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Consequences of being caught with weed underage

Colorado is the proud home of many prestigious and popular institutions of higher education, with thousands of young people from the area and out of state. With the marijuana laws recently changing, many young people are unclear about what happens when you're caught driving while high or smoking weed under the age of 21. What can happen if an underage student is convicted of a marijuana crime, especially if they depend on student loans?

What the law says

SB14-129 states that anyone under the age of 21 who is caught smoking marijuana anywhere in the state of Colorado, or in possession of less than an ounce, has committed illegal underage possession or consumption. If the person under 21 is in possession of paraphernalia and reasonably knows that it is used to smoke marijuana illegally, they've committed illegal possession of marijuana paraphernalia by an underage person. Both violations of the law are unclassified petty offenses.

Potential punishments and immunity

A first marijuana offense should carry a fine of $100 or less and a court-ordered substance abuse program. Second offenses of underage consumption or possession mean the court will order the underage offender to complete a substance abuse program, complete a substance abuse assessment if "necessary and appropriate" and perform 24 hours of public service. Last, a third or subsequent offense carried a fine of up to $250, a substance abuse assessment with any treatment determined needed by the assessment and up to 36 hours of public service.

However, an underage person can be immune from prosecution if they can establish with the court that they did any of the following:

  • They called 911 and reported another underage person in need of medical help due to marijuana consumption
  • They gave their real name to the 911 operator
  • The person who called was the first to report to 911
  • He or she stayed on the scene with the person in need of medical help until they arrived, and cooperated with medical or law officials

What about student aid?

It's true that some students who have been convicted of any drug offense including marijuana consumption or possession had their student financial aid taken away. However, a student can only be disqualified from receiving student aid if they commit a crime while receiving aid. So, if a student who is getting a federal grant or loan is arrested in September, but isn't convicted until July, the student cannot receive future student aid. However, if they are arrested in June, but not convicted until October, the student wouldn't be disqualified as long as they weren't enrolled in summer classes.

To complicate the matter further, a state or federal judge can deny certain benefits to someone convicted of drug trafficking, including federal student aid. In addition, if a student is convicted of a crime in a state, but goes to school in another where their crime isn't considered illegal, their federal aid is still in jeopardy. Generally, the student will lose aid for a year from the conviction on the first offense, two for the second and forever on the third.

What to do?

First-time offenders who are charged with possession should contact a lawyer who is experienced with drug crimes right away. Your attorney may be able to negotiate with the court for alternatives like probation or keeping the offenses from your criminal record. The drug laws in Colorado and the U.S. as a whole are complicated, as can be your case, so it's important to find a lawyer who can talk you through the process and answer all of your questions.

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