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Colorado Criminal Defense Blog

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When most of us think of “drug trafficking,” we imagine drug dealers moving large amounts of drugs. Moreover, we tend to think of large criminal operations and drug trafficking networks. Cartels. Warehouses filled with “merchandise.”


This is a common misconception.


In fact, drug trafficking is actually one of the most confusing legal concepts. While trafficking can consist of moving drugs from one location to another, in reality the law casts a much wider net for what’s defined as drug trafficking, and small-time dealers – and even individual users – often face drug trafficking charges.


Let’s break down how, exactly, Colorado law defines drug trafficking, and what sentencing and penalties you could face if hit with Colorado drug trafficking charges.


The Legal Definition of Drug Trafficking in Colorado: Broader than You Think


In Colorado, drug trafficking is defined as the following:


  • Manufacturing, dispensing, selling, distributing, or possessing with the intent to manufacture, sell, dispense, or distribute a controlled substance;
  • Inducing or attempting to induce others to manufacture, dispense, sell, or distribute, or to possess with the intent to manufacture, sell, dispense, or distribute a controlled substance
  • Possessing chemicals, supplies, or equipment with the intent to manufacture a controlled substance


In other words, while in many cases drug trafficking is associated with drug dealing, an important and often-overlooked piece of this definition is that possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance is also considered drug trafficking.


Of course, any time a criminal offense involves the element of intent, this opens the door to legal gray areas. Since it’s impossible to ever really prove what a defendant was thinking at the time of the offense, the prosecution must look for evidence that is indicative of intent.


In the case of drug crimes, possession of a large quantity of a controlled substance can be considered evidence for the intent to traffick the substance. The reasoning behind this is that if the defendant is in possession of a larger quantity of drugs than he or she would reasonably have for personal use, the only reasonable explanation is that they must have intended to distribute the drugs.


In other words, if you’re a drug user and you’re caught with a large quantity of drugs, you could face drug trafficking charges. This is particularly troubling in this day and age, because many users who purchase drugs online via the dark net are likely to purchase larger quantities, making drug trafficking charges more likely – even if they had no desire whatsoever to sell or distribute them.


Additionally, if you are caught with drugs in your vehicle, this could be considered transporting a controlled substance even if the drugs are for your own personal use. Of course, just like in other situations, the likelihood of a drug trafficking charge in this context increases if you are caught with a large quantity of drugs, or if you have multiple packages of a drug.


Colorado Drug Trafficking Sentencing and Penalties


Colorado Drug Trafficking Sentencing and Penalties


As with any drug crime, Colorado drug trafficking is penalized based on the type and amount of the controlled substance in question.


Here’s how Colorado drug trafficking breaks down:


Schedule I and II Drugs


  • <14 grams: Level 3 drug felony
  • 14-225 grams: Level 2 drug felony
  • >225 grams: Level 1 drug felony


Cathinones, Heroin, Ketamine, and Methamphetamine


  • <7 grams: Level 3 drug felony
  • 7-112 grams: Level 2 drug felony
  • >112 grams: Level 1 drug felony




  • >10 grams: Level 3 drug felony
  • 10-50 grams: Level 2 drug felony
  • >50 grams: Level 1 drug felony


Schedule III and IV Drugs


  • Transfer of 4 grams or under without sale: Level 1 drug misdemeanor
  • Over 4 grams or with sale: Level 3 drug felony




Because Colorado has legalized marijuana, many people assume that there are few legal consequences for selling or distributing marijuana.


This actually isn’t the case. If you are caught distributing marijuana illegally, you will still face criminal consequences:


  • >4 ounces marijuana or >2 ounces concentrate: Level 1 drug misdemeanor
  • 4-12 ounces marijuana or 2-6 ounces concentrate: Level 4 drug felony
  • 12 ounces-5 pounds marijuana or 6 ounces-2.5 pounds concentrate: Level 3 drug felony
  • 5-50 pounds marijuana or 2.5-25 pounds concentrate: Level 2 drug felony
  • Over 50 pounds marijuana or over 25 pounds concentrate: Level 1 drug felony


Additionally, transferring any amount of controlled substance to a minor is considered a Level 1 or Level 2 drug felony.


You can expect the following sentences for Colorado drug crimes:


  • Level 1 drug misdemeanor: 6-18 months in jail and $500-$5,000 in fines
  • Level 4 drug felony: 6 months-1-year imprisonment and $1,000-$100,000 in fines
  • Level 3 drug felony: 2-6 years in prison and $2,000-$500,000 in fines
  • Level 2 drug felony: 4-16 years in prison and $3,000-$750,000 in fines
  • Level 1 drug felony: 8-32 years in prison and $5,000-$1,000,000 in fines


Denver Criminal Defense Attorney


Serious? Absolutely.


That’s why it’s important to understand the laws surrounding Colorado drug trafficking, and to fight any drug trafficking charges against you with the strongest possible defense.



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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