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What counts as operating an illegal meth lab?

On Behalf of | Nov 21, 2023 | Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes

Methamphetamine, more popularly known as meth, is a Schedule II controlled substance across America, and for good reason. The stimulant has a high potential for substance abuse and addiction, which is why Pennsylvania and other U.S. states prohibit the possession and use of the drug.

It’s also illegal to produce meth in Pennsylvania. The state even has a law explicitly prohibiting the operation of a meth “lab,” with heavy penalties awaiting those convicted.

But what exactly counts as a meth lab under the law? Does “lab” strictly refer to a location complete with equipment and materials?

Causing a chemical reaction makes any location a lab

Per state rules, a person commits the offense of operating a methamphetamine laboratory if they knowingly cause a chemical reaction involving meth reagents or precursor substances such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine. This definition applies even in cases where the “lab” doesn’t have any apparent facilities or equipment for drug synthesis.

Offense grading and penalties

The offense of operating a meth lab is a felony of the second degree. It leads to up to ten years of imprisonment and $25,000 in fines on conviction. A court may also order the convicted to pay for any costs related to the cleanup of their illegal lab. Expenses the convicted might have to pay include labor costs for cleaning, equipment and supplies.

However, the offense can upgrade to a felony of the first degree if the lab causes a chemical reaction within 1,000 feet of any school or nursery. This applies regardless of whether the school is public or private, a college or university. It’s also a first-degree felony to operate a lab within 250 feet of a recreation center or playground.

The penalties for a first-degree felony offense include up to 20 years of prison and $25,000 in fines. The court can also order the convicted to pay for the cleanup of their lab.

Whether a location is a professional workshop or cobbled together from homemade equipment, Pennsylvania law makes it clear that causing a chemical reaction to synthesize meth is enough to classify a location as a meth lab. Decades of prison time await those convicted, so anyone facing charges should consider their legal options.