Understanding Colorado’S Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing Laws

Colorado drug laws have changed a lot in the last few years. For the most severe offenses and those facing repeat drug charges, Colorado’s mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws can still result in years behind bars. Understanding when those laws do and don’t apply can help you or your loved ones prepare for any drug charges you may face.

Is There Minimum Sentencing for First Time Drug Offenses?

Colorado has modified its drug laws in recent years to favor treatment over mandatory jail sentences for cases of personal use. That means there is no mandatory minimum sentencing for first time drug offenses. Penalties for higher end drug felonies can include lengthy prison sentences and expensive fines, but first-time drug use or drug possession generally results in misdemeanor charges and shorter penalties. Possession and use of marijuana by people over age 21 is legal in Colorado, within certain limits (but not on federal property or military bases). Your criminal defense attorney can even advocate for probation in place of jail time in some circumstances. 

Drug Diversion Programs Offer Alternatives to Jail Sentences

Colorado’s priority is to help drug users to receive treatment for their addiction. Often this means referring cases to specialized drug courts, including Veterans Treatment Court and the Colorado Mental Health Diversion Program or Mental Health Court. These programs generally require defendants to submit to probation officers’ supervision as they receive treatment. However, when they complete the program, defendants can avoid criminal drug convictions and the jail sentences that often come with them.

When Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Offenses Apply

The Colorado mandatory minimum sentencing laws don’t often apply to drug offenses. Between 2014 and 2016, only 155 defendants with drug charges were sentenced under the statute. That’s because mandatory minimum drug sentencing only applies to:

  • Level 1 drug felonies
  • Third or subsequent offenses for level 2, 3, and 4 drug felonies

For each level, the mandatory minimum sentences get longer and more severe if there are aggravated circumstances, such as if you were:

  • On parole for another felony
  • On probation or bond after probation has been revoked for another felony
  • In jail, prison, or another correctional facility
  • Escaped from jail, prison, or another correctional facility
  • On bond waiting for an appeal of another felony
  • On probation for a juvenile crime that would have been a felony if you were an adult

Judges also have discretion to consider aggravated sentencing if other circumstances suggest it would be appropriate.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Level 1 Drug Offenses

Level 1 drug offenses include:

  • Selling more than 225 grams of a schedule I or schedule II drug (such as hallucinogens, LSD, PCP, psilocybin, opiates, and cocaine)
  • Selling more than 112 grams of methamphetamine, heroin, ketamine, or cathinone
  • Selling more than 50 milligrams of flunitrazepam
  • Selling any amount of controlled substances to a minor more than 2 years younger than the adult defendant
  • Selling more than 50 pounds of marijuana or 25 pounds of marijuana concentrate
  • Selling more than 2.5 pounds of marijuana or 1 pound of marijuana concentrate to a minor more than 2 years younger than the adult defendant

The mandatory minimum for a level 1 drug felony is 8 years in prison without aggravating circumstances or 12 years in prison where aggravating circumstances apply.

Presumptive Penalties and Aggravated Sentences for Colorado Drug Felonies

Other drug felonies include the attempted or completed sale, distribution, and manufacturing of controlled substances, and the possession of materials to make methamphetamine or amphetamines. The presumptive penalties (for first and second offenses) and mandatory minimums sentences are:

Level 2 Presumptive Penalty and Aggravated Sentence

  • Presumptive Penalty: 4 to 8 years in prison
  • Aggravated Sentence and Mandatory Minimum for repeat offenders: 8 to 16 years in prison 

In addition, a Level 2 felony drug conviction can result in $3,000 to $750,000 in fines, a $3,000 drug offender surcharge, and two years of mandatory parole.

Level 3 Presumptive Penalty and Aggravated Sentence

  • Presumptive Penalty: 2 to 4 years in prison
  • Aggravated Sentence and Mandatory Minimum for repeat offenders: 4 to 6 years in prison 

In addition, a Level 3 felony drug conviction can result in $2,000 to $500,000 in fines, a $3,000 drug offender surcharge, and one year of mandatory parole.

Level 4 Presumptive Penalty and Aggravated Sentence

  • Presumptive Penalty: 6 months to 1 year in prison
  • Aggravated Sentence and Mandatory Minimum for repeat offenders: 6 months to 2 years in prison

In addition, a Level 4 felony drug conviction can result in $1,000 to $100,000 in fines, a $1,500 drug offender surcharge, and one year of mandatory parole. However, certain level 4 drug charges are considered “wobblers.” This means they can be reduced to a misdemeanor conviction if a defendant completes probation or community corrections. This can keep you from having a felony on your record, and make it easier to put a drug conviction behind you.

At Aviso Law, LLC, our criminal defense attorneys understand the effect a mandatory minimum sentence can have on your life, and your future. If you are facing drug charges, we can help you consider your defenses, any diversion programs available, and possible plea agreements that will help you avoid receiving an aggravated or mandatory minimum sentence. We are here to serve you and your family during your criminal matter and your recovery. Our lawyers will help you understand how the Colorado sentencing laws work, and identify your best way forward. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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