Meth Laws by State

By Officer Kirk Buchanan, Los Angeles Police Department

Crystal Methamphetamine, or crystal meth, is a powerful synthetic stimulant that acts on the dopamine release centers of the brain. Users typically experience a powerful sensation of euphoria and invincibility that keeps them coming back for more. Over time, many chronic meth users develop permanent brain damage as well as other serious issues, such as heart attacks and strokes related to the drug's powerful stimulant properties. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies methamphetamine as a Schedule II controlled substance, one with a high risk of psychological and/or physical dependence.

Crystal methamphetamine addiction, once thought to be an urban problem, has spread rapidly throughout small towns across the United States in the last decade where it has compounded already existing problems related to economic decline and high unemployment rates. The drug is easily produced in home laboratories using active ingredients found in popular over-the-counter cold remedies. Reflecting the seriousness of the crystal meth epidemic, no fewer than five federal laws have been enacted to curb manufacture, use, and distribution of the drug, including one that sets minimum sentencing requirements for traffickers of at least ten years in prison. Many state laws have also been passed in an attempt to control both the use of crystal meth and access to the ingredients used to synthesize it.

State laws are likely to be effective against small manufacturers, the so-called home labs, because they will control those manufacturers' access to the ingredients commonly found in over the counter cold medications, which are crystal meth precursors. But authorities worry that these state laws will have little or no effect against international methamphetamine trafficking, which now accounts for approximately 65% of all the meth consumed in the US.

Precursor Laws

In addition to the Controlled Substances laws which are a part of every state penal code, most states also have laws regulating the sale of crystal meth's precursor ingredients.

Since the federal Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 ("CMEA") was passed in 2005, 41 states have passed laws regulating the sale of the crystal meth precursor pseudoephedrine. In Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin, pharmacies are not allowed to stock pseudoephedrine on their shelves, but instead must keep it behind a counter and collect personal information from prospective purchasers.

Since 2008, pharmacies in Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma have been required to implement electronic systems that track the sales of cold medications whose active ingredients are used to synthesize crystal meth. It's debatable whether these laws have been effective: meth-related incidents in these three states have increased a combined total of 67% since these laws were passed. Another law enacted by Oregon along with Mississippi makes products containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only. The strategy is very unpopular with deep-pocketed pharmaceutical companies, but appears to be an effective strategy: Oregon saw its meth-related incidents drop from 191 in 2005, the year before pseudoephedrine became prescription-only, to merely 12 in 2009. Missouri's governor has thrown his support behind a similar bill, which he hopes to see passed in 2011.

Meth Endangered Children

While all parental drug abuse creates an extremely dangerous environment for children, those situations where crystal meth is being manufactured are particularly hazardous because in addition to an unstable lifestyle, children also run the risk of ingesting poisonous chemicals and falling victim to fires and explosions. Five states have enacted legislation designed to address the problems of children who have been exposed to methamphetamine use or manufacture:

  • Arizona- A.R.S. 13-3623 makes it unlawful for a minor to be placed in a location where a meth lab exists. Additionally, A.R.S. 12-1000 makes it unlawful to reenter that area until it is cleaned by a state-approved site remediation firm, guaranteeing that the child will not be returned to the toxic environment.
  • Georgia- HB 1131 makes it unlawful to endanger a child through the manufacture of methamphetamine or other types of amphetamines.
  • Louisiana- Revised Statute 14:93.A (2) identifies the intentional or criminally negligent exposure of a minor to a clandestine laboratory operation as a prosecutable offense.
  • North Dakota- HB 1351 makes exposing children or vulnerable adults to controlled substances or precursors a felony.
  • Washington- HB 2610 makes exposure to methamphetamine or any of its precursors felony child endangerment, while RCW 26.44.200 requires an investigating officer to contact the Department of Social and Health Services immediately upon finding a child in the vicinity of a meth lab.

In cases where children affected by the crystal methamphetamine epidemic are not subject to specific state laws, their care falls under interagency child protective protocols already in place designed to take children into protective custody, test them for acute methamphetamine toxicity, conduct other needed medical and psychological evaluations, and ensure short-term and long-term care. In 2008, the federal Drug Endangered Children Act was signed into law to provide federal funds for Drug Endangered Children programs around the nation.

Meth Drug Treatment

The 1999 DEFEAT Methamphetamine Bill and Comprehensive Methamphetamine Abuse Reduction Bill both allocated federal funding for crystal meth prevention and drug treatment programs in so-called high intensity drug trafficking areas that include the states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Very little empirical data is available as to which specific treatment programs work best for individuals recovering from crystal methamphetamine addiction and relapse rates tend to be high. Drug treatment professionals often characterize crystal meth addiction as the hardest of all addictions to beat. Because meth causes specific changes to the brain, withdrawal symptoms including irritability, depression, nausea, sweating, and intense craving for the drug, last an unusually long time and are quite severe. In July 2010 Missouri Congressman Russ Carnahan introduced federal legislation called "Universal Access to Methamphetamine Treatment Act" that will expand current funding for methamphetamine prevention and drug treatment throughout the states as well as fund research into pharmaceutical drug replacement therapies that will snip methamphetamine cravings at their root.

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