Colorado Could Lower Drug Possession to Misdemeanor
On March 28, 2012 the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB 163, which would lower a conviction for "simple possession" of a drug from a felony to a misdemeanor. The bill would also give those convicted of drug possession charges the opportunity to seek treatment. The proposal has bipartisan support in the legislature, but some are seriously opposed to the measure.
Details of the Bill
SB 163 would make the following changes to current Colorado law:
Possession of less than four grams of a schedule I or II controlled substance or less than two grams of methamphetamines would change from a class 6 felony to a class 1 misdemeanor
Possession of over four grams of a schedule I or II controlled substance or more than two grams of methamphetamines would reduce from a level 4 felony to a level 6 felony
The state would invest savings from corrections costs into drug treatment programs
Benefits to the State
Those in favor of the bill argue that it would benefit the state on several levels. The cost savings would be substantial, as lawmakers predict that it would save the state $2 million in prison spending. However, the bill calls for funneling that savings into treatment programs for offenders.
Supporters of the measure believe that it will benefit the state more to send people to treatment rather than locking them up because if people get help with their addictions, there will be less crime overall in the future. They also believe more people will find it easier to overcome addiction and make a clean start in life without felony convictions on their records - which can have detrimental effects on people's abilities to find housing and employment.
The bill has broad support from groups outside the legislature, including the ACLU Colorado, the Independence Institute, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition.
Opposition to the Bill
Those opposing the bill worry about the strain on the state's county jails. With more misdemeanor convictions, the population in those facilities could potentially swell and the proposal does not address the costs that the jails might incur. Others have argued that the threat of a felony conviction prompts more people to compete treatment programs than misdemeanor convictions.
Talk to a Lawyer
While the state may decrease the penalties for drug possession in the future, the current punishments for drug crimes convictions are still severe. If you are facing drug charges, consult a seasoned criminal defense attorney who can effectively deal with your situation.