I was just involved in a recent conversation regarding Drug Policy and Procedures in nightlife environments and I wanted to flesh things out a bit and give people some food for thought. First and foremost, I want to emphatically state that nothing in this post should be perceived as condoning the use, sale, or distribution of illegal substances in any venue. I have a pretty simple approach regarding drugs in nightlife establishments: your venue, your rules. Just know that if you break the “big” rules aka the law, it will come back to bite you in the behind.
To say that drugs are not available, sought after, or found in the bar, restaurant, or entertainment industry is not only false but incredibly delusional. I would even proffer that one of the economic drivers of the nightlife industry is drug sales. Let’s be honest, cocaine has played a serious role in the nightlife economy for many, many years.
Does that mean I am ok with it? No.
Does that mean that I will turn a blind eye to it? No.
Does that mean that I am pointing the finger at anyone? No.
But let’s face the facts that illegal drugs exist and they are more than likely being sold in or around your establishment and potentially being used/sold by members of your staff.
DRUGS ARE ILLEGAL. Plain and simple. But does that make you and your staff law enforcement officers? No. It does – or at least it should – help to guide you in the right direction when it comes to their use and sale in your establishment.
Let’s ease into this discussion with a look at marijuana. With the recent legalization of cannabis for recreational and medicinal use in several states, the laws governing use and possession of marijuana have changed dramatically. Along with that, so has the approach taken by many establishments regarding cannabis use onsite. First off, if you are in one of these states, you need to brush up on your local ordinances and make sure that your establishment is following the proper rules re marijuana consumption. Only then you can make a properly informed decision in regards to the course of action that you want your establishment to take. Second, realize that if you decide to become a venue that welcomes the use of cannabis, it may be ok on the local/state level but someone higher up may not look upon you so kindly.
The “Other” Drugs
Whether it is someone doing/selling coke in your bathrooms, taking Molly in a VIP booth – the drug, not the girl – or popping pills on your patio or dancefloor, drugs exist in the nightlife world. If you are one of those establishments which have not had to deal with this issue, good on you! I hope that you remain that way. But if you are a venue that experiences the occasional – or even regular – patron using drugs, you need to figure out an approach to dealing with the issue.
How you deal with people using drugs in your venue – aside from the obvious illegality – is going to be up to you. I’ve worked in venues that turn a blind eye and I’ve worked in venues that clamp down hard on anyone caught using anything. One of the things to keep in mind is the liability: who is going to pay if something goes wrong? If your bouncer catches three guys doing coke in a VIP booth and they OD or get into a fight or slip and fall while under the influence, who is going to deal with the fallout? You are. Always. The “I didn’t see it” excuse will only work for so long. Especially if law enforcement enters and there is a deep fog of cannabis smoke filling your venue or a pile of bodies in a booth!
Figure out your policy. Is it going to be a) get caught and get kicked out b) get caught and get a warning c) get caught and don’t get a warning but we call the police? You need to decide which position you are most willing to extricate yourself from should things go sideways. The easiest option…kick ‘em out. It’s probably not going to affect your bottom line and it’s far safer for you from a liability standpoint. But again, some venues want to have a laissez-faire approach, especially if they are catering to a crowd that is spending money and expects to be left alone. Just remember, you are responsible for your location, your staff, and your patrons, so chose wisely.
Selling drugs is illegal. As much as I would like to say this is a no-brainer, it is not. There are MANY establishments whose clientele or employees are selling drugs; often in plain sight. It may be small quantities, it may be large amounts, but it is definitely happening. For those of your turning a blind eye to your employees selling drugs, know this: THEY WILL GET CAUGHT. And there is a good chance that you will go down with them. If people know where to find drugs, they will go to that location and get them. That puts you in the figurative – and quite possibly, the literal – crosshairs. Trust me, you do not want to be known as “the bar where you can get the drugs.”
So how do you deal with this? Easy: don’t allow it. If you find out a staff member is selling drugs, fire them. If for some reason you don’t want to fire them, call law enforcement and let them know what is going on. The former option may be painful in the short run but way better for you and your business in the run. The latter option will probably open a can of worms you don’t want to deal with, but again, it’s up to you. I can guarantee that the more dealers you remove from your premises, the less risk you are incurring.
But what about patrons who may be dealing? This is a little more difficult because it can be very hard to catch someone in the act. While your security staff is there to enforce the rules, the added task of them trying to sniff out – no pun intended – drug dealers is time-consuming and probably won’t pay off. The best you can do is train them to look for the behavior that might tip them off. Are multiple individuals sharing bathroom stalls? Is a patron in constant conversation with a variety of individuals throughout the night and either leaving the venue and returning; or making a lot of trips to the bathroom with some company?
Oftentimes, cocktail waitresses can be your eyes and ears to finding people involved in drug sales. People tend to trust them to be less “strict” when they are behaving poorly and may even drop any pretense of trying to hide their illegal behavior in front of them. Having staff members with their ear to the ground can be immensely helpful. No matter who hears or sees the behavior, they need to report it ASAP. This will allow you to then tail the suspected dealer(s) or patrons that may be up to no good.
Again, how you want to deal with the individuals at that point is up to you. I have seen everything from detaining the individual while calling law enforcement to “Hand over the drugs and you can leave without any trouble”. But do keep this in mind: drug dealers do NOT want to get caught. This can lead to unpredictable and quite possibly violent or dangerous behavior. So whichever approach you take, be aware of the dangers and potential repercussions.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it is your establishment and you make the rules. If you don’t want the drugs onsite, then do everything in your power to keep them out. If you don’t mind having drugs onsite, just know that the good times WILL come to an end. And that end might include jail time, loss of your business, and more trouble than you can possibly imagine. So, make good decisions.