Drug Offenses

How do drug offenses work in colorado?

Drug crimes are organized by the classification of the drug, the use of the drug, and the quantity of the drug at issue. 


Illegal drugs are classified into five schedules of controlled substances.  Common schedule I controlled substances include GHB, Heroin, LSD, MDMA (Ecstasy), certain Opiates, and Psilocybin.  Schedule II controlled substances include Amphetamines, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Precursors to Methamphetamine, and certain other Opiates like Oxycodone (Oxycontin / Percocet) and Hydrocodone (Vicodin / Lortab).  Anabolic steroids and Codeine fall under schedule III controlled substances.  Schedule IV controlled substances include Zolpidem (Ambien), as well as benzodiazepines such as Alprazolam (Xanax), Clonazepam (Klonopin), and Lorazepam (Ativan).  Prosecution of schedule V controlled substances is rare.  Although Ketamine is classified as a schedule III controlled substance, it is punished more harshly than other schedule III controlled substances.  Finally, under the federal and state controlled substance analogue laws, substances which are substantially similar to schedule I and II controlled substances are also classified as schedule I or II controlled substances.

Possession of drug paraphernalia is a petty offense which is punishable by up to a $100 fine.  Use of a controlled substance is a level 2 drug misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year probation, up to 120 days jail, or up to a $500 fine.  A third or subsequent offense is punishable by up to 180 days jail.  It is a class 1 drug misdemeanor to possess a schedule III, IV, or V controlled substance (excluding GHB and Ketamine), or to possess less than 4 grams of a schedule I or II controlled substance.  The penalties for misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance are up to 2 years probation, up to 180 days jail, or up to a $1,000 fine.  A third or subsequent offense is punishable by up to 364 days jail.


Class 4 felony drug possession occurs  for possession of more than 4 grams of a schedule I or II controlled substance, or for possession of any amount of GHB or Ketamine.  A fourth or subsequent misdemeanor drug possession also becomes a class 4 drug felony.  Another common class 4 drug felony is obtaining a controlled substance by means of fraud and deceit, such forging a prescription.  Under Colorado law, class 4 felony drug convictions should not result in prison unless there are special circumstances.  However, a judge may impose up to 90 days jail as a condition of probation, and there is the possibility of 6 to 12 months prison followed by 1 year parole if the judge  finds that other sentences are inappropriate.  With aggravated circumstances, the sentence could be up to 2 years.

Serious drug felony crimes occur where there is manufacturing, dispensing, selling, or distributing a controlled substance, possessing a controlled substance with intent to engage in these prohibited uses, or conspiring to do so.  Oftentimes the possession of a large quantity of a controlled substance is the government's primary basis for bringing these charges.  Depending on the amount of drug at issue, you may be charged with a class 3, class 2, or class 1 drug felony.  Class 3 drug felonies may be punished by probation, 2 to 4 years prison followed by 1 year parole, or up to 6 years prison with aggravated circumstances.  Class 2 drug felonies are also probation eligible, or punishable by 4 to 8 years prison followed by 2 years parole, or up to 16 years with aggravated circumstances.  Class 1 drug felonies are particularly serious because they require a mandatory prison sentence of 8 to 32 years followed by 3 years parole.  In aggravated circumstances, the sentence is 12 to 32 years.

Colorado also prohibits a list of activities under the special offender laws, and all special offender offenses are class 1 drug felonies, punishable by a mandatory 12 to 32 year prison sentence followed by 3 years parole.  The most common special offender crime is the use or possession of a firearm at the same time as a felony drug offense.  Organized or sophisticated drug activity may also be classified as a special offender crime, as well as drug activity on school grounds.

Exactly how legal is marijuana in colorado?

Colorado has constitutional provisions protecting the use of both medical and recreational marijuana.  The Colorado constitution also protects the legal manufacture and sale of marijuana, so long as it complies with regulatory requirements.  In Colorado you can have up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational use, or up to two ounces for medical use.  A person may also have up to 6 plants, but no more than 3 can be mature, and plants for personal use cannot be used to sell marijuana.

Even though marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, you can still face charges for running afoul of Colorado's laws on marijuana.  Prosecutors in Colorado have demonstrated that they are willing to pursue marijuana cases the same as they would for other controlled substances.  Possessing more than the permissible amount of marijuana may be a drug petty offense, a class 2 drug misdemeanor, or a class 1 drug misdemeanor depending on the amount.  Growing marijuana or allowing it to be grown on your property may be a drug petty offense up to a class 3 drug felony if it is in excess of the lawful amount.  Depending on the quantity, distribution of marijuana can be a class 1 drug misdemeanor up to a class 1 drug felony.   

Marijuana offenses may also be in violation of other laws relating to controlled substances as well as other criminal statutes.  The illicit growing and distribution of marijuana is sometimes prosecuted under the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (COCCA), which is a class 2 felony.  COCCA is a broad law.  A COCCA offense may be established by proof of an "enterprise" and a "pattern of racketeering activity."  It only takes two persons to make an enterprise, and only two prohibited acts for there to be a pattern of racketeering activity.  There is a long list of crimes which can constitute "racketeering activity," including the use of a computer to assist in a crime, or even the use of the mail or a telephone if the communication crosses state lines.  Marijuana offenses may also be elevated to a drug felony 1 under the special offender laws.  

Just because marijuana is legal in Colorado, it doesn't mean you will be treated leniently.  Felony marijuana offenses are often treated just as serious as other felony drug offenses.  It is just as important to obtain an experienced criminal defense attorney when facing a marijuana offense as it is with another drug offense.

How do you defend against drug charges?

If the prosecution is unable to prove all elements of the crime you are charged with, then you have a defense.  In drug possession cases, the prosecution has to prove that you actually knew you had a controlled substance.  The prosecution will also charge medium quantities of drugs as possession with intent to distribute, even though there is no other evidence of an intent to distribute besides the quantity.  Fortunately, a jury familiar with Costco can understand that drug users save money by buying in bulk, the same as with ordinary consumer products.  Defense of a drug case will be different depending on the drug offense, but a good defense can often be found even if there is proof of a controlled substance.

Defenses in drug cases may also involve a demonstration that a person's constitutional rights were violated.  A criminal defense lawyer who deals with drug offenses should have an especially good understanding of the Fourth Amendment.  If drugs are seized under a search warrant, then the manner in which the warrant was obtained and the way in which the search was conducted must be analyzed.  The Fourth Amendment also protects against searches of the home, car, or person without a warrant unless certain conditions are present.  Fourth Amendment law is complex.  While the Fourth Amendment itself is just a single sentence, there are thousands of cases which have analyzed the application of the Fourth Amendment to different situations.  Drug cases often implicate other constitutional rights as well.  An experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense attorney should be contacted in a drug case.

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No drug case is too big or too small for Cantley Criminal Law Office.  Thomas Cantley has handled drug cases ranging from simple possession to allegations of large-scale, organized distribution.  Thomas has experience handling class 1 drug felony offenses and special offender cases, and saving his clients from the mandatory 12 to 32 year prison sentence.  Thomas has also obtained dismissals of drug cases by negotiating with the prosecution or by establishing the violation of constitutional rights to a judge.