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California Mandates Drug-Test Kits at Bars and Nightclubs Starting July 1st. Here’s What to Know

Roofies have been used as accomplices to sexual assault, human trafficking, theft, and other crimes. Bars and nightclub owners hope that providing drug-test kits for their drinks may help their customers feel safe and return more often despite a general dip in the consumption of alcohol in California.

A free fentanyl test-strip is held in the air at Jameson’s Irish Pub & Sports Grill in Hollywood on Thursday, June 20, 2024. Drug test strips may be availabe at L.A. nightlife establishments, but they have never before been lawfully required by California, a state with one of the highest number of sexual assault cases in the U.S.

As the alcohol market faces a decline in California, a state-wide law requires bars and nightclubs to distribute drug-test kits to guests starting July 1 to prevent drink-spiking. According to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, alcohol consumption dropped about 6% (over 58 million gallons) during the 2022-2023 fiscal year. Drink-spiking incidents at bars and nightclubs may have contributed to the decline in the market, and bars and nightclubs hope that providing drug-test kits may be the revamp they need to invite their consumers back. 

“Women, and just people in general, should always feel comfortable at a bar,” says Teya Hetherington, 27, while at Cabo Cantina, a bar in Hollywood. 

CA AB1013, authored by Assemblymember Josh Lowenthal (D- Long Beach), was introduced in February 2023 and was unanimously passed in October 2023. Despite being drafted by a Democrat, most of the sponsors of this bill were Republicans (R- 5 vs. D- 2). The law requires establishments with a type 48 license to provide drug-test kits to patrons for free or at a cost and display signage to notify patrons that drug-test kits are available. About 2,400 establishments in California have a type 48 liquor license, which is issued to bars and nightclubs that may sell alcohol for consumption on the premise, as well as beer and wine for consumption off the premise, without the obligation of selling food. Under this law, type 48 licensees will also be protected from liability for a defective test or inaccurate results. Violations of this law will not be a crime, but licensees may be subject to administrative action from the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control. 

Drug test kits may come in the form of test strips, stickers, straws, and cards and are intended to detect at least one controlled substance, such as ketamine or gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), commonly referred to as ‘roofies.’ 

“[Drug-test kits] should be at every bar,” Hetherington said.

Roofies have been used as accomplices to sexual assault, human trafficking, theft, and other crimes. Hetherington said a night out with her friends ended with a trip to the hospital after her friend’s drink had been spiked at a bar. According to Hetherington, if you get a group of friends together, at least one of them is bound to have an experience related to drugging. 

“It’s sad to say, but the rule was: Never put your drink down and pick it back up, but even nowadays, it doesn’t even happen like that. I’ve heard stories where people will get served drinks, and they get drugged.”

Christy Lawrence, 28, DJ and music producer, resident of L.A. 

Peter Rayas, downtown L.A. resident, also says he thinks this is an effective solution to prevent drugging and has had friends die from this issue. L.A. TACO requested records of the number of drugging-related incidents that have occurred in the central bureau district during 2023, but LAPD has yet to respond.

“It’s sad to say, but the rule was: Never put your drink down and pick it back up, but even nowadays, it doesn’t even happen like that. I’ve heard stories where people will get served drinks, and they get drugged,” said Christy Lawrence, 28, DJ and music producer, resident of L.A. 

In 2022, West Hollywood established a similar program that allowed nightlife establishments to request free drug-test strips to distribute to patrons, and in 2023, Long Beach created its SipSafe Long Beach program. 

Since then, bars such as The Abbey in West Hollywood, previously under scrutiny for alleged ‘roofie’ incidents, have stocked up on TestMyDrink kits as part of their initiative to keep guests safe. According to Brian Rosman, a publicist for The Abbey, The Abbey hands out less than five test strips monthly. 

“The Abbey is special for many reasons, but all gay bars play a vital role in our community. These are safe spaces and sanctuaries for us,” said Rosman in part of a written statement about the significance of keeping guests safe. 

Unlike West Hollywood and Long Beach, bars and nightclubs in cities without pre-existing drug-test kit distribution programs must purchase drug-test kits. Establishments may expect to pay around $1 per unit for available kits to buy in bulk online. Subsequently, guests may expect to pay for a drug test kit.

“It’s a really positive thing that we have [drug-test kits], but it's a really sad thing that we even have to go through this because people in the world nowadays have really bad intentions,” said Lawrence.

L.A. TACO reached out to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. in regards to what the expected impact of drug-test kits at type 48-licensed establishments will be on alcohol sales, but the council has yet to respond. 

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