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COCCA Piles on Penalties for the Marijuana Industry

The Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (COCCA) is a criminal statute that creates harsh prison sentences for engaging in “racketeering activity” as part of a “criminal enterprise.” COCCA is Colorado’s version of the Federal RICO statute, which was originally created to break up and prosecute the Mafia across the United States. When Colorado passed the law, it declared that COCCA’s purpose was to stop the “sophisticated and widespread use of fraud and corruption” by criminal enterprises like gangs. However, today COCCA encompasses a broad range of criminal actions and has been used by prosecutors to pile up criminal charges, sentences, and fines. Most notably, this statute has been used against members of the medical and recreational marijuana industry when there are allegations of illegal distribution of marijuana and trafficking marijuana across state lines.

The key to understanding COCCA charges lies in defining “criminal enterprise” and “pattern of racketeering activity.” An “enterprise” is as an ongoing structure of persons associated through time, joined in purpose, and organized in a manner amenable to hierarchical or consensual decision-making. In practical terms, this means any group of people that have some sort of organization structure, even if it is informal. As few as two people can be considered an enterprise under the law. A “pattern of racketeering activity” under COCCA is established if a member of the enterprise committed at least two “predicate” acts of “racketeering activity,” and those predicate acts relate somehow to the enterprise. “Predicate acts of racketeering” can include a whole host of crimes, including selling marijuana without a license, fraud, or even theft.

Once a group of people has been categorized as an enterprise engaged in racketeering activity, the charges, fines, and prison sentences quickly up. Each COCCA charge is considered a class-2 felony and carries a presumptive prison sentence of 8-24 years and a fine of up to $25,000. Individuals in the organization—even if they are not convicted on a COCCA charge themselves—can be ordered by the court to forfeit profits, revenue, holdings, and property deemed to have assisted the enterprise in the criminal activity.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this blog should be construed as legal advice from The Eichner Law Firm or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this blog should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this blog without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.