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Drug Manufacturing and Cultivation

Manufacturing or cultivating illegal drugs, such as methamphetamine or marijuana, is illegal under federal and state laws (with limited exceptions for marijuana in certain states). Drug "manufacturing," in a criminal law setting, occurs when an individual is involved in any step of the illicit drug production process. Those who sell certain precursor chemicals, specialized equipment, or simply offer to help produce drugs also may be charged with the crime.

The production of drugs typically is charged as a felony, with sentences including prison time, steep fines, and probation. Prison sentences and fines may be doubled for those convicted of manufacturing illegal drugs near schools and playgrounds.

This article focuses on the criminal charge of manufacturing or cultivating controlled substances without a permit. See Drug Possession Overview; State Drug Possession Laws; and State Drug Distribution Laws for related information.

Drug Manufacturing: Elements of the Crime

To be convicted of manufacturing (or intending to manufacture) illicit drugs, prosecutors must typically prove the elements of both possession and an intent to manufacture. For example, pseudoephedrine was once a popular cold medication. But it’s also used to make methamphetamine. If police were to find a box of the now-banned substance in an individual’s car, that may not be enough standing alone to prosecute for a manufacturing offense. But if the officer also found laboratory equipment commonly used to cook meth in the backseat, it could establish the probable cause needed for an arrest.

Similarly, the possession of marijuana seeds alone is not necessarily an indication of an intent to cultivate. But if officers also found indoor grow lamps and hydroponic equipment, it may trigger an arrest. (See below for state exemptions to marijuana cultivation laws.)

A permit or authorization to possess certain items otherwise used to make illegal drugs may be a defense. For example, pharmacists have access to a wide array of substances that may be used to manufacture illicit drugs. Also, certain chemicals and industrial supplies commonly used to make illegal drugs may also have legitimate uses that would require a permit.

Marijuana Cultivation: State vs. Federal Laws

While there is generally little difference among state and federal drug manufacturing laws, marijuana has carved out a special exception. The federal government treats marijuana cultivation similar to the manufacture of other Schedule I drugs with respect to charges and sentencing.

Under federal law, cultivation of less than 50 marijuana plants can result in up to five years in prison, or up to a possible life sentence for 1,000 or more plants. Individuals in states that have allowed for the medical use of marijuana or have legalized it are not exempt from federal enforcement, but it’s not clear how enforcement of federal laws will be carried out.

Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana, but only Colorado allows non-medical users to cultivate the plant (six or fewer). States that allow the use of medical marijuana differ on whether (and how much) marijuana may be cultivated by approved patients. Patients in Hawaii may grow up to seven plants, but Connecticut does not allow cultivation by patients. See Medical Marijuana Laws by State for more information.

Drug manufacturing and drug cultivation are illegal under federal and state law, with some exceptions. If you have additional questions or have been charged with the crime, consider speaking with a criminal defense attorney.

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