Colorado Marijuana Laws Explained

Colorado has legalized marijuana for recreational use within its state borders, but what exactly does that mean? If you're planning a visit, take the time to learn the rules and regulations, because you are responsible for knowing them. Pleading ignorance won't get you off the hook if you break the law.

On November 6, 2012, Colorado voters passed Amendment 64, the piece of legislation seeking the legalization of marijuana for recreational use by adults. But just as alcohol has strictly enforced laws, the regulation of legal marijuana does as well in an attempt to make the transition to legalization as smooth and safe as possible. If you're planning on visiting the Centennial State, here are some important aspects of Colorado marijuana laws that you should be aware of:

  • Age - Just as you must be 21 years old to purchase alcohol, you must be 21 years old to purchase, possess, and use recreational marijuana in Colorado. Furthermore, it is illegal to give or sell recreational marijuana to minors.
  • Stores - For those who are 21 years and older, recreational marijuana can only be purchased at licensed retail stores. A simple online search will yield many stores around Colorado that sell recreational marijuana. However, the state allows marijuana stores to operate from 8 am to midnight and cities can opt to implement more restrictive hours than the state. For example, Denver stores are required to close by 7 pm, whereas Aurora allows their stores to operate until 10 pm.
  • Possession - Adults (Colorado residents and non-residents) 21 and older are allowed to possess up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of recreational marijuana at a time. However, a key difference regarding the purchasing amounts makes it legal for residents to purchase 1 ounce in a single transaction and only 1/4 ounce (7 grams) for non-residents. The law was created this way to help combat the exportation of marijuana by non-residents to states where recreational marijuana is still illegal.
  • Consumption - If you meet the criteria of being able to purchase and possess recreational marijuana, the law regarding consumption applies to all residents and non-residents of Colorado. To put it simply, you cannot consume marijuana in any space that is deemed public, regardless of form (i.e., flower, edibles, concentrates). This includes but is not limited to transportation facilities, schools, entertainment venues, parks, sidewalks, roads, restaurants and bars. Recreational marijuana is intended for private, personal use only. If you have to ask if a location is public or private, it's probably safe to err on the side of caution and assume that it is not an appropriate place for consumption. 
  • Consequences - Penalties for violating marijuana laws within the state's borders can range from a fine to a possible jail or prison sentence. Additionally, it is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana and it can result in a DUI, just like alcohol. If a police officer suspects you're intoxicated, a blood test can be administered and anyone with 5 nanogram or more of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabiinol (known as THC) per milliliter in whole blood (CRS 42-4-1301) while driving can be arrested for DUI.

Laws aside, make sure you check with the owner of the property where you will be staying. Just because it's legal to smoke marijuana in a private home, if you're renting a condo and smoking isn't allowed, you may have a tough time finding a non-public venue where you can legally smoke. Understand your situation and plan accordingly, and please show respect for property owners who are renting out their homes so visitors can come enjoy a vacation in the beautiful Rocky Mountains!

Whether you're living in Colorado or just visiting, it is important to be informed about the Colorado marijuana laws regarding recreational marijuana use. If you find yourself in a situation where you're not sure what's legal versus illegal, always err on the side of caution with respect to the law!