What is the Difference Between Drug Possession and Distribution in Colorado?

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Even though it is now legal to use and possess small amounts of marijuana in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain State still has some of the toughest drug laws in the nation. Drug possession charges in Colorado are a serious matter, and there are a number of factors that can also lead to distribution or trafficking charges. Taking an arrest of this sort too lightly could be a gross miscalculation that will impact your future.

Drug “Possession” vs. “Distribution” in Colorado?

“Possession” refers to having certain controlled substances in your physical control. To possess a drug, you don’t necessarily have to have it on your person. It can be in a vehicle’s glove compartment or someplace else that you have put it. This is commonly referred to as “constructive possession”. The law generally assumes that you know what the substance is, and it doesn’t matter whether you have knowledge of its legal status in the state. In other words, using a “willful blindness” defense that you took “something” from a friend to hold but didn’t know that it was illegal drugs will usually not be successful.

“Distribution” refers to transferring controlled substances from one person to another. The transfer doesn’t have to involve money or anything else of value. Giving away drugs can be considered distribution, but failing to take something of value in return might lessen the penalties sought by the courts.

Colorado’s Drug Scheduling System

Colorado uses a scheduling system to place various drugs into five categories based on their medical uses, potential for abuse, and risk of dependency. Drugs with lower numbered schedules have harsher penalties for drug crimes. Even though not all of the drugs are illegal, use, possession, or distribution can be considered a crime under certain circumstances. One example is driving under the influence of an over-the-counter drug.

  • Schedule I – LSD and heroin
  • Schedule II – methamphetamine, cocaine, codeine, and opium
  • Schedule III – ketamine, anabolic steroids, and hydrocodone
  • Schedule IV – lorazepam and other benzodiazepines
  • Schedule V – buprenorphine and some OTC cough medicines.

Marijuana has its own classification in Colorado. It’s important to know that this is a drug that is still illegal under federal law, so federal law takes precedence in cases involving interstate possession or distribution. Even under state law, possessing more than one ounce of marijuana can still lead to criminal charges. It would be a mistake to think that a few relaxed drug laws related to marijuana will apply to all drug charges in Colorado. This is not the case at all.

Penalties and Aggravating Factors

If you’ve been accused of possessing or distributing drugs in Colorado, the penalties can be severe. The state has a sentencing structure that consists of six levels.

  • Felony Level 1: Fines of $5,000 to $1,000,000 and incarceration from 8 to 32 years.
  • Felony Level 2: Fines of $3,000 to $750,000 and incarceration from 4 to 16 years.
  • Felony Level 3: Fines of $2,000 to $500,000 and incarceration from 2 to 6 years.
  • Felony Level 4: Fines of $1,000 to $100,000 and incarceration from 6 months to 2 years.
  • Misdemeanor Level 1: Fines of $500 to $5,000 and incarceration from 6 to 18 months.
  • Misdemeanor Level 2: Fines of $50 to $750 and incarceration up to 12 months.

Which level you will fall into depends on several factors. First, the type of drug involved in the possession charge is considered. How much of the drug you possessed and whether there is also a distribution charge are also determining factors. Other aggravating factors that could justify an enhancement of penalties include whether you are already on probation or parole for felony charges.

Speak with a Colorado Springs Drug Crimes Defense Attorney

If you are facing a drug charge in Colorado, you need a legal representative who has your best interests in mind. While drug possession and distribution charges in Colorado are serious, an effective drug crimes attorney might be able to work with prosecutors to secure a modification to lesser charges or have your case dismissed if the proper defenses exist.

At Anderson & Carnahan, Attorneys at Law, our experienced criminal defense attorneys will protect your rights and work to achieve the best possible outcome for you and your family. Contact our office now at (713) 473-9099 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case. Or you may send a secure and confidential message through our online contact form.