Methamphetamine and the  Law: 

A Legal History of Crank 


Illustration by Robin Rexroat

“We have to stop meth before it becomes the crack of the 1990’s. And this legislation gives us a chance to do it,” stated President Clinton as he signed the Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996.  Methamphetamine is the “new” designer drug frequently referred to as the “Crack of the 90's” because of its increasing popularity and destructive nature. 

However, the stigma attached to crack cocaine as the drug of choice in inner cities, differs from the reality of crank (methamphetamine).  The distinction lies in the prevalence of meth use which spans a wide variety of people in both urban and rural areas.  Students, blue collar workers, unemployed, men and women, whites and American Indians pollute their bodies with this drug—a drug that does not discriminate.  The most attractive elements of this drug are its relatively low cost and the ease with which it is made.  These elements allow the epidemic to ravage our reservations along with the rest of the nation. 

Meth makes you the life of the party or does it?

The Controlled Substances Act classifies drugs into one of five schedules according to their medical use, their potential for abuse, and their safety or dependence liability.  Meth is a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) schedule 2 drug.  A schedule 2 drug has a high potential for abuse and has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.  The DEA also states that abuse of the schedule 2 substances may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. 

One former user described the annihilation meth causes: “[Meth] makes you the life of the party.  You feel real powerful but soon after you can’t have a normal life without the drug.  The need to use it grows quickly.  It’s insidious that way, you don’t notice that it’s that powerful.”  According to the DEA, meth is the most lethal substance to hit the streets during its entire 35-year war on drugs.  In order to make drug abuse less destructive law enforcement policies have been established to reduce demand and disrupt supply. 

Controlled Substance Act of 1970

Converting Cold Medicines to Meth

            One such policy, the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, amended in 1988 to include provisions of Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act, allows law enforcement officials the necessary tools to attack the clandestine meth production problem.  This act regulates bulk ephedrine and pseudoephedrine transactions. 

One major problem remained, however.  The law exempted over-the-counter ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine drug products from record keeping and reporting requirements.  These products include Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold, Contac 12 Hour Cold, Dimetapp Cold & Allergy, Triaminic Syrup, Actifed, Advil Cold & Sinus, Dristan Sinus, PediaCare Infants’ Drops, Sudafed, Triaminic Infant Oral Decongestant Drops and Tylenol Cold from record keeping and reporting requirements. This exemption created a loophole in the law which gave meth producers access to over-the-counter drugs which easily convert to speed. 

The Domestic Chemical Diversion Control Act of 1993 instituted DEA registration requirement of all importers, exporters, and distributors of most important chemicals used in the manufacture of controlled substances.   Pseudoephedrine tablets remained unregulated as did a few other chemicals used to make meth. Depending on the state, different authorities regulate chemical consumption.  Some states only regulate sales or purchases of ephedrine as a chemical. 

Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996

            On October 3, 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996 at a White House Rose Garden ceremony. This act broadens controls on listed chemicals used in production of meth, increases penalties for trafficking and manufacture of meth and listed chemicals, and expands controls to include the distribution of lawfully marketed drug products that contain the listed chemicals ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine.                                     

Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote the 1996 act to restrain the rampant use of methamphetamine.  Both houses of Congress passed the act unanimously.  Senator Feinstein worked with the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, the California Narcotics Officers Association, and California police chiefs and sheriffs gathering information to introduce this legislation. 

More Meth Labs than McDonalds

Senator Feinstein said about her support for this legislation, “Methamphetamine has ruined too many lives and taken over too many communities.  Today there are more seized methamphetamine labs than there are McDonalds in many cities throughout the Los Angeles area alone—and that doesn’t account for all the clandestine labs still out there.  It is my hope that laws such as this one will put an end to the days when it’s easier to buy speed than it is a Big Mac.”

Speed, the “poor man’s cocaine,” is a devastating problem for many people, including Native Americans.  The Methamphetamine Control Act has many provisions developed in order to stop the spread of this plague. Still the problem exists in many areas, and there is a need for prevention and treatment efforts beyond legislation.

Check out how tribal  and state laws deal with meth use:



Blackfeet Reservation

Blackfeet Nation Law and Order Code

Crow Reservation

Crow Nation Legal Code

Northern Cheyenne Reservation

Northern Cheyenne Nation Legal Code

State of Montana

Basic Montana Drug Statute



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