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Colorado is leading the charge when it comes to “defelonizing” the possession of certain controlled substances in the United States.


The most recent efforts include Jared Polis, Colorado’s Governor, signing House Bill 19-1263 into law. The goal of this law is to help reduce rates of incarceration related to minor drug offenses.


It is also intended to help those who are addicted to drugs get the help they need while saving the taxpayers money. It’s a new strategy that deserves attention – here’s what you need to know about it.


Updates to CO Uniform Controlled Substances Act Impact Possession Charges


Drug policies have gone through many changes in U.S. history. Strategies and attitudes toward dealing with drug use have changed quite a bit, too. Colorado has been on the frontlines of those shifts, and HB 19-1263 is the newest change to drug policy in this state.


Signed into law in May of 2019, it became effective March 1, 2020. The primary goal of this legislation was to change certain statutes associated with the Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 2013 that impact the way possession of controlled substances are charged, and how/when arrests are made.


When Possession of Schedule I and II Drugs Is Now a Misdemeanor Charge


Previously, possession of at least 4 grams of Schedule I and II drugs was a felony. It is now a misdemeanor with the exception of possession of gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB or the “date rape drug”). Possession of GHB is still a felony.


Increased Amounts of Marijuana Now Charged as Misdemeanors


Anyone arrested with more than 3 ounces of marijuana concentrates or more than 6 ounces of marijuana will now be charged with a level 1 misdemeanor. If someone is arrested in possession of fewer than three ounces of marijuana concentrate, the penalty is now a level 2 misdemeanor. Carrying less than two grams will not result in an arrest.


Failure to Appear Can Still Lead to a Warrant


Note, one thing hasn’t changed. Those who are scheduled to attend court relating to their misdemeanor drug charge can still have warrants issued for their arrest for failure to attend court


New Charges Also Mean New Sentences for Possession Convictions in Colorado


Now that possession of certain Schedule I and Schedule II drugs is a misdemeanor, sentencing is impacted as well. These sentencing changes include:


  • Probation or treatment – The courts have the ability to sentence those convicted of misdemeanors under the law to probation or drug treatment. Courts may also impose public service instead of probation or treatment.
  • Level I misdemeanors – For possession of marijuana concentrate or marijuana, the court can impose 180 days in the county jail or two years of probation. The court can also give a 180-day jail sentence as a condition of sentencing or as a violation of probation. A third level I misdemeanor can result in a 364-day sentence in the county jail as well as a fine up to $1,000.
  • Level 2 misdemeanors – Possession of marijuana concentrates or marijuana, unlawful use of a substance, use of unlawful inhalants, or use of any other laboratory-produced scheduled substance now can result in a 120-day sentence in jail or one year of probation. A third offense can be penalized with up to 180 days in jail and a fine of $500.


Defelonizing certain controlled substances is a bold move in Colorado, but it’s hopefully going to be the new normal going forward as other states follow Colorado’s lead to reduce incarceration rates related to minor drug offenses.


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.

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