Not all drug charges look the same. Colorado law administers different charges and penalties based on the amount of drugs present, the type of drugs, and what the accused were planning on doing with the drugs when they were caught.
If you were caught with drugs that you only intended to use personally, you might not expect truly severe charges or penalties. Sometimes, however, law enforcement officers charge personal users with trafficking, and the difference between possession and trafficking charges could mean quite a few extra years behind bars.
Know the difference between possession and trafficking charges in Colorado so you can present a strong case and receive the best possible outcome.
Possession vs. Trafficking: The Intent to Distribute
People get possession charges when they are caught allegedly possessing controlled substances for personal reasons. Trafficking charges are placed on people who law enforcement officers believe have drugs in order to sell or move them.
This intention to sell or distribute is the key difference in possession and trafficking charges. If you are charged with trafficking controlled substances, prosecutors have to provide evidence that you had this intention.
How do they determine that the intention was there?
- Quantity of drugs: Most personal users do not have large stashes of drugs tucked away in their homes or cars. If law enforcement officers find a large amount of drugs in one space, they may use the quantity as grounds for trafficking charges. However, you do not have to have a lot of drugs on your person to be charged with trafficking. Colorado has charges for persons who are convicted of trafficking under four grams of marijuana.
- Presence of paraphernalia or sales equipment: Tools that measure, cut, or bag up drugs may be evidence for trafficking charges. After all, personal user does not usually need a collection of small bags or scales for their own use.
- Movement of the drugs: If you were caught with drugs while you were driving or moving – particularly across state borders – law enforcement may believe that your movement had to do with the distribution or sale of the drugs.
These are not the only factors that could lead to trafficking charges. As long as peace officers have probable cause to believe you had the intention to move or sell drugs, you could be charged with trafficking.
Different Penalties for Different Drug Charges
Penalties for drug offenses vary, but there is no doubt about it: trafficking charges come with much higher penalties than possession offenses.
Here’s an example.
You are charged with possessing two grams of methamphetamines. Methamphetamines are a Schedule II drug. They come with serious penalties, but not as severe as Schedule I drugs like heroin or LSD.
The court determined that you were personally using the drugs and not distributing them to anyone else, so you would be convicted of a class 6 felony, and face penalties including up to 18 months behind bars and up to $100,000 in fines.
Think those penalties are tough? Let’s compare. If you are convicted of trafficking two grams of methamphetamines, you will be charged with a level 3 drug felony. The penalties for this offense include up to six years behind bars and up to $500,000 in fines. Those penalties are close to five times as harsh as the penalties for possession.
You’re Better Off with Possession Charges in Colorado
No matter what type of drugs were involved or how much you had on you at the time of your arrest, you are better off with possession charges. If you have been charged with trafficking drugs, don’t lose hope. A charge is not a conviction, and they can still be reduced, dropped, or dismissed.
If you were caught with drugs that were bought for personal use, talk to your defense lawyer. Part of your defense strategy can be focusing on eliminating any evidence that the prosecutors want to use to prove your intention to distribute drugs. You are innocent until proven guilty. If they cannot provide convincing evidence of your intention to sell, you could get your charges reduced.
Getting your charges reduced from trafficking to possession is just the first step in building a strong defense strategy. From there, you and your lawyer can work on other defense tactics that allow you to possibly avoid prison time and seek rehabilitation over punishment. It’s possible to avoid the years behind bars and lifelong consequences of felony drug crimes in Colorado. If you have been charged with these crimes, it’s time to start fighting.
About the Author:
Since 2005, Jeffrey L. Weeden has been practicing criminal defense law in Colorado and has helped countless clients protect their rights and freedoms as a respected, caring, hard-nosed criminal defense attorney. Over the course of his career, Mr. Weeden’s work has been recognized in numerous ways, including being named to the Top 100 Trial Lawyers list by The National Trial Lawyers, earning a 10.0 “Suberb” Avvo rating, receiving Martindale-Hubbard’s highest peer review rating — AV Preeminent, and being asked to speak on several issues of interest to the legal community. Additionally, he is someone who cares deeply about his community and those in need, and is an active member of a number of professional legal organizations, including the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center and Law Firm Pro Bono Coordinators.