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Bill would reduce penalties for drug possession in Colorado

There have been movements across the nation to decriminalize certain drug offenses, or even make possession of certain drugs lawful under certain circumstances. Colorado is one of the leaders in this initiative after it legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2014. However, some lawmakers want to take such initiatives a step further.

A bill making its way through the Colorado legislature would change all simple drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. This means that those in possession of drugs for their own personal use could only receive a six-month jail sentence and be placed on probation for two years. Under current law, such offenses carry an 18-month jail sentence.[

The penalties for other drug offenses, such as drug distribution, will not be changed by this bill. However, under the bill, if a person had been charged with felony drug possession in the past, they would be able to seek to have their record sealed once their sentence is complete. They can also seek to have their felony sentence vacated and changed to a misdemeanor drug charge instead.

It is hoped that, if passed, this bill will help reduce crowding in the state's prisons and provide relief to an overwhelmed court system. Since 2012, the number of felony drug filings in the state has increased more than two-fold, and 75 percent of these filings are for possession offenses. Those opposed to the bill raise concerns that it would reduce a judge's ability to be flexible in sentencing and there would be less of an incentive for people to seek drug treatment or participate in drug court programs.

It is important to note that this bill is just that -- a bill. If it is passed, current laws on drug possession still stand. Therefore, while Coloradans will want to keep an eye on this legislation to see how it develops, those facing possession charges will want to make sure they understand the penalties they will face under current law.

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