In the United States, all 50 states and the federal government have laws which dictate the possession, use, manufacture, and sale of specific drugs. In simple terms, drug crimes are crimes that involve the use, possession, manufacturing, or distribution of drugs. In order to be charged with a drug crime certain standards must be proven by the prosecution. Additionally, each drug crime carries different penalties, especially in terms of the severity of the crime that was committed.
Drug crimes generally include offenses such as:
- Possession: Drug possession is the most common drug crime in the United States. Drug possession charges occur when a person is knowingly in possession of a drug without authorization. An example of authorization would be having a valid prescription, or being in a location where the laws permit such possession. Penalties for drug possession typically consider the amount of the drug possessed, the type of drug, and whether or not the drug is for personal use;
- Manufacturing: Drug manufacturing typically involves creating a chemical substance or extracting a natural drug. Some of the most common charges for drug manufacturing are “cooking” methamphetamines, or growing illegal cannabis. It is important to note that simply packaging a drug for resale may also constitute drug manufacturing;
- Use: The use of illegal drugs can be considered a criminal act, especially in cases in which the drug is controlled and requires a prescription. Importantly, if the use of the drug is legal, one cannot be charged for simple drug use; and
- Distribution: The crime of drug distribution includes the sale, smuggling, trafficking, and/or delivery of illegal substances. This crime can also include offenses such as drug trafficking.
Once again, the legality of most drugs is determined by how it is being used, what it is being used for, and the location in which the drug is used. For example, cannabis is currently illegal in many states, but some states allow cannabis for recreational use, and others only allow cannabis with a medical prescription. Prescription drugs, including prescription marijuana, are considered to be legal for individuals who possess a valid prescription. However, if an individual possesses or uses a prescription drug without a prescription from a doctor, that individual will likely be charged with criminal drug use.
Marijuana is overall considered to be the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States.
There are many states that prohibit the possession and use of marijuana. However, there have been many recent and considerable changes regarding marijuana laws throughout the United States. In fact, 19 states have legalized recreational marijuana since 2012. Those states include:
- Colorado: Recreational use legalized in 2012;
- Washington: Recreational use legalized in 2012;
- Oregon: Recreational use legalized in 2014;
- Alaska: Recreational use legalized in 2014;
- District of Columbia: Recreational use legalized in 2014;
- Nevada: Recreational use legalized in 2016;
- Massachusetts: Recreational use legalized in 2016;
- Maine: Recreational use legalized in 2016;
- California: Recreational use legalized in 2016;
- Michigan: Recreational use legalized in 2018;
- Illinois: Recreational use legalized in 2019;
- Vermont: Recreational use legalized in 2020;
- New Jersey: Recreational use legalized in 2020;
- Montana: Recreational use legalized in 2020;
- Arizona: Recreational use legalized in 2020;
- Virginia: Recreational use legalized in 2021;
- New Mexico: Recreational use legalized in 2021;
- New York: Recreational use legalized in 2021;
- Connecticut: Recreational use legalized in 2021; and
- Rhode Island: Recreational use legalized in 2022.
What Are Colorado’s Marijuana Laws?
As can be seen above, Colorado was one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Further, on January 1st, 2014, recreational marijuana retail stores became legal in the state of Colorado. With the legalization of marijuana retail stores, marijuana is now allowed to be legally sold through licensed stores. This means that for the most part, marijuana is now regulated similarly to alcohol in the state. Thus, any individual over the age of 21 can buy retail marijuana. As far as the amount of marijuana that an individual can purchase, both Colorado residents and tourists alike can purchase up to 28 grams at one time.
Further, all that is required for the purchase of marijuana is proof of a valid government issued ID to show the buyer is over the age of 21. Throughout the state, licensed stores are permitted to be open between 8 am and midnight. However, some cities, such as Denver, may impose additional limitations on the hours of operation. In Denver, retail marijuana stores must close by 7 p.m.
Importantly, the state of Colorado still regulates the sale and use of marijuana. This means that individuals should be aware of those regulations in order to avoid criminal charges. For example, any individual over the age of 21 is allowed to legally possess and transport marijuana. However, drivers may not smoke while driving or drive under the influence of marijuana. If an individual is caught driving while smoking, they may be charged with driving under the influence.
How Much Intoxication Constitutes Driving Under the Influence?
State law sets a very low intoxication level for driving under the influence. The legal intoxication level is 5 nanograms/mL of blood. Therefore, the best practice is to avoid any driving after smoking any amount of marijuana. Further, if an officer believes you to be driving under the influence, state law permits them to require you to take a blood test. Refusing the blood test can result in an immediate loss of your driver’s license.
Can Individuals Openly Walk Around With Marijuana?
In short, no. The laws on marijuana use in public are similar to that of alcohol use. Marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia may only be displayed in private. Private means in a way that “does not endanger others.” Therefore, individuals may not have their marijuana out on the streets, in public parks, or even exposed to the public from their private residence. If an individual is caught using marijuana in public, they may be charged with a citation similar to open container laws for drinking in public.
A good rule of thumb regarding the use of marijuana is that individuals can only smoke in private residences where the owner allows the use of marijuana. Thus, once again, the use of marijuana is not permitted in public places. Individuals may also not smoke in marijuana retail stores. However, there is an exception for private cannabis clubs which allow individuals to purchase one day memberships. Marijuana is subject to significant clean air regulations, which means there are few places that allow on-site consumption.
Are Individuals Permitted to Grow Their Own Marijuana?
Yes, state law permits individuals to possess and grow up to twelve marijuana plants per residence. However, local laws may impose stricter controls regarding the number of marijuana plants that an individual is able to grow in that jurisdiction. As far as the location in which the plants may be grown, the plants must be grown in an enclosed locked space that is not viewable to the public. Thus, it is illegal to plant marijuana plants in an open outdoor garden space, even if the yard is fenced in. Further, if anyone is younger than 21 years of age at the residence, the entire growing area must be locked.
Once again, recreational marijuana may only be legally sold in licensed establishments. Therefore, the sale of marijuana by anyone other than a licensed establishment is a crime punishable as either a misdemeanor or felony. However, individuals are permitted by state law to give up one ounce of their homegrown cannabis to a friend who is over the age of 21.
Can I Travel Out of State With Marijuana?
In short, no. Marijuana and the possession thereof is limited within the state boundaries of Colorado. Marijuana is also still prohibited at airports and on planes. Any attempt by an individual to transport marijuana, especially in larger quantities, may result in being charged with drug trafficking.
In fact, in an effort to mitigate dangers associated with transporting marijuana across state lines, marijuana retail shops are required to closely track amounts of marijuana grown and sold. This helps the state ensure marijuana legally grown in Colorado is used exclusively for legal sales in Colorado.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Marijuana Charges In Colorado?
You should consult with a Colorado drug attorney if you have any questions associated with the state’s cannabis laws. Further, if you are facing charges associated with cannabis, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to Colorado law. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.