Law enforcement officials conducted several raids of illegal grow ops in Colorado in the past month and a half. In addition to firearms and money, officers confiscated over 300 kilograms of dried marijuana and more than 20,000 individual plants. They also arrested 32 individuals for ties to illegal marijuana growing operations in Colorado.
The Department of Justice reports that six different major covert growing operations have been shut down in Colorado. Many of them were located in National Forests and Bureau of Land Management property, causing damage to the land that experts say may take years to fix.
DOJ officials suspect that a number of the 32 arrested in the busts are tied to major drug trafficking rings. Almost none of the arrestees were native Coloradans – they came from other states and even different countries.
The busts were the joint effort of many different law enforcement and administrative bodies. The Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, and state and local law enforcement all worked in conjunction to locate and break up the grow sites.
They’re sending a message to Coloradans: while pot may be legalized, you can still end up in prison for marijuana-related crimes.
Colorado Marijuana Crimes and Penalties
Though marijuana is now legal for recreational use, the plant can still put growers and users behind bars if they don’t follow the strict regulations laid down by Colorado state laws. The widespread busts across the state show that law enforcement doesn’t intend to go easy on offenders.
Amendment 64 allows individuals to cultivate and possess small amount of marijuana for personal use, but the law does impose limits on growing and possession. Additionally, it is still a crime to drive under the influence of pot. Drugged driving is the same penalty as drunk driving, a DUI.
Here’s how Colorado marijuana laws currently break down.
Possession. Possession of more than one ounce of marijuana is a criminal offense. The severity of the charges and punishment depend on the amount you are caught with. For more than one ounce and less than two ounces, you can be charged with a class two petty offense, which has a fine of up to $100 attached.
Two-to-six ounces can land users with a class two misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and 3-12 months in jail. The punishments and charges become more severe with the amount of marijuana in your possession at the time of arrest.
Concentrated forms of THC (like hashish) are still illegal and subject to stricter regulation than the dried buds of the plant itself. For example, carrying over 12 ounces of marijuana or 3 ounces of concentrate is prosecuted with the same charge—a class six felony. Carrying an amount of concentrated marijuana less than 3 ounces is a class one misdemeanor.
Cultivation. Colorado law also limits the number of plants you can grow for personal use. Growing more than six plants is a criminal offense. Similar to possession, your criminal charge and punishment will correspond to the number of plants in your care at the time of arrest.
You are allowed six plants for personal use, but growing for reasons other than personal use is a crime unless you possess a license—even if you have six or less marijuana plants. This is a class one misdemeanor, which can carry charges between $500 and $5,000 dollars, and between 6-18 months in jail.
If you grow between seven and 29 plants, this is a class five felony. Penalties may include between 1 and 3 years in prison and a fine between $1,000 and $100,000 – or both. Cultivating over 30 plants—or conducting marijuana processing operations on your land—is a class four felony. This charge is punishable by between 2 and 6 years in prison, and/or a fine between $2,000 and $500,000.
A second offense is a class three felony, which carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of four years. However, the judge may order the prison sentence extended for up to 12 years, and give you a fine of between $3,000 and $750,000.
As you can see, possession and cultivation are still highly regulated by state law. Those accused should not assume the state will go easy on them for marijuana—on the contrary, prosecutors seem eager to let the public know they still intend to punish violations of Colorado statutes. Don’t become a poster child for their efforts.
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.