For many college students, a “Minor in Possession” charge is their first- and hopefully only- foray into the world of a criminal defendant. While a first offense often has limited repercussions, it is important to know the laws surrounding underage alcohol and marijuana possession and use to avoid the risk of more serious consequences.
When it comes to those under the age of 21, Colorado treats marijuana and alcohol the same, with one exception: the law does not apply to those under 21 with a medical marijuana card. A minor found to have consumed alcohol or marijuana or be in possession of alcohol, marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia faces an unclassified petty offense and may be fined up to $100 with a $25 surcharge and ordered to complete a substance abuse education course. A first offense is automatically sealed from your criminal record if the charge is dismissed, including a dismissal through a diversion agreement or completion of a deferred judgement, or upon payment of any fine and completion of any court-ordered substance abuse education.
Failure to complete any court-ordered substance abuse education will result in your drivers’ license being suspended for 3 months.
Punishment escalates for a second offense. Repeat offenders face a fine of up to $100 with a $25 surcharge, a substance abuse education course, and the possibility of being required to complete a substance abuse assessment and any recommended additional treatment, and up to 24 hours of public service.
After a first offense, a second or greater offense that is not dismissed can only be sealed one year after the completion of any requirements, and the defendant must provide the court a certified copy of their criminal history showing they have not been arrested, charged, or convicted for any felony, misdemeanor, or petty offense for the past 12 months.
A second conviction also will result in your drivers’ license being suspended for 6 months.
For a third offense and beyond, offenders face a fine up to $250 with a $25 surcharge, a substance abuse assessment and any recommended additional treatment, and up to 36 hours of public service. A third or subsequent offense will result in a 12-month drivers’ license suspension.
In addition to criminal charges, college students facing an “MIP” also face consequences through the University of Colorado’s office of Student Conduct. Students will be required to participate in the Restorative Justice program, and repeat offenders or those with prior strikes with the university may face more severe sanctions.
For students who are not US citizens, it is important to remember that any arrest or criminal conviction can have immigration consequences.
In order to avoid dangerous situations where young people are afraid to call the police for fear of prosecution, Colorado law gives immunity from prosecution in situations where there is an alcohol or marijuana overdose and an underage person calls 911, provides their name, remains on scene until help arrives and cooperates with the police and medical personal. Immunity applies to both the person who calls 911 and the person in need of assistance.
It is a defense to a charge of “Minor in Possession” that alcohol was consume on private property with parental permission and in the presence of a parent or other legal guardian. There are also exceptions for consumption during religious ceremonies, small amounts of alcohol contained within food and tasting as part of educational cooking courses.
While a first offense “MIP” often does not merit the expense of hiring an attorney, students facing such a charge should consider the totality of the circumstance and all possible consequences when deciding how to proceed.