Back in 2013, Colorado legislators decided that trying to incarcerate their way out of a major drug problem was the wrong way to go. Too many people were being sent to prison essentially for being drug addicts and getting caught, and it wasn’t helping. What they really needed was treatment.
So they passed a bill with incredibly noble intentions. It overhauled drug sentencing, prioritizing available prison space for big-time dealers and people who had committed violent offenses. Mere users who ran afoul of the law would get the help they required to recover.
How have things gone since then?
Below we’re going to detail what’s been going on in Colorado over the last half decade or so and why it needs to change, then explain current possession laws so you know what to expect if you find yourself charged.
Focusing on High-Level Dealers Brings More… Drug Possession Charges?
Between 2012 and 2017, case filings for felony drug offenses across Colorado doubled from 7,424 to 15,323. At first that might seem a good sign. After all, you would expect an increase in drug felonies if more dealers are being caught. However, when you break down the type of offenses being charged, an astounding 75 percent of filings are for – wait for it – possession.
This is bad for several reasons.
As mentioned above, punishing drug addicts by sending them to prison does little to solve the root problem, and can even make it worse. Simply put, someone who is addicted to drugs needs help curbing that addiction. That’s not something that the penal system is really equipped to handle. Moreover, there is a fair amount of evidence out there supporting the fact that incarcerating an addict may actually worsen their addiction, drive them to further criminal actions, or both.
Additionally, one of the bigger reasons that lawmakers were ultimately convinced to reform sentencing back in 2013 is because they realized that Colorado prisons were running out of room – and the budget for the Department of Corrections was ballooning – in large part due to the huge number of non-violent, low-level drug offenders who were being incarcerated. How are things today? In 2018, for the first time ever, the corrections budget is closing in on $1 billion, and additional funding is being requested to reopen two prisons.
In other words, the problem with incarcerating people for drug possession has gotten worse than ever before. Speaking of which…
More People in Colorado Died from Drugs in 2017 Than Ever Before
For a number of years, the opioid epidemic was at the forefront of Colorado overdose deaths. These numbers have decreased recently, which would seem like a good thing. Unfortunately, the increase in deaths from cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine more than made up for the difference, making this the deadliest year ever for overdose deaths in our state.
According to Rob Valuck, director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Prevention, “All together, drug overdoses probably killed more people last year than car crashes, according to preliminary numbers. And those numbers are more likely to increase than decrease… it’s getting worse, and it continues to grow.”
How many of those people might have sought out treatment if they weren’t so afraid of the prospect of going to prison? How many might have been saved if our criminal justice system wasn’t continuing to focus on punishment at the expense of recovery?
Sadly, that’s where we are right now, so you need to understand what the current laws – and consequences – are.
Criminal Penalties Associated with Possession Charges in Colorado
The consequences of being convicted for drug possession in our state vary based on the type and amount of the drug in question, as well as whether or not you have multiple offenses.
For first time offenders:
- Any amount of a substance in Schedule III, IV, or V (besides flunitrazepam and ketamine) is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which comes with up to $10,00 in fines and up to 18 months in jail
- 2g or less of a controlled substance with methamphetamines in any amount, or 4g or less of a controlled substance with flunitrazepam, ketamine, or any other Schedule I or Schedule II substance in any amount is a Class 6 felony, which comes with up to $100,000 in fines and up to 18 months in jail.
- Over 2g of a controlled substance with methamphetamines in any amount, or over 4g of a controlled substance with flunitrazepam, ketamine, or any other Schedule I or Schedule II substance in any amount is a Class 4 felony, which comes with up to $500,000 in fines and up to six years in prison.
Colorado’s Drug Laws Need Changing – But You May Need to Defend Yourself First
Hopefully more reform is coming. Hopefully this time it will actually work and addicts who are charged will have a better chance at getting help instead of punishment.
The sad truth right now, though, is that the law is not on your side. If you are charged with possession and get convicted, there’s a pretty decent chance that you will be going to jail or prison.
The best chance you have at avoiding this outcome is to work with an experienced Colorado criminal lawyer who has a proven track record in these types of cases. Do not trust the system to provide you with the assistance you need. Fight back with an aggressive defense strategy.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.