Methamphetamine Possession: Charges, Penalties and Defense

Methamphetamine is an addictive stimulant with a similar chemical composition to amphetamine. Methamphetamine was discovered in 1919, 32 years are amphetamine was first synthesized. During the 1900s, both methamphetamine and amphetamine were commonly used in treatment for narcolepsy, depression, obesity, alcoholism, and what is now known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Methamphetamine is commonly known as crystal, glass, meth, speed, poor man’s cocaine, stove top, crank, chalk, or ice. Methamphetamine works by releasing high levels of dopamine into the pleasure centers of the brain, stimulating the central nervous system. Methamphetamine users often experience increased physical activity, decreased appetite, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat.

Methamphetamine is produced in covert labs all over the country using a number of “precursor chemicals.” Federal agencies have made efforts in recent years to control the sale and theft of precursor chemicals, including pseudoephedrine, which is found in over-the-counter cold medicines; anhydrous ammonia, used in agricultural fertilizer and industrial refrigeration; and red phosphorus, which is used in matches.

More than 12 million people have tried methamphetamine at least once, adding up to almost 5 percent of the population, according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. More than 1 million people used methamphetamine in the year prior to the survey, and meth use costs the U.S. several billion dollars per year.

Legal Definitions:

The Controlled Substances Act has been the U.S. standard for drug legislation since it was passed more than 40 years ago. Under the Controlled Substances Act, there are five classifications of illicit drugs, referred to as schedules. Schedule I drugs have the highest potential for abuse and psychological or physical dependence, and Schedule V substances have the lowest potential for abuse and contain limited amounts of narcotics.

Methamphetamine is a Schedule II controlled substance, which means:

  • It has a high potential for abuse (but not as high as Schedule I drugs)
  • It is considered dangerous
  • It has a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions
  • Abuse can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence

Other Schedule II drugs include cocaine, methadone, oxycodone, Adderall, and Ritalin.

Methamphetamine, as a Schedule II controlled substance, has a limited medical use in the U.S. It became widely available to the public after World War II, when amphetamines were commonly used to keep soldiers awake and alert. Pharmaceutical methamphetamine is still legally available under the name Desoxyn, and it is occasionally prescribed to treat narcolepsy, ADHD, and severe obesity.

Legal Defenses

An experienced criminal defense lawyer will be able to outline several defenses for your specific case. Legal defenses will vary based on the circumstances of your arrest, your criminal history, the amount of methamphetamine involved, and other factors. Some common defenses include:

  1. Lack of knowledge: The law requires that you willfully and knowingly possessed methamphetamine. Coming into accidental contact with methamphetamine without any knowledge of illegal activity could be grounds for a lack of knowledge defense.
  2. Preparatory actions: Simply buying the ingredients to manufacture methamphetamines is not enough for conviction. The law requires you to engage in actual manufacturing activities (i.e. to begin the process of making meth). Preparing to operate a meth lab is not a criminal act in itself.
  3. Lack of power and intent to control: In cases of constructive possession, the prosecution must prove that you intended to control the methamphetamine. Even if you were aware of the presence of drugs, if you never intended to come into contact with it and you had no power or control over the methamphetamine or the situation, it could lay the groundwork for a lack of power or control defense. This includes being involuntarily drugged by someone else.
  4. Lack of use of narcotics: If law enforcement officers never found you in possession of cocaine and did not subject you to a blood test to confirm the presence of drugs, your lawyer could argue you were not under the influence. Many other physiological conditions can resemble drug use.
  5. Police misconduct: If law enforcement officers violate California laws of search and seizure or California entrapment laws, your case could be thrown out on grounds of police mistakes and misconduct.

This is not an exhaustive list of legal defenses against methamphetamine charges. Contact the Law Office of Peter Blair if you find yourself in this situation and want to know the extent of your options.

Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

Being under the influence of methamphetamine is illegal under Health and Safety Code 11550. The law defines “under the influence” as any detectable impairment of your physical or mental abilities at the time of arrest. Being under the influence of methamphetamines is a misdemeanor, punishable by between 90 days and one year in county jail or up to five years probation.. However, certain defendants can qualify for drug diversion programs in lieu of jail time.

Personal possession of methamphetamine is a violation of Health and Safety Code

11350. Possession of methamphetamine for personal use is a “wobbler,” meaning it you could be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on your criminal history and the circumstances of the offense. A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $70, and a felony is punishable by up to 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in prison.

In order to be convicted on possession charges, the prosecution must prove that you had possession of methamphetamines (either actual or constructive), that you knew you were in possession, that you knew it was a controlled substance, and that there was a sufficient quality of methamphetamines to be used as a drug (as opposed to traces or residue).

Possession or purchase of methamphetamine for sale is a violation of Health and Safety Code 11378. The possession of large amounts of methamphetamines with intent to sell to others carries more serious consequences than simple possession. Possession with intent to sell is punishable by up to three years in prison and hefty fines on a first offense.

The production of methamphetamine is a violation of Health and Safety Code 11379. Operating a “meth lab” is punishable by three, five, or seven years in prison and fines up to $50,000. Offering to operate a meth lab is punishable by three, four, or five years in prison. The production of methamphetamine includes several parts of the process, including manufacturing, compounding, converting, producing, deriving, processing, or preparing either directly or indirectly by chemical extraction or chemical synthesis. Under California law, structure can refer to any house, apartment building, shop, warehouse, barn, building, vessel, railroad car, cargo container, motor vehicle, housecar, trailer, camper, mine, floating home, or other enclosed structure capable of holding manufacturing equipment.

Drug Diversion Programs

Proposition 36 andPenal Code 1000 offer drug diversion alternatives for certain offenders. These programs allow nonviolent offenders to avoid prison time (and cut down on prison overcrowding) through rehabilitation. Drug diversion programs are limited to certain offenders, like those who purchased or possessed drugs for purely personal uses.

Drug diversion programs are not available to those who are:

  • simultaneously charged with a separate misdemeanor offense not involving drug possession
  • simultaneously charged with a felony
  • convicted of selling or transporting methamphetamine

The drug diversion system targets those who could benefit from personal rehabilitation, rather than sellers or distributors of narcotics. Contact a defense lawyer to find out if one of these programs will work in your situation.

Related Offenses

Being under the influence of methamphetamines while in possession of a firearm violates California’s Health and Safety Code 11550. The firearm must be loaded, operable, and in your immediate possession, including in the interior passenger compartment of your vehicle. This aggravating factor is punishable by up to one year in state prison. Each subsequent conviction is punishable by two, three, or four years in prison.

Operating a meth lab that results in death or great bodily injury to another person can lead to an additional one year in prison for each death or injury under Health and Safety Code 11379.9. The production of methamphetamine is a highly volatile process and can result in chemical explosions and fire if an explosion leads to the death or injury of a non-accomplice, this aggravating factor can come into play.

Involving a minor in the production of methamphetamine is a violation of California Health and Safety Code 11379. If a child under 16 was living in the structure were the drugs were produced, the court will usually require five or seven years in prison. If a child under 16 was present in the meth lab and you are convicted of producing methamphetamine, two additional years can be added to your sentence. And if the child suffers great bodily injury (as detailed above), five additional consecutive years can be added to your sentence.

Using a minor as an agent to manufacture methamphetamine is a violation of Health and Safety Code 11380. This includes using a minor to help manufacture meth and supplying (or offering to supply) meth to a minor. Using the minor as an agent” including soliciting, inducing, encouraging, or intimidating them with intentions of violating controlled substances law is punishable by three, six, or nine years in prison. This also includes having a child help by mixing ingredients or buying precursor ingredients from the store.

Allowing someone to operate a meth lab in your home or other structure is a violation of Health and Safety Code 11366.5. This includes your home, RV, shed, or other structure, and it is punishable by up to four years in prison.

Driving under the influence of methamphetamine violates California Vehicle Code 23152. If the drug has “so far affected the nervous system, the brain, or muscles as to impair an appreciable degree the ability” to operate a vehicle as a normal person would, you could face a misdemeanor charge and be ineligible for a drug diversion program.