Breckenridge pot shops nabbed at least 178 fake IDs since January 2017

Jack Queen
The Breckenridge Municipal Court takes a felxible approach to underage marijuana charges so a minor offense doesn't haunt out-of-staters back home.
Jack Queen /

Breckenridge pot shops are a bad place to try your luck with a fake ID, but plenty of underage tourists still haven’t gotten the memo.

There have been 178 fake ID cases originating from Breckenridge marijuana shops since January 2017, according to the town’s municipal court. The numbers vary widely month-to-month, from just 14 in March to as many as 44 last April.

“It’s a lot,” said town clerk Helen Cospolich. “They come and go kind of in waves, and certainly there are more during the ski season and especially spring break.”

Those numbers don’t even include suspects under the age of 18, who are diverted to Summit County Court per a decades-old local policy to streamline the justice system.

By comparison, there were only 16 fake ID cases for alcohol over the same period, according to municipal court records. Marijuana is still illegal in the eyes of the feds, but they have agreed to stay out of the industry’s business as long as it keeps pot away from kids. The higher consequences often translate to greater scrutiny of IDs.

Visitors from out of state, however, might not grasp the weight of this, as non-Coloradans make up the vast majority of Breckenridge’s marijuana fake ID cases, court officials say.

Lets make a deal

For people from states where the drug is still taboo, the consequences of having a marijuana charge could be greater — even if it’s just a municipal misdemeanor. That’s why Breckenridge and some other High Country towns have a flexible approach to underage marijuana cases.

“A lot of these kids that get in trouble at pot shops in Breckenridge are from out of state, so having these marijuana charges kept off their record might look better if someone were to do a serious background check,” Cospolich said.

Typically, the court allows defendants to plead not guilty and work out a deferred judgment deal with prosecutors. After a year of good behavior, the charge changes to a non-marijuana offense — often disorderly conduct or a noise violation.

“What we’re doing with this process is holding the people who were charged accountable but in a way that doesn’t have the same kind of long-term ramifications,” said Breckenridge Municipal Judge Buck Allen.

Municipal charges won’t show up on a typical background check, but even the smallest marijuana charge could be a potential hang-up for someone seeking a high-level security clearance. Allen said investigators routinely visit municipal courts and police departments to dredge up old records for that purpose.

“The fine’s going to be the same, it’s just that it comes under a different heading so that four or five years down the road it doesn’t mess up their plans or goals,” he said.

The court uses a similar but slightly different approach for possession and public consumption of marijuana cases, although those are rare in Breckenridge. There were only two last year and six in 2016, according to municipal court records.

That’s not the case in nearby Eagle, where Allen also serves as a municipal judge. Unlike Breckenridge, Eagle’s municipal court handles under-18 defendants for marijuana charges, and Allen says he’s seeing a lot more of them lately.

In both jurisdictions, Allen typically asks underage marijuana defendants to write 500-word essays on the effects of marijuana on developing brains as part of their deferred judgment deal.

Allen estimates that he’s read between 300 and 400 such essays since marijuana became legal in 2014. A recent one from a Breckenridge defendant was a particular standout, and Allen provided a copy to the Summit Daily.

“Consumption of marijuana as an adolescent can not only have short term effects in learning abilities and social development, but can also cause long term IQ reduction, memory loss, improper cognitive functions, and can significantly decrease life satisfaction,” the essay reads.

The essay cites research linking marijuana to IQ point losses in adolescent but not adult users, as well as studies indicating the drug decreases verbal memory in younger users.

“Normally these kids, by the time they’re done with it, they kind of come to the conclusion that maybe they shouldn’t be smoking dope quite so soon,” Allen said.

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