Colorado is once again leading the way in criminal justice reform for non-violent drug offenses. On May 28, 2019, Colorado’s governor, Jared Polis, signed HB19-1263, (effective March 1, 2020) to make personal possession of less than 4 grams of any schedule 1 or schedule 2 controlled substance, possession of more than 12 ounces of marijuana, or possession 3 ounces of marijuana concentrate a misdemeanor rather than a felony. The purpose of this revised sentencing is to provide offenders in need of treatment or other intervention with probation supervision and effective medical and behavioral intervention and treatment. HB19-1263 also provides for the creation of drug court grant program for the purpose of providing money to eligible localities to operate a misdemeanor drug court recognizing that drug abuse is primarily a health concern and should be treated as such in Colorado courts.

Drug Possession Limits and Penalties Pre-HB19-1263

Prior to HB19-1263 the possession of ANY amount of controlled substances listed as schedule I or II under Colorado’s Uniform Substances Act was a minimum level 4 drug felony. This includes methamphetamines, psilocybin (a.k.a. magic mushrooms), morphine, and heroin. Furthermore, the possession of more than 12 ounces of marijuana or 3 ounces of marijuana concentrate was also considered a level 4 drug felony and the possession of 3 ounces or less of marijuana concentrate was considered a Class 1 drug misdemeanor. Class drug 4 felonies are presumptively punishable by six months to one year of imprisonment followed by a year of parole and/or the imposition of a $1000-$100,000 fine. Class 1 drug misdemeanors are punishable by a sentence of up to 2 years probation, with the possibility of up to 180 days of jail time and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.

Drug Possession Limits and Penalties Post-HB19-1263

Starting March 1, 2020, possession of less than 4 grams of a schedule I or II controlled substance, the possession of more than 12 ounces of marijuana, or the possession of more than three ounces of marijuana concentrate is considered a Class 1 drug misdemeanor. Possession of 3 ounces or less of marijuana concentrate is now considered a class 2 drug misdemeanor and is punishable by up to one year of probation, with the possibility of up to 120 days of jail time, and/or a maximum $500 fine.

Misdemeanor Drug Court

In addition to revising the sentencing guidelines for minor drug possession HB19-1263 also created a grant program to support cities and counties in the implementation and operation of a misdemeanor drug court. The express purpose of these misdemeanor drug courts is to provide the necessary intervention to support misdemeanor drug offenders in an effort to treat drug abuse as a health concern, focusing on treatment over incarceration.