Colorado’s drug laws are among the most complicated in the entire country. While the state was at the forefront of decriminalizing, permitting, and regulating the recreational use of marijuana, Colorado also has many strict drug laws on the books. In this post, our experienced Colorado drug crimes defense lawyer provides an overview of some of the most important things that you need to know about Colorado drug laws.

What Substances are Banned in Colorado?

Under Colorado state law (Uniform Controlled Substances Act), controlled substances are classified according to ‘schedules’. As explained by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), drug scheduling is a method of classifying drugs based on their “acceptable medical use” and their “abuse or dependency potential”.

Schedule I is reserved for the most dangerous drugs, the substances that state regulators believe have no acceptable medical use and that are at an especially high risk of abuse or dependence; whereas Schedule V is for substances that are not very dangerous — they have a valid medical use and relatively low possibility for abuse. In Colorado, specific drug schedules are as follows:

  • Schedule I: Heroin, LSD, Phencyclidine (PCP), Psilocybin (Mushrooms)
  • Schedule II: Opium, Methamphetamine, Codeine, Cocaine, other stimulants, Oxycodone (Oxycontin), Morphine, Fentanyl, other prescription pain pills
  • Schedule III: Ketamine, Steroids, Hydrocodone
  • Schedule IV: Lorazepam, Diazepam, Valium, Ambien, other antidepressants
  • Schedule V: Buprenorphine, OTC cough syrups

Drug scheduling matters. Our state’s enforcement policies — including the penalties for possession of a controlled substance and/or distribution — depend largely on the scheduling of the drug.

Drug Penalties in Colorado

Drug penalties in Colorado vary widely. There are a number of different factors that must be considered when applying our state’s drug enforcement laws to any individual case. In proposing penalties for a drug charge, the following things will be considered:

  • The scheduling of the controlled substance;
  • The amount of the drug that was allegedly possessed;
  • Evidence of actual or potential drug distribution/manufacturing; and
  • The defendant’s prior criminal history or lack thereof.

A conviction for a felony drug offense could result in anything from mandatory drug treatment and drug counseling to several decades in prison. Notably, there are six classes of drug crimes in Colorado: Level 1-4 drug felonies and Level 1-2 drug misdemeanors.

The most serious offense — that being a Level 1 drug felony — generally involves the sale or manufacture of a large amount of a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance. The penalties are severe — a conviction carries a potential sentence of 8 to 32 years in prison.

On the other end of the spectrum, drug misdemeanors in Colorado can sometimes be resolved with drug treatment or education. That being said, even misdemeanor drug offenses carry the potential for considerable jail time — potentially up to 18 months. If you were arrested for misdemeanor drug possession, it is imperative that you consult with an attorney immediately.

What to Know About Marijuana Laws in Colorado

Finally, we should clear up some myths and misconceptions about Colorado’s marijuana laws. As virtually every person in this state knows, Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana. In Colorado, a person who is 21 years of age or older is permitted to possess up to one ounce (28 grams) of marijuana for personal consumption. If you possess more than this amount, you could still run into major legal trouble.

Further, people who are under the age of 21 are not permitted to possess any amount of marijuana. In addition, please remember that it is illegal to sell marijuana in Colorado unless you have the appropriate license from the state. The unlawful sale of large amounts of marijuana could even be charged as a Class 1 felony.

While the federal government has largely committed to allowing states to handle marijuana possession using their own laws, it is important that all marijuana users understand that marijuana is still banned under federal law. In fact, marijuana (cannabis) is a Schedule I controlled substances under federal law. Put another way, federal law views marijuana the same way that it views heroin. One effect of this is that it is illegal to possess marijuana on federal property in the state of Colorado. If you bring marijuana into a national park, an airport, onto the grounds of a federal courthouse, into a post office, or to any other federal facility, you could be charged with a serious criminal offense.

Were You Arrested on Drug Charges in Denver, Colorado?

Our legal team is here to help. At Miller Leonard PC, our Colorado drug crimes defense attorney is a strong, aggressive advocate for our clients. If you or your loved one was arrested for any type of drug-related offense, you need to take immediate action. To schedule a free, fully confidential case evaluation, please contact us today. From our office in Golden, CO, we represent clients throughout Jefferson County, including in Lakewood, Edgewater, Littleton, Wheat Ridge, Westminster, and Arvada.


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