Colorado Law and The Opioid Epidemic

As politicians, health professionals, and advocacy groups focus on the growing nationwide opioid epidemic, Colorado and other states are attempting to balance the criminality of unlawful opioid possession, manufacture and sale with the powerful addictive nature of these drugs. More Coloradans died of opioid overdose in 2017 than any other year, making the state’s opioid epidemic one of the deadliest in the nation.

Colorado’s opioid-related laws show a preference for treatment of opioid addiction, rather than jail time for addicts. However, serious penalties still remain for those charged with opioid-related offenses; in cases involving large quantities of the drug or if the defendant is charged with the sale or manufacture of opioids, penalties can include felony charges, significant jail time, and up to $500,000 in fines.

The penalties for opioid crimes depend on several factors including the type of drug, the level of addictiveness, whether there is an accepted medical use for the drug, and whether certain aggravating circumstances are present, such as evidence of the sale or manufacture of opioids.

The 5 Schedules (Categories) of Drugs

Drugs are divided into different categories, known as “schedules”, based on both their level of addictiveness and whether the substance has an approved medical purpose: the most addictive drugs are classified as Schedule I while the least addictive are Schedule V. As the addictive nature of the drug increases from one category to the next, so do the penalties for the possession, sale and manufacture of the drugs.

  • Schedule I: drugs, substances, or chemicals with no approved medical use and a high likelihood of abuse
    • Example: heroin
  • Schedule II: drugs, substances, or chemicals that are considered dangerous because they have a high potential of abuse, with use leading to potentially severe psychological or physical dependence
    • Examples: combination products with less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage unit (Vicodin), methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperdine (Demerol), oxycodone (Oxycontin), and fentanyl
  • Schedule III: drugs, substances, or chemicals with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence and abuse
    • Examples: products containing less than 90 milligrams of codeine per dosage unit (Tylenol with codeine) and ketamine
  • Schedule IV: drugs, substances, or chemicals with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence
    • Examples: Xanax, Soma, Darvon, Darvocet, Valium, Ativan, Talwin, Ambien, and Tramadol
  • Schedule V: drugs with lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV that consist of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics
    • Examples: cough preparations with less than 200 milligrams of codeine or per 100 milliliters (Robitussin), Lomotil, Motofen, Lyrica, and Parepctolin

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

The least serious opioid crime is the possession of drug paraphernalia. Under C.R.S. § 18-18-428, an individual who possesses drug paraphernalia and knows or reasonably should know that it could be used in violation of the law will be charged with a Class 2 petty offense and subject to a maximum fine of $100. Common examples of drug paraphernalia include, but are not limited to:

  • Needles or syringes
  • Pipes
  • Purity analyzers
  • Scales
  • Vials or other drug containers

Possession of a Controlled Substance

Under Colorado law C.R.S. §18-18-4035, it is unlawful for a person to knowingly possess a controlled substance. Both recreational drugs and prescription medications can be considered controlled substances under the statute. The statute is triggered by possession of any of the following:

  • 4g or less of a substance with any amount of flunitrazepam, ketamine, or any other Schedule I or II substance is a Class 6 felony
  • More than 4g of a substance with any amount of flunitrazepam, ketamine, or any other I or II substance is a Class 4 felony
  • 2g or less of a substance with any amount of methamphetamines is a Class 4 felony
  • Substance with any amount of a III, IV, or V substance (other than flunitrazepam or ketamine) is a Class 1 misdemeanor

Misdemeanor Penalties for Opioid Crimes

The penalties for opioid crimes vary widely from misdemeanor to felony charges. Absent aggravating circumstances, defendants will face the following charges and penalties for the following misdemeanors:

  • Unlawful use of a controlled substance is a Class 2 misdemeanor with a maximum 1 year in jail and $1,000 fine
  • Unlawful possession of a controlled substance is a Class 1 misdemeanor with a maximum 18 months in jail and $10,000 fine

Felony Drug Possession

Felony drug possession is the most serious opioid offense. The level of the felony depends on what schedule the drug is as well as other aggravating circumstances such as the intent to sell or distribute the drug, as evidenced by the presence of scales, baggies, certain tools, the amount of drugs present, and other factors.

The maximum penalty of the following sentence ranges can be doubled if the judge determines that the crime consists of extraordinary aggravating circumstances.

  • Level 1: minimum sentence of 8 years and/or a $5,000 fine, a maximum sentence of 32 years and/or a $1 million fine, and a mandatory period of parole of 3 years
  • Level 2: minimum sentence of 4 years and/or a $3,000 fine, a maximum sentence of 8 years and/or a $750,000 fine, and a mandatory period of parole of 2 years
  • Level 3: minimum sentence of 2 years and/or a $2,000 fine, a maximum sentence of 4 years and/or a $500,000 fine, and a mandatory period of parole of 1 year
  • Level 4: minimum sentence of 6 months and/or a $1,000 fine, a maximum sentence of 1 year and/or a $100,000 fine, and a mandatory 1-year parole period

Boulder, Colorado Opioid Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you or a loved one is facing charges for opioid or other drug crimes, it’s important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer by your side to protect your rights. At The Moorhead Law Group, we zealously defend our clients against opioid offenses and can help you receive the best possible outcome in court. For more information, contact our Boulder criminal defense team at (303) 447-1400 today.