Colorado Methamphetamine Laws

Colorado meth use, possession or sale

Colorado's laws on controlled substances make it a crime knowingly to use, possess, or sell methamphetamine.

Although sometimes legally prescribed for the treatment of obesity, narcolepsy or ADHD (atttention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), methamphetamine is classified as a Colorado Schedule II controlled substance.1 Schedule 2 drugs are substances that, in the opinion of the government:

  • Have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions, but which
  • Have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

Thus the possession and sale of Schedule II drugs are highly regulated. Other Colorado Schedule II drugs include cocaine, opium, and prescription opiates such as Oxycontin and Vicodin.

Penalties for methamphetamine use, possession or sale

Using methamphetamine is a Colorado level 2 drug misdemeanor. Before March 1, 2020, that can be punished by a fine of between $50 and $750 and up to 12 months in jail. Alternatively, if this is your first Colorado drug offense, you may be eligible for drug diversion and treatment. Under this program, if you successfully complete treatment, your misdemeanor drug charges will be dismissed.

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.

However, possession is often charged instead of, or in addition to, the use of methamphetamine. Possessing crystal meth or any other form of amphetamine is a Colorado felony that can be punished by:

  • Up to a year in jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $100,000, plus
  • A Colorado drug offender surcharge of between $1,500 and $4,500.

And if you sell or transfer methamphetamine or possess it for sale, it is also a Colorado felony drug offense. The punishment for selling meth or possessing it for sale varies from 6 months in jail to 32 years in prison depending on the quantity of meth and whether you sold it (or intended to sell) it to a minor at least 2 years younger than you.

Drug treatment instead of incarceration

If you are charged with meth possession or transfer of meth as a Colorado level 4 drug felony, you may be eligible to have your charges reduced to a misdemeanor. This is known as Colorado's "wobbler" drug sentencing. A "wobbler" is a crime that can be punished as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Assuming you are both eligible and willing, the court will defer your felony sentence in order to let you obtain drug treatment. Upon successful completion of drug treatment -- and assuming you comply with all other conditions of your probation -- your charges will be reduced to misdemeanor possession.

You may be eligible for drug treatment if:

  • The quantity of meth you possessed was less than 2 grams,
  • You are not ineligible for probation under 18-1.3-201 C.R.S.,
  • You have never been convicted of a crime of violence, and 
  • You do not have two or more prior felony drug convictions (including drug felonies reduced to misdemeanors).

You are not eligible for "wobbler" sentencing, however, if you sold or possessed meth for sale, unless you transferred not more than 2 grams with the intent to use all of it with the other person(s) right away.

For more information on deferred sentencing, please see our article on reducing a Colorado level 4 drug felony to a misdemeanor

Defending Colorado methamphetamine charges

Fortunately, there are a large number of ways to defend against Colorado methamphetamine laws, especially when you are charged with use or simple possession.

But even when you are accused of selling methamphetamine or possessing methamphetamine for sale, common defenses a skilled Colorado drug defense lawyer can raise include (but are not limited to):

  • The methamphetamine wasn't yours,
  • The methamphetamine was for your personal use,
  • You didn't know you had the methamphetamine,
  • You possessed the methamphetamine, but you didn't know that what you had was a controlled substance,
  • There wasn't enough methamphetamine to use as a drug, or
  • The drugs were found during an illegal search or as a result of police misconduct.

To help you better understand Colorado's laws on methamphetamine, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

1. What is methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine – also known as meth, crystal, chalk, or ice -- is a stimulant that is chemically similar to amphetamine. Although occasionally prescribed by doctors for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obesity or narcolepsy, prescriptions for methamphetamine are rare due to meth's high potential for abuse.

Recreational meth most frequently comes as white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystals or powder that can be ingested orally, smoked, snorted, or dissolved in water or alcohol and injected. Smoking or injecting the drug, in particular, produces rapid onset of intense euphoria that quickly fades, leading many users to "binge and crash" repeatedly in an attempt to hold on to the euphoria.

Repeated use of crystal meth can, however, quickly lead to addiction,  Effects of meth addiction can include:

  • Decreased motor skills,
  • Impaired verbal learning,
  • Severe structural and functional changes in areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory,
  • Poor judgment,
  • Extreme weight loss,
  • Dental problems (“meth mouth”),
  • Skin sores (from scratching),
  • Increased risk of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C (from unsafe sex and sharing contaminated needles), and
  • Greater cognitive impairment in users with HIV.

2. Unlawful use of methamphetamine --- Colorado 18-18-404 C.R.S.

As a Schedule 2 drug, methamphetamine is strictly regulated in Colorado. Abuse of meth in Colorado has been flagged by the United States Department of Justice as a growing and significant problem.

However, the state of Colorado prefers getting addicts the help they need rather than putting them in prison. As a result, simply using methamphetamine or other Colorado level 2 controlled substances is only a misdemeanor under Colorado law.

2.1. Penalty for unlawful meth use in Colorado

Before March 1, 2020, the penalty for unlawfully using methamphetamine in Colorado is a fine of $50-$750 and up to 12 months in jail. If you are charged solely with the use of meth, there is no possibility that you will go to jail.

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.

However, if you possess the meth you use, you can be charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance, which is a Colorado felony.

3. Possession of methamphetamine -- Colorado 18-18-403.5 C.R.S.

Section 18-18-403.5 of the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.) makes knowing possession of meth a class 4 drug felony.

You knowingly possess methamphetamine when you know that you have it and you know of its nature as a controlled substance. You do not need to know specifically that it's methamphetamine.

3.1. Penalties for possession of methamphetamine

Knowingly possessing methamphetamine in Colorado can be punished by:

  • 6-12 months incarceration (plus 1 year of mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000, plus
  • A $1,500 drug offender surcharge.

If, however, you are subject to Colorado's aggravating drug felony sentencing range, the court must sentence you to at least 9 months of incarceration and possibly as much as 2 years. Reasons you might be subject to aggravated sentencing include (without limitation) being incarcerated or on parole for a felony at the time of your methamphetamine possession offense.

3.2. Reduction of a felony to a misdemeanor – Colorado “wobbler” drug sentencing

Alternatively, instead of sentencing you to incarceration, a Colorado court will offer you probation and defer your sentence for meth possession if you are eligible. This will delay imposition of your sentence in order to allow you to undergo drug treatment. If you successfully complete the treatment and do not violate any conditions of your probation, your felony possession charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor.

You are not eligible for deferred sentencing and reduction of your drug possession charges if:

  • You are ineligible for probation under 18-1.3-201 C.R.S.,
  • You have ever been convicted of a crime of violence, or
  • You have two or more prior felony drug convictions (including drug felonies reduced to misdemeanors).

For purposes of eligibility for “wobbler” drug sentencing, a crime counts as a felony if it was a felony under the laws of the United States, Colorado or any other state, or was a juvenile crime that would have been a felony if committed by an adult.2

If you accept deferred sentencing, conditions of your probation may include:

  • Not using drugs other than with a doctor's prescription or approval (but no use of medical marijuana),
  • Attending and completing a court-approved drug treatment program,
  • Not committing any other crimes, and/or
  • Anything else the court deems in the best interests of you and/or the public.

4. Sale of meth or possession for sale -- Colorado 18-18-405 C.R.S.

18-18-405 C.R.S. makes it a felony to sell, manufacture, distribute, dispense, or possess for sale any amount of methamphetamine (other than mere trace amounts). It also makes it a felony to induce, attempt to induce, or conspire with one or more other persons to do any of these acts or to possess one or more chemicals or supplies or equipment with the intent to manufacture methamphetamine.

Note, however, that Colorado has a separate criminal statute, 18-18-412.5 C.R.S., possession of methamphetamine precursors, that makes it a Colorado level 2 drug felony to possess chemicals such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, or phenylpropanolamine with the intent to use them to manufacture meth. It is possible to be charged, therefore, under either or both of these statutes.

4.1. Penalties for the sale of methamphetamine or possession with intent to sell

Selling methamphetamine or possessing it for sale is a Colorado felony. Penalties depend on:

  • The quantity of methamphetamine involved, and
  • The age of the person you sell or intend to sell to.

4.1.1. More than 112 grams or sale to a minor

Selling methamphetamine, or possessing it for sale, is a Colorado level 1 drug felony when:

  • The charge involves more than 112 grams (just under 4 ounces) of meth, or
  • You are an adult and you sell, dispense, distribute, or otherwise transfer any quantity of methamphetamine to a minor who is at least two years younger than you.3

Consequences of a Colorado level 1 methamphetamine felony can include:

  • 8-32 years in prison (with a minimum of 8 years mandatory and 3 years mandatory parole),
  • A potential fine of $5,000-$1,000,000, and
  • A $4,500 drug offender surcharge.

If you are subject to Colorado's aggravated felony drug sentencing, however, you face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 12 years.

4.1.2. More than 7 grams, but not more than 112 grams

Selling methamphetamine or possessing it for sale is a Colorado level 2 drug felony if the offense involves more than 7 grams, but not more than 112 grams.4

As a Colorado level 2 drug felony, methamphetamine sale or possession for sale can be punished by:

  • 4-8 years in prison (with 2 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $3,000-$750,000, plus
  • A $3,000 drug offender surcharge.

If you are subject to Colorado's aggravated drug sentencing, however, you will receive a mandatory minimum sentence of 8 years in prison and may be imprisoned for as long as 16 years.

4.1.3. Not more than 7 grams

You commit a Colorado level 3 drug felony when you sell or possess for sale not more than 7 grams of meth.5

Penalties for selling this quantity of crystal meth or possessing it for sale in Colorado can include:

  • 2-4 years in prison (with 1-year mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $2,000-$500,000, plus
  • A $2,000 drug offender surcharge.

In the aggravated range, consequences of selling meth as a level 3 drug felony can include 4-6 years in prison.

4.1.4. Not more than 2 grams of meth for immediate consumption

Transfer of meth is a Colorado level 4 drug felony if:

The distribution or transfer was of not more than 2 grams of methamphetamine, and
You intended to consume all of the meth with another person or persons at a time substantially contemporaneous with the transfer.6

Consequences of transferring meth as a level 4 drug felony can include:

  • 6 months to 1 year in jail (with 1-year mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000, plus
  • A drug offender surcharge of $1,500.

However, the transfer of meth for immediate consumption is a Colorado “wobbler” offense. If you are eligible you will be offered a deferred sentence in order to undergo drug treatment. Upon successful completion, your charge will be reduced to misdemeanor possession.

If you are subject to Colorado's aggravated sentencing range for drug felonies, however, you face 1-2 years in prison.

5. Defending Colorado methamphetamine charges

There are many defenses to Colorado meth use, possession or sale charges. The best defense to Colorado meth charges depends on the specific charge(s) and the facts of your case.

However, common defenses to Colorado meth charges can include (without limitation):

  • It was someone else's crystal meth; 
  • You didn't know you possessed the methamphetamine;
  • You knew you had what turned out to be meth, but you didn't know it was a controlled substance;
  • The meth was for your personal use alone;
  • The police found only trace amounts of meth (not enough to use as a drug);
  • There wasn't as much meth as the prosecutor claims (partial defense);
  • The meth was discovered as the result of an illegal search and seizure; or
  • Law enforcement engaged in misconduct (such as coercing your confession, planting or falsifying evidence, or failing to read you your Miranda rights.

Call us for help…

To find out how we can fight for you, simply fill out the confidential form on this page or call us at our Denver home office:

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

In California? See our article on California meth laws.

In Nevada? See our article on Nevada meth laws.

Legal references:

  1. 18-18-204 (2) (c)(II) C.R.S.
  2. 18-1.3-401.5 (2)(b)(V) C.R.S.
  3. 18-18-405 (2)(a) C.R.S.
  4. 18-18-405 (2)(b) C.R.S.
  5. 18-18-405 (2)(c) C.R.S.
  6. 18-18-405 (2)(d) C.R.S.


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