Colorado is looking to decrease incarceration rates by making personal drug possession in Colorado a misdemeanor offense.
On March 1, 2020, a new law went into effect in Colorado making possession of 4 grams or less of most Schedule 1 and 2 drugs a misdemeanor offense rather than a felony. However, under the new law, possession of any amount of GHB and other “date rape” drugs will remain a level 4 drug felony. The goal of the law is to reduce incarceration for those caught with drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
Schedule 1 drugs have a high potential for abuse and dependency and have no accepted medical use even under medical supervision. Schedule 1 drugs include cocaine, heroin, LSD, peyote, methaqualone, and ecstasy. Schedule 2 drugs have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence, but these drugs are considered to have medical value. Schedule 2 drugs include oxycodone, opium, codeine, morphine, hydromorphone, methadone, Demerol, and fentanyl.
New Drug Possession Law in Colorado
Yes, you read that right. Under the new law, possessing 4 grams or less of fentanyl will now constitute a misdemeanor offense instead of a felony. U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn notes that 4 grams of fentanyl is the equivalent of more than 13,000 fatal doses. Fentanyl is fatal to humans at about 2 or 3 milligrams, is 50 times more potent than heroin, and is 100 times more potent than morphine.State Rep. Leslie Herod, one of the lead sponsors of the bill, known as HB19-1263, said she and other lawmakers took this into account and believe that prosecutors will be able to prove intent to distribute in these cases, which is still a felony. She stated, “I do think that the limit is somewhat arbitrary, but I don’t think that opening it up to decreasing (the possession amount) for fentanyl would really get at what the problem is, and that problem is addiction. We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of addiction.”The new law also makes drug possession in Colorado of more than 6 ounces of marijuana or more than 3 ounces of marijuana concentrate a level 1 drug misdemeanor and possession of 3 ounces or less of marijuana concentrate a level 2 drug misdemeanor. Under this new law, if a person is in possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana, a person may not be arrested for the petty offense of possession at all.Anyone convicted of a level 1 drug misdemeanor may face a sentence of up to 180 days in county jail or 2 years of probation, with up to 180 days in jail as a condition of probation or for a violation of probation. For a third or subsequent offense, a person may face up to 364 days in jail. Any person convicted may be subject to a monetary fine not to exceed $1,000, as well.Anyone convicted of a level 2 drug misdemeanor may face up to 120 days in county jail or one year probation, with up to 120 days in jail as a condition of probation or violation of probation. For a third or subsequent offense, a person may face up to 180 days in jail. Any person convicted may also be subject to a monetary fine not to exceed $500.Part of the new bill includes a new grant program “to provide grants to counties that provide substance abuse or mental health treatment services to, facilitate diversion programs for, or develop other strategies to reduce jail and prison bed use by, persons who come into contact with the criminal justice system.” For the 2019-20 state fiscal year, $123,139 is appropriated to the judicial department. Such appropriation led Tom Raynes, executive director of the district attorney’s council, to say, “he would also like to see more money accompany the bill to help build out addiction treatment before most drug possession is de-felonized. Right now, he thinks the legislation puts people suffering through substance abuse ‘on the streets without giving them the necessary and adequate treatment, both in terms of providers and clinics that would actually treat it as a health issue.’”
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