Illicit Drugs

The Law and Illicit Drugs

Drug offenses can be felonies or misdemeanors that can be punishable by imprisonment, probation, community service, or fines. Illicit drug activity hurts your business reputation and increases the risk of injury and death due to fights, assaults, and driving under the influence.

Selling Narcotics on Premises

ABC may revoke a license if a retail licensee has knowingly permitted the illegal sale, or negotiations for such sales, of narcotics or dangerous drugs upon their licensed premises (Section 24200.5(a) Business and Professions Code). This may also be grounds for the implementation of an administrative emergency order proceeding if the conduct at the licensed premises continues to present a danger to the community.

A licensee has a general affirmative duty to maintain a lawful establishment. That duty imposes an obligation on the licensee to be diligent to avoid possible unlawful activity, and to instruct employees accordingly. Once a licensee has knowledge of a violation of law, that duty becomes specific and focuses on the elimination of the violation. Failure to prevent the problem from recurring once the licensee has knowledge, is to “permit” that activity by failure to take preventive action.

ABC will generally not hold a licensee liable when the licensee; (1) does not reasonably know of the illegal activity (for example, surreptitious transactions between customers not involving the licensee or employee); and (2) has taken all available reasonable steps to prevent the illegal activity (for example surveillance cameras and drug policies). Measures should be taken by all licensees to detect drug activity on their licensed premises.

Asset Forfeiture of License

If the licensee is directly involved in the illicit drug activity, the law states that all assets, including the ABC license, may be seized, and sold after 10 days’ notice (Section 25375 Business and Professions Code).

Controlled Substances Investigations

Per Section 24202(b) of the Business and Professions Code, the Department may not open or add an entry to a file or initiate an investigation of a license or suspend or revoke a license (a) solely because the licensee or an agent, acting on behalf of the licensee, has reported to a State or local law enforcement agency that suspected controlled substance violations have taken place on the licensed premises, or (b) solely based on activities constituting violations described in such a report, unless the violations reported occurred with the actual knowledge and willful consent of the licensee.

To guard against losing the ABC license, licensees should have a “zero tolerance” policy for drug activity. This means taking active steps to prevent it inside and outside the business.

Drug Recognition

The number of drugs and drug combinations that are being used and sold in the workplace is staggering. For licensees, managers, and employees, a basic knowledge of drugs used and sold is needed to prevent illegal activity.

Cocaine – A highly addictive drug that ups the levels of alertness, attention, and energy. You may hear it called a stimulant. Cocaine is usually smoked or inhaled.

  • Description: Fine, white, crystal like powder, or as an off-white or yellowish crystalized rock
  • Slang Terms: Coke, Blow, Snow, Nose Candy, Bump
  • Packaging: Paper bindles, mini zip-lock baggies, cellophane tied in a knot

Ketamine – Ketamine is used by medical practitioners and veterinarians as an anesthetic. It’s sometimes used illegally by people to get high and is a dissociative drug, which means it acts on different chemicals in the brain to produce visual and auditory distortion, and a detachment from reality – it’s commonly considered a “club drug”. Ketamine is usually swallowed, inhaled, and smoked.

  • Description: Colorless, odorless liquid or a white /off-white powder
  • Slang Terms: K, Kit Kat, Ket, Vitamin K, Special K, Honey Oil
  • Packaging: Bindles, small plastic ziplock baggies, vials, dipped on cigarettes/marijuana joints

Heroin – A highly addictive analgesic drug derived from morphine, often used illicitly as a narcotic producing euphoria, slows down the body’s functions causing drowsiness. This drug is normally injected but can also be inhaled or smoked.

  • Description: White powder, brown powder, or a black sticky substance (black tar heroin)
  • Slang Terms: Dope, White Junk, Black Tar, Brown, H, Chiva, Smack, Beast
  • Packaging: Cellophane tied in a knot, very small balloons

Methamphetamine – Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system. Meth is commonly inhaled or injected. When ingested, it speeds up the body’s functions, causing the user to become hyperactive, talkative, emotionally excited, or paranoid.

  • Description: Usually a white or beige crystalline powder
  • Slang Terms: Speed, Crank, Ice, Dunk, No doze, Scooby Snax
  • Packaging: Cellophane tied in a knot, small paper bindles, glass vials

Ecstasy (methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA) – An illegal drug that acts as both a stimulant and psychedelic, producing an energizing effect, as well as distortions in time and perception, and enhanced enjoyment from tactile experiences. A common “club drug” whose users are predominantly adolescents and young adults.

  • Description: Most often in tablet or capsule form, but also available in powder and liquid form
  • Slang Terms: Ecstasy, E, Adam, XTC, Clarity, Essence, Hug Drug, Love Drug, Molly
  • Packaging: Pills are packaged in pill bottles or small plastic baggies

Drug Paraphernalia

Drug paraphernalia is any product that a person may use for packaging, storing, using, preparing, or selling illegal drugs. This includes, but is not limited to scales and balances, diluents and adulterants, capsules, balloons, envelopes, paper bindles, hypodermic syringes and needles and pipes.

Sale of Drug Paraphernalia

It is a misdemeanor crime for a licensee or a licensee’s employee to sell any drug paraphernalia when they know or reasonably should know that the customer is going to use the product for any purpose involving an illegal drug. A licensee is presumed to have knowledge if ABC or any other state or local law enforcement agency notifies the licensee in writing (see Form ABC-546-A). (Sections 11014.5, 11364.5, l 1364.7(a) and 24200.6 Health & Safety Code)

Notice to Licensees Concerning Drug Paraphernalia

Selling drug paraphernalia is a crime and could result in your arrest and the loss of your ABC license.

Section 24200.6 of the Business and Professions Code states that the Department may revoke or suspend any license if a licensee, or the agent or employee of the licensee, is deemed to have knowledge that an item in their establishment is being sold as drug paraphernalia. If ABC or any other state or local law enforcement agency notifies you in writing that something is commonly sold or marketed as drug paraphernalia, protect yourself and your ABC license by immediately removing those items from your store.

The following items, either alone or in combination, are commonly sold or marketed as drug paraphernalia.

Due to the ever-changing nature of illegal drug activity and the types of drug paraphernalia being used, there may be other items not listed below:

  • Scales and balances for weighing drugs
  • Diluents and adulterants, such as quinine, dextrose, mannitol, mannite, hydrochloride, and lactose for cutting illegal drugs
  • Blenders, bowls, containers, spoons, and mixing devices used for compounding illegal drugs
  • Capsules, balloons, envelopes, and other containers for packaging small quantities of illegal drugs. Includes miniature plastic baggies designed to hold jewelry or beads, but also used to hold illegal drugs.
  • Containers and other objects for storing or concealing illegal drugs
  • Hypodermic syringes, needles, and other items for injecting illegal drugs into the human body. Although some of these items are intended for diabetics, when made available to other customers, they may be considered drug paraphernalia.
  • Pipes made of metal, wood, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic. They may be with or without screens. Includes glass tubes commonly marketed as a bud vase or air freshener. Also includes colorful marking pens which, when taken apart, contain a pipe that can be used for smoking crack cocaine.
  • Pipe screens
  • Miniature cocaine spoons and cocaine vial
  • A wiry sponge or scouring pad, made for cleaning, but when cut into pieces, is used as a filter for smoking crack cocaine.
  • Drug “kits.” Some stores sell items packaged together, such as a miniature flower vial, chopped-up pieces of wiry sponge and a butane lighter.

Example of Drug Paraphernalia

rose vase sketch pen drug paraphernalia

The above rose glass vase and glass tube pens are sold by suppliers who may tell you that they are gift/novelty items. However, their primary known use is as a pipe to smoke drugs such as crack cocaine or methamphetamine. Drug users will remove the rose or other contents, insert a piece of wiry sponge or scouring pad as a filter, and use it to smoke crack cocaine. The tubes are commonly displayed in a box near the cash register counter (pictured at the right).

This form shall be deemed official notice to you under Section 24200.6 of the Business & Professions Code. However, keep in mind that this law does not preempt local ordinances that prohibit drug paraphernalia sales.

ABC Agents and local law enforcement officers are actively investigating the sale of drug paraphernalia (Section 11364.7 of the Health and Safety Code).

Signs of Illicit Drug Activity

The following are some signs that illegal drug activity may be occurring in or around your licensed establishment:

  • Presence of drug paraphernalia (syringes, pipes, empty baggies, etc.)
  • Customers asking for a particular store employee. For example, a person comes in, asks for Joe, and leaves if Joe is not there. The person wants to know when Joe will be in or what days and times Joe is usually there. The person tells you to tell Joe that “I was looking for him”. Many people come in looking for Joe
  • Customer’s actions appear unusual. For example, they come in, look around, and leave without buying anything (they may be looking for their source). They come in, go directly to a certain person (employee or customer), talk for a short time and leave, usually without buying anything
  • Customers who enter and exit the establishment often
  • Hand-to-hand exchanges between customers/employees (possibly money or drugs)
  • Loitering in parking lot or in front of the establishment (waiting to connect with a buyer or seller)

Preventing Illicit Drug Activity

  • Be alert for “suspect” customers
  • Contact management or security when you come across drug activity. Don’t touch or threaten the customer. Ask them to leave
  • Look for drug paraphernalia
  • Watch secluded or shielded areas more carefully
  • Listen to what is being said around you, could be between employees and customers
  • Slow down and watch what’s going on
  • Develop a rapport with your local law enforcement agency. ABC expects you to cooperate with them
  • Have good communication among all employees
  • Post signs prohibiting drug activity. Post at all entrances, in restrooms, near the cash register and in the parking lot (see ABC-617, Signage Ideas for Licensees)
  • Hire more employees and screen them well. Check their references before hiring
  • Hire everyone on a probationary basis
  • Increase lighting in the establishment and/or parking lot
  • Keep windows clear so you can see what is going on outside
  • Hire security guards


Additional information may be obtained by contacting:

Alcoholic Beverage Control
3927 Lennane Drive, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95834

Email us at
Call (916) 419-2500