Possession of a Controlled Substance in Colorado

All states regulate and control the possession for personal use of controlled dangerous substances (CDS), though each differs in its exact definition of CDS and the penalties for possession. Colorado considers not only well-known drugs like marijuana, heroin and cocaine to be controlled substances, but also the compounds used to manufacture them. Possessing drug paraphernalia, such as pipes, is also illegal.

Colorado divides its CDS into five “schedules,” according to their likelihood for abuse.

  • Schedule I drugs (such as synthetic opiates and heroine) are those that have a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, or are unsafe for use in treatment, even under medical supervision.
  • Schedule II drugs (such as opium and its derivatives) have a high potential for abuse, have an accepted medical use and can result in severe psychological and physical dependence if abused.
  • Schedule III drugs (such as anabolic steroids) have a potential for abuse less than Schedule I or II drugs, have an accepted medical use and can lead to low or moderate physical dependence and high psychological dependence.
  • Schedule IV drugs (such as lorazepam) have a lower potential for abuse than Schedule III drugs, have an acceptable medical use and may lead to limited psychological and physical dependence in relation to Schedule III drugs.
  • Schedule V drugs are the least dangerous, with the lowest potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical use, and likely to lead to only limited physical or psychological dependence. Schedule V drugs include medicines that have very small amounts of specified narcotic drugs. (Colorado Stat. Ann. Section 18-18-203 to 18-18-207.)

Some CDS such as codeine, a common pain medication, may be possessed legally so long as the holder has a valid prescription.

This article concerns possession for personal use only. Separate punishments apply to possession for sale or for manufacture of controlled substances. For information about possession of controlled substances for sale, see Sale of a Controlled Substance in Colorado.

Possession and Penalties

In Colorado, the criminal penalties depend on the type and amount of CDS involved. CDS possession crimes are classified as petty offenses, misdemeanors, or felonies.

Petty offenses

Petty offenses are the least serious CDS possession crime. Petty offenses are divided into two classes. All petty offense possession crimes are Class 1 and are punishable by the amount of the fine specified in the section that defines the offense.

(Colorado Code Section 18.1.3-503.)

Misdemeanors

Misdemeanors are divided into three classes and are less serious than felonies. CDS misdemeanor possession crimes are either Class 1 or Class 2.

  • Class 1 misdemeanors are punishable by six to 18 months of incarceration and a fine of $600 to $5,000, or both.
  • Class 2 misdemeanors are punishable by three months to one year of incarceration and a fine of $250 to $1,000, or both.

(Colorado Code Section 18-1.3-501.)

To learn more about these classes, see Colorado Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences.

Felonies

Colorado divides felonies into six classes. Class 1 felonies are the most serious and Class 6 felonies are the least serious. All CDS possession for personal use crimes are either Class 4, 5, or 6 felonies.

  • Class 4 felonies are punishable by two to six years of incarceration and a fine of $2,000 to $500,000, or both.
  • Class 5 felonies are punishable by one to four years of incarceration and a fine of $1,000 to $100,000, or both.
  • Class 6 felonies are punishable by one to two years of incarceration and a fine of $1,000 to $100,000, or both.

(Colorado Code Section 18-1.3-401.)

To learn more about these classes, see Colorado Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.

Felony Possession of CDS

All possession of CDS crimes, other than marijuana, are felonies. The class of felony depends on the type and amount of CDS in the defendant’s possession.

  • Possession of four grams or less of a substance that contains any amount of flunitrazepam, ketamine, or any other Schedule I or Schedule II CDS is a Class 6 felony.
  • Possession of more than four grams or less of a substance that contains any amount of flunitrazepam, ketamine, or any other Schedule I or Schedule II CDS is a Class 4 felony.
  • Possession of two grams or less of any substance that contains any amount of methamphetamines is a Class 6 felony.
  • Possession of two grams or more of any substance that contains any amount of methamphetamines is a Class 4 felony.
  • Possession or more than 12 ounces of marijuana is a Class 6 felony.
  • Possession of more than three ounces of marijuana concentrate is a Class 6 felony.

(Colorado Code Section 8.18-403.5.)

Misdemeanor Possession of CDS

Possession of any substance that contains any amount a Schedule III, IV, or V CDS, other than flunitrazepam or ketamine, is a Class I misdemeanor.

(Colorado Code Section 18.18-403.5.)

Use of CDS other than Marijuana

The unlawful use of any CDS, other than marijuana, is a Class 2 misdemeanor. (Colorado Code Section 18-18-404.)

Marijuana

The possession for personal use of marijuana is the least serious CDS possession crime. Except as discussed elsewhere, the possession for personal use of marijuana is either a petty offense or misdemeanor.

  • Possession of two ounces or less of marijuana is a Class 2 petty offense and is punishable by a fine of up to $100.
  • The public display or use of marijuana of an amount less than two ounces is a Class 2 petty offense and is punishable by a fine of at least $100 or by incarceration of up to 15 days in the county jail and a fine of up to $100.
  • Possession of more than two ounces, but less than six ounces of marijuana is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
  • Possession of more than six ounce, but less than 12 ounces of marijuana is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
  • Possession of three ounces or less of marijuana concentrate is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
  • The transfer to another person, without payment, of two ounces or less of marijuana is not considered sale of CDS and is a Class 2 petty offense.

(Colorado Code Section 18-18-406.)

For more information about how Colorado regulates marijuana, see Colorado Possession of Marijuana Laws and Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in Colorado.

Medical Marijuana

Under limited circumstances a patient diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition may be prescribed medical marijuana to treat or alleviate the patient’s symptoms. However, the unlawful use of another person’s medical marijuana is a Class 1 misdemeanor. (Colorado Code Section 18-18-406.3.)

For more information on medical marijuana in Colorado, see Colorado Medical Marijuana Laws.

Possession of Marijuana in a Detention Facility

The possession or use of up to eight ounces in a detention facility is a Class 6 felony. A subsequent conviction, where both the initial and underlying incident involved more than one ounce of marijuana, is a Class 5 felony. (Colorado Code Section 18-18-406.5.)

Drug Paraphernalia

The possession of drug paraphernalia is a Class 2 petty offense punishable by a fine of up to $100.

Synthetic Cannabinoid or Salvia Divinorum

The possession for personal use of any amount of synthetic cannabinoid or salvia divinorum, a psychoactive plant that produces hallucinatory experiences, is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Toxic Vapors

The abuse of toxic vapors for the purpose of intoxication is a Class 1 petty offense. Toxic vapors include:

  • acetone
  • hexane
  • benzene, and
  • isopropyl alcohol.

(Colorado Code Section 18-18-412.)

Habitual Offenders

Defendants with multiple felony convictions of any crime face increasingly harsh punishment. Class 6 felony convictions are exempt from habitual offender enhanced penalties.

Two or more prior convictions. A defendant with two or more prior felony convictions, either from Colorado or another state, who is convicted of a third felony within a ten year period, is punished by term of incarceration three times that of the maximum penalty for the underlying conviction.

Three of more prior convictions. A defendant with three or more prior felony convictions, either from Colorado or another state, who is convicted of a fourth felony within a ten year period, is punished by term of incarceration four times that of the maximum penalty for the underlying conviction.

(Colorado Statute Section 18-1.3-801.)

Talk To An Attorney

A possession for CDS conviction can have life-long consequences. You should seek the help of an attorney who is experienced in defending CDS possession crimes so that you understand the charges you are facing, any possible defenses, the different options available to you, and the possible outcomes of your case.

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