Historically the District Attorney’s Office has sought to provide treatment opportunities rather than incarceration for individuals experiencing substance use disorders. For many years the standard disposition for felony drug (controlled substance) possession involved entering a guilty plea to a misdemeanor with a stipulation to probation with treatment. Despite the fact that the intent of these dispositions was rehabilitative and not punitive, they often resulted in unintended collateral consequences and criminalizing substance use disorders.
In 2020, with support from the District Attorney’s Office, the Colorado legislature reduced the criminal offense level of most drug possession offenses from a felony to a misdemeanor. As the understanding of substance use disorder has advanced, so too has the District Attorney’s Office approach to these cases. The District Attorney’s Office now extensively utilizes diversion programing in possession cases to provide opportunities for treatment using a harm reduction framework. Diversion of drug possession cases helps to prevent the collateral consequences that often result from involvement in the criminal justice system, addresses underlying risks and needs, and recognizes that possession and use should be treated vastly differently than distribution or poisoning offenses.