Caught High at a Colorado Park? What Can and Can’t Happen

Did you know that the Colorado Constitution considers use of public parks a “natural, essential and inalienable right”?

This point came up in a 2017 ruling regarding a directive on who could use Colorado parks. The directive temporarily banned convicted drug users from city parks if their illicit use took place in one.

Although this ban was eventually overturned as unconstitutional, its goal was to address the salient problem of numerous overdoses on Colorado public lands. Today, however, drug usage in parks continues.

In May of this year, a man barreled down Gem Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park under the influence of narcotics. He knocked down another hiker and told rangers that someone was chasing him with a rifle — a claim thus far unsubstantiated.

Rangers located the frenzied man’s friends further down the trail and put him in their care. The case remains under investigation, although no charges have been filed.

How does Colorado address drug usage in parks now? Could the consequences have been worse for this high hiker?

Colorado Drug Laws

Colorado divides drugs by severity into categories called “schedules.” In general, the more dangerous and addictive a drug is, the lower its schedule number — don’t let those low numbers fool you into believing the penalties will be lighter.

Since many opioids, narcotics, and unprescribed drugs are already considered illegal, it makes sense that being high in public from these substances would merit the attention of law enforcement.

What about marijuana though? Colorado legalized medical use in 2000 and recreational use in 2012. Can you still face charges if you’re high from marijuana in public?

Marijuana: Legal, But Not In Public

Yes, marijuana is legal in Colorado. However, it’s not all laissez-faire. Smoking weed in public remains very much illegal.

This law doesn’t fixate on the secondhand smoke aspect, either. It applies to vaporizers and e-cigarettes, as well. The law even extends to edibles.

Basically, no matter the form of marijuana, the same restrictions must be observed by state residents and tourists alike: you can only possess a certain amount, and you cannot consume it in public.

Marijuana Possession in CO

Whether joints, gummies, or a vape, how much marijuana can you legally possess in Colorado? This law actually changed in May. Governor Jared Polis approved a bill increasing the legal amount from one to two ounces for adults over the age of 21.

Until this bill’s signing, there remained an unlawful sliver of marijuana possession in the one to two ounce range. It was considered a petty offense.

Keep in mind that Colorado treats marijuana use much like drinking. If you are under 21, any amount is illegal.

Leaving Home After You’re High

Many people enjoy getting high at home, then doing simple activities like going for a walk or seeing a movie. Technically, you didn’t consume any marijuana in public. Is this still an offense?

The short answer: yes. Because public intoxication laws cover both alcohol and drugs, even eating one edible gummy could fit under that umbrella. However, the interpretation of these laws does offer some leeway.

Denver Marijuana Crimes Lawyer

Namely, police need a reason to stop or arrest you. They can’t simply arrest you for seeming to be high. Public intoxication arrests usually come up when a person actively instigates harassing or dangerous behaviors, especially if their actions could endanger the lives of other people or their own.

So, if you and some friends hang out peacefully at a park after smoking a bowl and police stop you anyway, you could be protected by the defense that they lacked probable cause. Still, it might make your life simpler to just stay home.


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 recognized by countless legal organizations for his exemplary defense work, including Avvo, Best DWI Attorneys, Expertise, Lawyers of Distinction, The National Trial Lawyers, and others. He was also named one of the 10 Best in Client Satisfaction in Colorado by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys for 2020, and is Lead Counsel rated.