A conviction on a drug charge in Colorado can mean thousands of dollars in fines, jail or prison time, and a permanent criminal record. If you are charged with a drug crime in this state, even if the charge is a misdemeanor, you’ll need some help from a Denver drug crimes attorney.

Colorado aggressively enforces its drug laws, but it usually does not imprison first-time offenders for the possession of a small quantity of illegal drugs for personal use. Still, if you are charged with any drug crime, you may face some serious consequences.

Except for the most dangerous drugs, the illegal possession of a small quantity of drugs – if you’re a first-time offender – is usually a misdemeanor in Colorado. But if dangerous narcotics are involved, or if you sell or manufacture an illegal drug, you could face serious felony charges. If you have been caught with drugs it is best if you contact a Denver criminal defense attorney for help.

What Determines the Penalties for Drug Crime Convictions in Colorado?

The exact penalty for a drug crime conviction in Colorado will primarily depend on the answers to these questions:

  • Were the drugs for the defendant’s personal use or for sale?
  • What was the quantity of the drug?
  • How dangerous is the particular drug? On which “schedule” is the drug listed?
  • Is the defendant a habitual drug abuser or repeat offender?
  • Was the defendant on probation or parole?

(The federal Drug Enforcement Administration puts each drug into one of five classifications, known as “Schedules,” based on a drug’s medicinal value and potential for abuse.)

As you might imagine, the most serious drug crime convictions can send the offender to prison for decades, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. But even if you’re not facing those kinds of penalties, you still want to avoid a conviction for a drug crime.

What Are The “Extra-Legal” Penalties for Drug Crime Convictions?

A drug crime conviction could make it difficult to keep or find employment. If you hold a professional license, a drug crime conviction may trigger disciplinary action by your professional licensing board. If you’re an immigrant, a drug crime conviction puts you at risk for deportation.

Colorado law recognizes six distinct categories of drug crimes: four levels of felonies and two levels of misdemeanors.

What Constitutes a Level One Drug Felony?

Level One drug felonies are considered the most serious drug crimes in Colorado. These include:

  • Selling more than 225 grams of a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or Schedule II
  • Selling more than 112 grams of methamphetamine, ketamine, heroin, or cathinone
  • Selling more than 50 milligrams of flunitrazepam
  • Selling more than two and one-half pounds of marijuana or more than one pound of marijuana concentrate to a minor if the defendant is an adult and two or more years older than the minor
  • Selling more than 50 pounds of marijuana or more than 25 pounds of marijuana concentrate

The penalty for a Level One drug felony conviction in Colorado is 8 to 32 years in prison with a possible fine ranging from $5,000 to $1 million. And those are only the standard penalties. If you were on bail, parole, or probation when the offense occurred, the penalties may be even harsher.

What Constitutes a Level Two Drug Felony?

Level Two drug felonies include:

  • Selling from 14 to 225 grams of a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or Schedule II
  • The unlawful distribution or sale of equipment and materials for manufacturing controlled substances
  • The unlawful possession of equipment and materials to manufacture methamphetamine and amphetamine

The penalty for a Level Two drug felony conviction in Colorado is 4 to 8 years in prison and/or a fine ranging from $3,000 to $750,000. Again, if you were on bail, parole, or probation when the offense occurred, penalties may be harsher.

What Constitutes a Level Three Drug Felony?

Level Three drug felonies include:

  • Selling not more than 14 grams of a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or Schedule II
  • Attempting to commit a Level Two drug felony
  • Distributing an imitation controlled substance to a minor if the defendant is an adult and two or more years older than the minor

The penalty for a Level Three drug felony conviction in Colorado is 2 to 4 years in prison and/or a fine ranging from $2,000 to $500,000. Again, if a defendant was on bail, parole, or probation when the offense occurred, the penalties may be harsher.

What Constitutes a Level Four Drug Felony?

Level Four drug felonies include:

  • Selling no more than 4 grams of a controlled substance listed in Schedule III or Schedule IV
  • Possessing a controlled substance with any amount of flunitrazepam, ketamine, or any controlled substance listed in Schedule I or Schedule II
  • Attempting to commit a Level Three drug felony

The penalty for a Level Four drug felony conviction in Colorado is 6 months to a year in state custody and/or a fine ranging from $1,000 to $100,000. As usual, if a defendant was on bail, parole, or probation when the offense occurred, penalties may be harsher.

What Constitutes a Level One Drug Misdemeanor?

Level One drug misdemeanors include:

  • unlawful possession of controlled substances listed in Schedule III, IV or V, not including ketamine or flunitrazepam
  • possession of more than 6 ounces but not more than 12 ounces or marijuana or not more than 3 ounces of marijuana concentrate
  • attempting to commit a Level Four drug felony

Beginning on March 1, 2020, the penalty for unlawful possession is up to 2 years on probation, a possible 180 days in jail, and a fine of up to $1,000.

What Constitutes a Level Two Drug Misdemeanor?

Level Two drug misdemeanors include:

  • abusing toxic vapors
  • possessing more than 2 ounces of marijuana but not more than 6 ounces
  • attempting to commit a Level One or Level Two drug misdemeanor

The maximum penalty for a Level Two drug misdemeanor conviction in Colorado is 12 months behind bars and/or $750 in fines.

How Will the Right Defense Attorney Help You?

If you are charged with any drug crime in Colorado, your Denver drug crimes attorney will want to know the answers to these questions:

  • Were you accused of possessing another person’s drugs or drug paraphernalia?
  • Were you charged with a felony for what was only a misdemeanor?
  • Did the police officers violate your constitutional search and seizure rights?

The Constitution prevents the police from conducting unwarranted searches and seizures. If your drug case involves a violation of your rights, it’s possible that damaging evidence can be thrown out of court, and that’s often enough to have the charges reduced or entirely dismissed.

If it’s possible, you must avoid a drug crime conviction. If you’re charged with a drug crime, the right defense attorney will know which defense strategy is most appropriate and most effective in your particular case, but you must have the right attorney’s help.

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By: Dan Murphy

Denver criminal defense lawyer Daniel M. Murphy provides clients in the Denver area with aggressive and sympathetic legal representation. He graduated from the University of Denver Law School in 1994 and worked as a public defender before starting his own practice in 1996. He has defended clients accused of the most difficult criminal and alcohol-related charges. He also serves as a Moot Court Judge for Denver-area law students who rely on his mentorship.