While state laws vary, if you’re caught with illicit meth you will likely end up paying a lot in fines and spending time in jail or prison.

If you are caught with meth, you could be arrested, spend time in jail, be sentenced to prison and face legal and financial consequences.

Methamphetamine is classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule II drug. Drugs in this class are controlled substances, which means that if you are caught illegally possessing, using or distributing meth there will likely be legal consequences.

Article at a Glance:

  • Illegally possessing meth is a serious matter.
  • Possessing even a small amount illegally can result in heavy financial penalties and lengthy prison sentences.
  • The penalties increase if a third party is affected — like if someone overdoses on your meth.

Crimes Associated with Meth

Unlawfully using or distributing meth can result in dangerous circumstances that lead to additional crimes. Unlike the majority of misused prescription drugs, which are legally manufactured, most meth is illegally produced. To make meth, individuals create dangerous meth labs where they manufacture the illicit drug. Meth labs are often found in remote areas but they can also be in residential neighborhoods. These labs are not only illegal but very dangerous as they often contain highly explosive chemical compounds. It is not uncommon for a meth lab to explode, which can result in injury and death to innocent bystanders.

Meth has dramatic effects on the body and can cause people who use it to act violently and use poor judgment, which can also result in injury and death to themselves or others.

The Legality of Possessing Meth

The laws regarding possessing and using methamphetamine have changed over the decades. Meth was first developed in Germany and made its way to the United States after World War II. In the 1950s, doctors prescribed drugs that contained methamphetamine to treat depression. However, patterns of misuse started to emerge and by the 1970s the drug was made illegal in almost all medical circumstances.

Because meth is a controlled substance, there are strict rules that dictate what type of use is legal and what types of uses are illegal. It is very rare for meth to be used in a legal, medical circumstance. The vast majority of methamphetamine use in the United States is illegal, and unlawfully possessing any Schedule II drug is a felony. If you are caught with meth, you could face legal and financial consequences.

Amount of Meth Possessed

The amount of prison time and fines a person is punished with vary depending on how much meth they have in their possession when they are caught. A simple possession could result in up to three years in prison and fines between $1,000 and $250,000. In the state of Indiana, for example, possessing less than 5 grams would result in a Level 6 felony; possessing 5-10 grams is a Level 5 felony; possessing 11-28 grams is a Level 4 felony, and possessing more than 28 grams is a Level 3 felony.

Federal penalties for trafficking meth, on the other hand, range from imprisonment for a minimum of five years up to life imprisonment, with fines between $250,000 and $50 million. Getting caught with less than 5 grams of meth with intent to distribute and sell could result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years and fines up to 5 million dollars. Getting caught with larger quantities of meth have larger minimum sentences and larger fines. If death or bodily injury occurred, someone convicted of trafficking meth could spend an additional 20 years to life in prison.

The laws that apply to possession of controlled substances vary from state to state, so be sure to secure legal advice to learn your state’s laws and requirements.

Previous Criminal History

A previous criminal history can impact the amount of prison time and fines a person is punished with. First offender laws and other legal matters that relate to previous criminal history and meth possession vary between states. A lawyer can help individuals determine the anticipated sentencing.

Court-Appointed Rehab

Court-ordered rehab is an option that a judge may recommend instead of, or in addition to, a jail or prison sentence. This type of treatment is part of the larger drug court system that some states and counties have in the United States which treat addiction and dependence as a treatable disease.

Getting Caught High on Meth

Meth can be detected through urine, blood, saliva and hair tests. A blood test can detect meth in the system within hours of use and up to three to five days after the latest use. Saliva testing is a common method of meth detection. Saliva tests can show the presence of the drug within as little as one minute after use and up to four days after use. Urine tests can detect meth use for up to three to five days. A hair test, commonly used in the justice system, can detect meth for up to 90 days after the latest use.

If you are caught with meth in your system, this still counts as illegal possession and you would be subject to the same laws that make illegally possessing meth a felony. Meth laws vary between states, so exact penalties will vary.

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By – Bryan Hindin
Bryan Hindin is a law clerk with years of experience working in personal injury, criminal defense, and employment law firms. Read more
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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more

USDA Forest Service. “Dangers of Meth Labs.” Accessed April 8, 2019.

Foundation for a Drug-Free World. “History of Methamphetamine.” Accessed April 8, 2019.

Yeh, Brian T. “Drug Offenses: Maximum Fines and Term[…]and Related Laws.” Congressional Research Service, January 20, 2015. Accessed April 8, 2019.

Finndlaw. “Indiana Code Title 35. Criminal Law and […]edure § 35-48-4-6.1.” Accessed April 8, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.