of Colorado to possess, administer, dispense, or distribute a controlled substance, if the distribution, possession, dispensing, or administering of the imitation controlled substance is done in the lawful course of their professional practice.2

3. Colorado imitation drug penalties

3.1. Possession for sale, sale, manufacture, or distribution of an imitation controlled substance

Manufacturing, selling or distributing an imitation drug or possessing one with the intent to sell it is usually a Colorado level 4 drug felony.

Consequences of selling or intending to sell an imitation controlled substance can include:

  • 6 months-1 year incarceration, and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

However, violation of 18-18-422 C.R.S. becomes a Colorado level 3 drug felony when an adult distributes an imitation controlled substance to a minor and the adult is at least two years older than the minor.

As a level 3 drug felony, sale of an imitation drug can be punished by:

  • 2-4 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $2,000-$500,000.

Prison time can be even longer for those who are on parole for a felony at the time of the offense, or are otherwise subject to Colorado's aggravated sentencing for drug felonies.

3.2. Advertising for imitation controlled substances

Advertising an imitation controlled substance is a Colorado level 1 drug misdemeanor.

Penalties for advertising an imitation controlled substance can include:

  • 6-18 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $500-$5,000.

4. Defenses to Colorado imitation drug charges

The best defense to a Colorado drug crimes depends on the specific facts of your case. But common defenses to manufacturing, selling or possessing for sale an imitation controlled substance often include (without limitation):

  • The drugs weren't yours and you exercised no control over them,
  • You didn't know you possessed the drugs,
  • You didn't intend to sell the drugs,
  • You didn't sell or advertise the substance,
  • You were authorized by the state of Colorado to sell controlled substances and were selling the drug(s) in compliance with state law,
  • You were a victim of police misconduct (such as entrapment), or
  • The drugs were found during an illegal search and seizure.

It is NOT a defense, however, that you believed that the substance you sold or possessed for sale was an actual controlled substance. As long as you knowingly represented that it was a controlled substance, you are guilty of this offense.

Call us for help…

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Call us at (303)222-0330

If you or someone you know has been accused of violating Colorado drug laws, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Our compassionate Colorado drug lawyers know that innocent people get accused of drug crimes all the time – and anyone can make a mistake.

To find out how we can fight to protect your reputation and keep you out of jail, simple fill out the form on this page. Or give us a call at our centrally located Denver home office:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver CO 80211
(303) 222-0330

Legal references:

  1. People v. Pharr, 1984, 696 P.2d 235.
  2. 18-18-424 C.R.S.


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