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A Brief History of Colorado Drug Laws

Written on April 7, 2023
A Brief History of Colorado Drug Laws

Today, Colorado has some of the most permissive drug laws in the United States, with legal access to both medical and recreational marijuana. However, the state also has strict laws regulating other drugs, such as opioids, and has taken steps in recent years to address the opioid epidemic through a range of prevention and treatment programs. Nevertheless, the history of laws regarding narcotics in Colorado is complex, interesting, and has undergone significant changes over the years. Here are some of the basics.

Colorado Drug Laws


In 1917, Colorado enacted its first drug control law known as the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act. The law made it illegal to use or possess opium, cocaine, and their derivatives and was aimed at controlling the use of these drugs, which were perceived to be a major public health problem at the time. 

The law required doctors and pharmacists to register with the state and keep detailed records of their use and distribution of these drugs. It also established penalties for unauthorized possession, use, or distribution of narcotics, including fines and imprisonment. The 1917 law was later expanded to include other drugs such as marijuana, LSD, and heroin.


In the 1970s, Colorado began to relax its drug laws, partially in response to growing public opposition to the War on Drugs. In 1975, the state enacted a law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, making it a petty offense punishable by a fine of up to $100. However, possession of larger amounts of marijuana remained a felony.

During this time, there was a significant shift in public opinion toward drug use, with many people advocating for more lenient drug policies and treatment options for drug addiction. In 1973, Colorado became one of the first states to create a drug court, which provided alternative sentencing options for nonviolent drug offenders.


In 2000, Colorado voters approved Amendment 20, which legalized the use of medical marijuana for patients with certain qualifying conditions. The law allowed patients to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants.

Under Amendment 20, patients who have been diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition, such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, or multiple sclerosis, are allowed to use medical marijuana with a recommendation from a physician. The amendment also allows patients or their designated caregivers to cultivate up to six marijuana plants or possess up to two ounces of usable marijuana.

Since the passage of Amendment 20, Colorado has enacted additional regulations governing medical marijuana. In 2010, the state passed a law requiring dispensaries to be licensed and regulated, and in 2016, the state merged its medical and recreational marijuana regulatory systems. Today, Colorado has one of the most well-established medical marijuana programs in the United States. 

Recent Years 

In recent years, Colorado has also taken steps to address the opioid epidemic. In 2018, the state enacted a law limiting the number of opioids that doctors can prescribe, as well as requiring pharmacists to offer patients alternatives to opioids. The state has also launched a range of programs aimed at preventing opioid abuse and helping individuals with addiction access treatment.

Furthermore, in 2012, Colorado’s Good Samaritan Law was enacted, which provides limited immunity for individuals who report a drug overdose in progress. The law is intended to encourage people to seek medical attention for individuals experiencing an overdose without fear of being arrested or prosecuted for drug-related offenses.

Under the Good Samaritan law in Colorado, a person who seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose will not be charged with drug possession or use, provided that they:

  • Act in good faith and with reasonable care when seeking medical assistance;
  • Remain with the person experiencing the overdose until medical assistance arrives; and
  • Provide their name and contact information to the medical personnel or law enforcement who respond to the scene.

It is important to note that the limited immunity provided under the Good Samaritan law does not extend to drug trafficking or other drug-related offenses, and the law does not prevent law enforcement from investigating and prosecuting drug-related crimes.

If you need support following a drug-related crime, reach out to our team for a free consultation on our services.


Author Bio: Jackson Sawa contributes as a writer for Dolan + Zimmerman LLP, covering several legal topics. When he isn’t at his computer, you can usually find him outside or researching something that only he finds interesting.