Colorado Marijuana Laws

Key Points

  • Medical and recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado.
  • Adults 21 and older can buy or smoke recreational and medical marijuana.
  • It is legal to possess one ounce and below of marijuana.
  • Coloradans aged 21 and above can grow marijuana for personal use.
  • There are penalties for possessing or cultivating marijuana above the legal limit. There are also penalties for distributing marijuana.

Is Marijuana Legal in Colorado?

Yes, medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are legal in Colorado. While medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2000, recreational marijuana was not legalized until a decade later, in 2012. Amendment 20, which was later codified into the state's Constitution as Article XVIII, Section 14, legalized medical marijuana in Colorado. Similarly, Amendment 64 legalized recreational marijuana, and Colorado's Constitution admitted this Amendment as Article XVIII, Section 16.

Colorado legalized medical marijuana for use by persons suffering from debilitating medical conditions. Amendment 20 established affirmative protection to Colorado criminal laws for patients and their primary caregivers concerning the medical use of marijuana. It also instituted procedures for issuing an identification card, also known as a medical marijuana card, and specifies the form and amount of marijuana a patient may possess and restrictions on its use. Amendment 64 restricts the use, selling, and distribution of marijuana in Colorado to adults 21 years and older.

Colorado Marijuana Laws in 2024

The Colorado Assembly, in their 2021 legislative sessions, introduced ten marijuana-related bills to address the state's marijuana regulations. However, two out of these bills failed to pass while eight of them did. The failed bills are Promoting Social Distancing In Marijuana Industry (HB21-1058) and Limitations on Regulated Marijuana Delivery (HB21-1159). The eight that passed Legislature amended are:

Criminal Marijuana Offenses (HB21-1090)

This bill eliminates the marijuana possession offense for possession of 2 ounces of marijuana or less by increasing the limit of unlawful possession of marijuana by minors from 1 ounce or less to 2 ounces or less. It also permits someone convicted of a Class 3 felony marijuana cultivation offense to petition to have their conviction record sealed.

Correcting Errors in the Colorado Marijuana Code (HB21-1178)

This bill corrects nonsubstantive errors, such as grammatical, wording, and citation issues in the Colorado marijuana code.

Unemployment Insurance Marijuana-licensed Business (HB21-1204)

This bill speaks to the treatment of a marijuana-licensee-owned business that provides employment services to a commonly regulated marijuana business as an individual employing unit. It does not consider an employee leasing company a common paymaster under the Colorado Employment Security Act.

Marijuana Licensees Ability to Change Designation (HB21-1216)

This bill passed Legislature amended on June 8, 2021, came into effect in July 2022, and clarifies that a change of designation of marijuana from recreational to medical does not translate to a right of getting a refund of a retail marijuana excise tax levied or paid before designation change. It permits a medical marijuana product manufacturer licensee to receive and change a marijuana product from retail to medical. The bill also allows a medical marijuana cultivation facility licensee to obtain and change marijuana's designation from recreational to medical.

Cannabis Outdoor Cultivation Measures (HB21-1301)

Section 4 of this bill requires state licensing authority to convene a committee to examine existing tax laws and rules on the large-scale marijuana cultivation business. The essence of this is to enable them to explore the possibility of amending these rules and tax laws to prepare them for interstate trade if the federal government eventually legalizes marijuana on the federal level. Colorado Legislature expects the committee to forward its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly and the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Revenue on or before June 1, 2022. As of October 2022, medical and recreational marijuana cultivators can file for a contingency plan stating the steps they intend to take should there be an adverse weather event.

Regulating Marijuana Concentrates (HB21-1317)

This bill prohibits the advertisement of medical marijuana that is targeted at persons between 18 to 20 years of age. It mandates recreational and medical marijuana concentrate advertisements to come with warnings on medical marijuana overdose. HB21-1317 also requires marijuana dispensaries to provide patients with pamphlets regarding the criminal penalties associated with marijuana diversion and overconsumption of medical marijuana. The Colorado legislature made changes to the concentrate sales limitation. Starting January 1, 2022, the amount of medical marijuana concentrate both for recreational and medical use a store can sell to a patient is limited to 8 grams per day for persons over 21 years. The limit for patients between 18 to 20 years old is 2 grams per day. The only exception to these is if the patient's certification stipulates the need for more than 2 grams or 8 grams or if the patient is homebound. This bill also requires a doctor to conduct a full assessment of a patient's medical history (including mental health history) when recommending medical marijuana. It seeks to tighten medical marijuana rules and mandate research into the mental health effects of marijuana products.

Expand Cannabis-based Medicine at Schools (SB21-56)

Before the passage of this bill, school principals decide who possesses and administers cannabis-based medicine at schools. This bill changes that and requires school boards to implement policies permitting the possession, administration, and storage of cannabis-based medicine by school staff. SB21-56 allows school personnel to volunteer to help in the administration of cannabis-based medicine. It also provides disciplinary protection to nurses who administer cannabis-based medicine to students at school.

Program to Support Marijuana Entrepreneurs (SB21-111)

This bill seeks to support entrepreneurs in the marijuana industry. It establishes a program in the Office of the Economic Development and International Trade to assist social equity licensees, as explained in the Colorado Marijuana Code.

Timeline of Сannabis Law in Colorado

Changes to Colorado marijuana laws over time include:

  • 1975: Colorado decriminalizes marijuana. Colorado law reduced the penalty for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana to a petty crime punishable with a fine of $100. Harsher penalties remained for possession of more than one ounce.
  • 1979: The state’s first medical marijuana bill was signed into law. The law permitted persons with certain medical conditions to use medical marijuana.
  • 1996: A vote by Coloradoan brought into effect Proposition 215. The bill permits the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana.
  • 2000: Amendment 20, Colorado’s first medical marijuana law, authorized persons with debilitating medical conditions and their caregivers to use, possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana - two ounces of usable marijuana and not more than six plants. However, the public smoking of marijuana was prohibited.
  • 2006: Amendment 44, Colorado’s first attempt to legalize the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for persons 21 and older. The measure failed at the polls.
  • 2009: Voters in Breckenridge town, Colorado, voted yes to decriminalizing marijuana and possessing up to one ounce of marijuana for persons aged 21 and older.
  • 2010: Colorado’s second marijuana law. Colorado Medical Marijuana Code created a dual licensing scheme to regulate medical marijuana businesses at the state and county levels. Breckenridge’s marijuana program came into effect. Lastly, the bill increased the limit for decriminalizing marijuana possession to two ounces.
  • 2012: Amendment 64 passed, legalizing recreational marijuana for persons aged 21 and older. Coloradans could purchase up to one ounce per transaction.
  • 2013: Proposition AA came into effect, imposing a 25% tax consisting of a 15% excise tax and a 10% sales tax on recreational marijuana. Summit County imposed an additional 5% excise tax. Also, Governor John Hickenlooper signed bill 1325 into law to regulate recreational marijuana. The bill puts a limit of THC at five nanograms per milliliter in a person's blood levels while driving.
  • 2014: The retail sales of recreational marijuana began.
  • 2020: House bill 1234 approves the commercial delivery of marijuana.
  • 2022: House Bill 21-1317 came into effect. The bill changes the purchasing limit for recreational and medical marijuana to 8 grams per day for persons 21 and older. The bill limits purchase for persons aged 18 - 20 to two grams per day.
  • 2023: Senate Bill 23-265 extended Colorado’s marijuana-related protections for individuals by prohibiting regulators and professional bodies from revoking or denying professional licenses, registrations, and certifications to working professionals due to past cannabis-related civil or criminal violations that are now currently legal in Colorado.

Federal Legalization of Weed in 2024

The most recent federal legislation on weed occurred 2022 as an attempt to decriminalize marijuana nationwide. The Act, known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement, removes marijuana from the list of controlled substances. In addition, it aims to remove criminal penalties for the possession, distribution, and manufacture of marijuana. Other changes proposed in the bill include:

  • Changing the term from marijuana to cannabis
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes data on the demographics of cannabis business owners and employees.
  • Supporting persons, businesses, and communities affected by the war on drugs through programs funded by a trust fund.
  • Extending federal public benefits and immigration protection to persons with certain cannabis convictions.
  • Expunging convictions for certain federal cannabis offenses.
  • Imposing occupational tax for cannabis production facilities and export warehouses.
  • Imposing an excise tax on cannabis imported into or produced in the US.
  • The Government Accountability Office studies the effect on states that legalized marijuana.
  • The Department of Education studies the repercussions on schools and school-aged children in states where recreational cannabis is legal.
  • Examining the impact of recreational cannabis in the workplace.

Can I Use Cannabis?

Yes. Eligible persons can use cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes in Colorado. Cannabis is a type of plant with some psychoactive properties. Its flowers, when harvested and dried, are potent drugs commonly referred to as marijuana. They are sometimes called pots or weeds. Cannabis contains several components known as cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC makes users get wild (high), while CBD is the component of marijuana that helps to reduce pain and inflammation. People consume cannabis for its calming effects, and it is often prescribed to help with some medical conditions.

Marijuana is still not legalized on the federal level in the United States. In the 19th century, marijuana was popular in America for its health benefits. However, in the wake of the 20th century, when the Mexican Revolution happened, America's perception of cannabis shifted. Most individuals associated cannabis with violence as a result of the bigotry against immigrants from Mexico. Besides, the abuse of medical marijuana led to 29 states banning cannabis between 1916 to 1931. In 1937, the first national regulation of marijuana, the Marijuana Tax Act, was passed to outlaw cannabis in the entire United States despite its medical benefits. However, marijuana is now legal in many states, including Colorado, and the severe consequences for using the drugs are gradually being relaxed.

It is illegal for persons under 21 years of age to purchase and use recreational cannabis in Colorado. Additionally, only persons with qualifying medical conditions can buy medical marijuana in the state. Persons who are on probation or parole are not eligible to use recreational marijuana until the situation is sorted. However, such persons can still use medical marijuana, but under certain stipulations, paramount of which is having a legitimate doctor's recommendation.

How The Legal Sale Of Cannabis In Colorado Happens

In Colorado, Amendment 20 and Amendment 64 permits the legal sales of medical marijuana and recreational marijuana, respectively. However, businesses intending to start legal marijuana sales in the state must first obtain the required license from the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED). The MED makes provisions for a marijuana employee license, marijuana business license, and marijuana business owner license. Colorado marijuana law allows counties and cities to decide for themselves if they will permit recreational marijuana dispensaries. Marijuana dispensaries in Colorado are open for business primarily to adults 21 years or older and must request buyers' valid photo IDs for proof of age. Legal marijuana stores are restricted to selling a maximum of 2 ounces of marijuana to consumers.

The cannabis trade has become a big business in Colorado since the legalization of recreational marijuana. Cannabis exists in many forms, including marijuana buds, hash, and marijuana concentrates. People who purchase cannabis and marijuana-infused products in Colorado also buy marijuana paraphernalia. Marijuana paraphernalia is any item used to inhale, ingest, or store marijuana. It includes grinders, joints, pipes, and bongs. Any other item with legal use can also qualify as marijuana paraphernalia if used for a marijuana-related purpose.

Marijuana dispensaries cannot transport cannabis out of Colorado because marijuana is still illegal on the federal level. Doing this is a federal crime and attracts severe penalties. Under Colorado rules, legal recreational marijuana dispensaries are allowed to operate only between 8:00 a.m. and midnight. However, cities and towns can choose stricter operating hours, but this must be within the time frame stipulated by the state. In Colorado, legal marijuana businesses are required to sell marijuana products in child-resistant and resealable packaging.

Penalties for Marijuana-related crimes in Colorado

Although marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, there are punishments associated with illegal marijuana possession, sales, and cultivation. The breakdown of each marijuana offense and their penalties are listed below:

Possession (Personal Use) In Colorado

  • Marijuana possession in Colorado of more than 2 ounces is a petty offense and has a maximum fine of $100
  • Open display of fewer than 2 ounces is a petty offense and has a maximum fine of $100
  • Between 2 to 6 ounces is a level 2 drug misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail with a maximum fine of $700
  • Between 6 to 12 ounces is a level 1 drug misdemeanor punishable by 6 to 18 months jail time with a maximum fine of $5,000
  • More than 12 ounces is a level 4 drug felony punishable by between 1 to 2 years in jail with a maximum fine of $100,000
  • Possession of marijuana paraphernalia is a petty offense punished by a $100 fine.

Possession With Intent To Distribute In Colorado

  • Not more than 2 ounces is a level 1 drug misdemeanor punishable by between 6 to 18 months in jail and a fine up to $5,000
  • Between 2 to 6 ounces is a felony punishable by between 6 months to 2 years in jail and a maximum of $100,000
  • Between 6 ounces to 2.5 pounds is a felony punishable by between 2 to 6 years jail time with a maximum fine of $500,000
  • Between 2.5 pounds and 25 pounds is a felony punishable by 4 to 16 years jail time and a maximum fine of $750,000
  • More than 25 pounds is a felony punishable by between 8 to 32 years in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000,000

Cultivation In Colorado

  • Between 6 to 30 plants is a level 4 drug felony punishable by between 6 months to 2 years and has a maximum fine of $100,000
  • More than 30 plants is a level 3 drug felony punishable by 2 to 6 years jail time with a maximum fine of $500,000

Possession Of Hash And Concentrates In Colorado

  • Between 2 to 3 is a level 1 drug misdemeanor punishable by 6 to 18 months prison term and a maximum fine of $5,000
  • More than 3 ounces is a level 4 drug misdemeanor and gets six months to two years jail time and a maximum fine of $100,000

Marijuana Paraphernalia In Colorado

  • Possession of marijuana paraphernalia is a petty drug offense in Colorado. Offenders may pay fines not exceeding $100.

Consumption On The Premises In Colorado

  • Consuming marijuana in public places maintained by the government, such as parks, alleys, public buildings, and sidewalks, is illegal. It is also against the law to consume marijuana on the premises of a shopping center or places of business open to the public.

Confiscation Of Assets In Colorado

  • Under Colorado law, if an asset is used for a marijuana-related crime or purchased with the proceeds of illegal marijuana sales, the government may confiscate the asset upon a criminal conviction. Confiscated assets may be cash, property, motor vehicles, real estate, or other assets with a high market value.

Driving Under The Influence (DUI) Of Marijuana In Colorado

A driver who tests above 5 nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in Colorado commits a misdemeanor and faces any of these penalties depending on the number of DUI offenses already committed before current arrest:

  • Up to one year jail time
  • 12 points against offender's license
  • Between $600 to $1,000 fines
  • License suspension for nine months
  • Community service between 48 to 96 hours

The possible remedies for defendants who commit DUI marijuana offenses in Colorado depend on the fact of their circumstances. They may remedy the situation if improper procedures were used in DUI blood tests or if the arresting officer did not advise an offender of their rights. DUI marijuana offenders can also defend themselves if their driving is not affected by marijuana.

Possible Remedies For The Defendants For Violating Colorado Marijuana Laws

Potential defense an individual may use to get off a marijuana drug offense charge include:

  • Law enforcement officers coerced the defendant into possessing the marijuana.
  • The search that led to the discovery of marijuana was illegal.
  • The defendant does not own the marijuana
  • The defendant did not consume the marijuana in public
  • The lab erroneously measured the quantity of marijuana, giving an amount above legal limits.
  • The defendant was holding the marijuana momentarily and intended to dispose of it.
  • Cooperating with the investigation in return for a reduced sentence or case dismissal.

Additional Limitations

It is illegal for an adult or person at least two years older than a minor to sell, dispense, or transfer marijuana. Engaging in any of these activities attracts the following penalties depending on the amount of marijuana. Marijuana limitations in Colorado and their penalties are as follows:

  • Not more than one ounce: It is a felony punishable by 6 to 24 months of incarceration and fines between $1,000 and $100,000.
  • One ounce - six ounce: Selling, dispensing, or transferring up to six ounces of marijuana to a minor attracts a two to six years jail term and fines between $2,000 and $500,000.
  • Six ounces - 2.5 pounds: The individual gets a minimum four-year jail term. The sentence may go up to 16 years. The individual may pay fines from $3,000 to $750,000.
  • More than 2.5 pounds: It is a level one felony. Offenders in this category get an 8 - 32 year jail term. The courts also impose fines between $5,000 and $1,000,000.

What is Colorado's Cannabis History?

In March 1917, Colorado legislators passed a bill that made the cultivation and use of marijuana a misdemeanor. Again, in 1929, the Colorado Legislature passed another law making the possession, sale, and distribution of marijuana a felony in the state. By August 1970, recreational marijuana possession punishment was lowered from a felony to a misdemeanor. In 1973, a legislator introduced a bill to re-legalize marijuana in Colorado. However, it never passed the committee. The legislature, in 1975, decriminalized possession, private use, and transportation of marijuana in Colorado.

The then Governor Dick Lamm of Colorado signed into law the first medical marijuana bill named the Dangerous Therapeutic Research Act, introduced in 1979. However, it required federal government approval, which never came. In 1981, Governor Lamma signed another bill named Therapeutic Use of Cannabis. The bill intended to extend the program created in 1979 to 12 hospitals in Colorado and provide cancer patients with cannabis. However, the bill did not pass despite approval by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 1998, medical marijuana advocates in Colorado promoted Amendment 19 onto the ballot, but the votes were not counted. Again, in 2000, these proponents pushed for the legalization of medical marijuana in the state via Amendment 20, which eventually passed. On November 6, 2012, Colorado voters also cast their votes to approve Amendment 64 for recreational marijuana legalization.

What are Restrictions on Cannabis in Colorado?

The following are some marijuana is still federally of the restrictions on cannabis in Colorado:

  • A person has to be at least 21 years old to purchase or use recreational marijuana in Colorado. Anyone intending to buy medical marijuana in the state must be a Colorado resident with a qualifying health condition.
  • Legal cannabis purchases can only be made at licensed dispensaries.
  • It is still illegal to consume marijuana and drive, and doing this attracts heavy fines.
  • Consuming cannabis in public or open spaces where it is easily seen by others is illegal and prohibited by Colorado laws. An exception to this restriction is a licensed hospitality business that provides lobbies for legal marijuana consumption.
  • Usage or possession of cannabis on federal properties in Colorado is a federal crime since marijuana is still federally illegal.
In this section:
Colorado Marijuana Laws