Are Penalties for Drug Crimes Too Harsh?

Few would argue that the penalties for drug crimes in the US are anything but incredibly harsh. Under current Colorado and federal laws, the punishment for possessing even small amounts of illegal drugs may include prison time, staggering fines, and a lifelong criminal record. It is not uncommon for non-violent drug crimes to be penalized with lifelong prison sentences.

Current penalties are so tough that many advocates are calling for drug law reform, arguing that current laws crowd prisons and unfairly target minorities and lower-income individuals. Some suggest drug crimes should be treated like white collar crimes. Instead of being punished by factors such as the amount and type of drug, advocates argue that drug crimes should be sentenced by the amount of illegal profit the offenders receive. In a recently published paper on the subject, legal scholars Thea Johnson and Mark Osler assert:

“Drug dealing is a business enterprise. At its core is the manufacture, transport, financing, and selling of illegal narcotics. The most successful drug dealers are the ones who are skilled in the tools of business, and success is measured in the profit generated. Given these undeniable realities, shouldn’t we treat narcotics trafficking the way we do other business-based crimes like fraud or embezzlement?”

If you look at drug crimes this way, it’s easy to spot similarities between drug offenses and white collar crimes. If drug crimes were regarded as business deals, it would make sense to base sentencing off of the amount of money made in the transaction.

Existing Penalties for Drug Crimes in Colorado

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While the article makes some interesting points, it may take years of advocacy and restructuring before drug laws in the US are made more lax. As it stands now, both federal and state laws are incredibly tough on even the most low-level drug crimes.

Colorado laws are especially tough on drugs, penalizing possession, sale, and distribution of not only illegal drugs, but also the compounds used to make them. We’ve provided a guide to sentencing for some of the most common drug crimes below.

Unlawful possession of a controlled substance. You can be charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance for being found in possession of an illegal drug or a compound used to manufacture an illegal drug. Unlawful possession may be charged as a class 4 or class 6 felony, or a class 1 misdemeanor. Penalties may include up to six years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines.

Unlawful use of a controlled substance. If you use any type of controlled substance without valid medical or legal authorization, you can be charged with unlawful use of a controlled substance. Unlawful use of a controlled substance is a class 2 misdemeanor, and punishable by up to one year of incarceration and up to 5,000 in fines.

Unlawful distribution of a controlled substance. You can be charged with this type of crime if you dispense, manufacture, or sell a controlled substance or compound used to manufacture a controlled substance, or it is believed that you have intention to do so. This type of crime may be classified as a class 1 misdemeanor or a class 2, 3, 4, or 5 felony. Potential penalties include up to 24 years in prison and up to $1,000,000 in fines.

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Marijuana crimes. Although the recreational use and sale of marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, you can still be charged with a crime if you are found in possession of more than one ounce. You can also be charged with a crime for driving under the influence of marijuana, transporting marijuana into other states, or possessing marijuana on government property. The penalties for marijuana crimes vary vastly, but may include incarceration, heavy fines, and a criminal record.

If you have been charged with any type of drug crime in Colorado, you should consult with a seasoned drug crimes attorney as soon as possible. Both federal and Colorado drug laws are extremely tough, and you’ll need equally tough representation if you want to escape long-term consequences to your freedom and future.

Don’t wind up being a statistic as one of the many drug offenders crowding US prisons. Talk to an experienced drug crime defense lawyer, who can help you to understand your options and investigate your case. Together, you and your lawyer can develop the most powerful defense possible. With a good Denver drug crimes lawyer on your side, you may be able to have your drug charges reduced or dropped entirely.

About the Author:

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.