What is a Meth Lab?

The RVA recent article in the local fishwrap raised alarms around our community. “State College man arrested, charged with running meth lab in Park Forest house,” screamed the headline! Over the past several days, a number of people have asked me about this so-called meth lab. For some reason, they all think I know a little something about drugs, which I do. As a criminal defense attorney who regularly defends drug users, dealers, and manufacturers, I have a professional responsibility to understand how this whole business works.

Around here – here being Centre county – meth has not been a major problem. We are more of a marijuana and cocaine town, with heroin making recent inroads via Philadelphia and New York City. So when the media starts talking about a meth lab in a house in one of our nicer residential neighborhoods, the community goes into a minor tizzy.

So what did he have?

From what I can glean from media reports, he was using a two-liter soda bottle in a one-pot method often referred to as “shake and bake.” The idea is to make a small amount of methamphetamine from cold medicine and a couple of pretty nasty household chemicals and other items (you can go elsewhere for the ingredients and step-by-step instructions; I’m not in the business of educating budding drug manufacturers) that anyone with a decent background in chemistry can figure out how to mix. (Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a Walter White to figure out how to make meth. Case in point: Meth heads can do it.)

The police don’t help matters much. Their term for this device is “mobile meth lab.” To me, with my education, knowledge, and experience, that name connotes a full chemistry rig in the back of a van (or perhaps in a motor home?), not one of these self-serve batches.

Collateral Consequences – for the Homeowner!

Here’s the part no one has mentioned yet: the owners of the residence, who seem to have reported the lab themselves, are in for a surprise when and if they ever try to sell their house. They are now obligated to disclose that a “meth lab” was operated on the premises. Arguably this was not a meth lab per se, but any buyer who searches the internet for this address will eventually find one of the inflammatory articles written about this case and that, at the very least, will delay their closing on the sale.

They’ve also just nudged down property values in their neighborhood.

No one wins here

The homeowners look clueless. The cops look over-zealous. The newspaper looks yellow. And the guy with the “mobile meth lab” is looking at some serious charges. Specifically, he has been charged with possession of precursor chemicals (Ungraded Felony; up to seven years of incarceration and a fine of up to $15,000), possession of drug paraphernalia (Ungraded Misdemeanor; up to one year of incarceration and a fine of up to $2,500), and illegal dumping of methamphetamine waste (Felony 3; up to seven years of incarceration and a fine of up to $15,000).