Don Bolles, drummer for the legendary punk band the Germs, was going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with his girlfriend, 21-year-old Cat Scandal, after picking her up for "a day off" from drug rehab, on April 4, when they were pulled over in a traffic stop by Newport Beach Police. During a search of the vehicle -- to which Bolles unwisely consented -- police found a bottle of peppermint Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap. According to a police field drug test, the soap contained GHB (gamma hydroxyl butyrate), a so-called date rape drug illegal under state and federal law.
The field test was performed by a kit manufactured by Armor Forensics/ODV called the Narcopouch 928. Armor Forensics/ODV did not respond to calls from the Chronicle about the false positives reported by its product. One man at ODV who refused to identify himself said only that he could not comment because of possible legal action.
The Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association did not respond to Chronicle queries about accuracy standards within the industry. In the group's defense, however, it should be noted that they were all out of the office this week attending a national drug testing industry convention.
The Newport Beach Police Department did not respond to calls from the Chronicle about the accuracy of the GHB field test.
Bolles is out from under the long arm of the law now, but he's not happy about his experience. Neither is Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, whose president, David Bronner, is also a leading figure in the hemp movement and a friend of drug policy reform. Bronner offered Bolles legal assistance when he heard the news, and Dr. Bronner's began a public campaign to clear its name and put the drug testing industry on the defensive.
Ridiculous it may have been, but Bolles' three and a half day journey through the jails of Southern California was no laughing matter. "They kept me in several different jails, and it was a pretty hardcore experience for me," he said. "There was some 28-hour, weird booking procedure; you have to sit around in a concrete cubicle with other prisoners, they wake you up every half hour. It was pretty horrifying."
When Dr. Bronner's heard about Bolles' predicament on April 9 it issued the first of a series of press releases decrying his arrest and flatly denying that its product contained GHB. "This clearly is a case of profiling by the Newport Beach police of a person who doesn't look like the people who live in that town," said vice-president Michael Bronner. "We are paying the cost of Mr. Bolles' lawyer, and we demand the charges be dropped or proof from the police forensics lab of GHB contamination be immediately provided to us," he stated.
David Bronner derided the police for their bizarre notion that soap was a good place to put GHB. "We cannot imagine anyone putting GHB, or any other drug for that matter, into a rinse-off soap product that is lathered and rinsed off the body immediately," he said. "The Newport Beach police should see how much of a buzz putting beer in their shampoo gives them, and get a grip and apologize on their hands and knees to Mr. Bolles."
"This is ridiculous," Bronner told the Chronicle. "Not only is drug testing an incredible intrusion into people's privacy -- countries like Canada and Europe don't allow this -- but this test is completely unreliable, causing false positives with things like soap. What kind of standards are these tests subject to before they are placed on the market?"
"There have been lots of cases of these sorts of tests not being accurate and causing problems, so this is not surprising," said Zeese. "Now, the local police are going to have to do something to correct their standards so they don't falsely accuse people. If they don't, this kind of thing ends up being regulated by the courts."
Bronner had another, disturbing question. "What else can cause a false positive, and how many people have been thrown in jail because of that?" he asked. "Don came under a whole lot of pressure to just plead. According to the drug testing company literature, you can get a conviction based on just a field test and a confession. The confirmation tests have lower cut-offs, so the cops try to get you to confess based on the field test."
Bronner's campaign isn't ending with Bolles' exoneration. At least four other soaps have resulted in false positives in the Narcopouch 928 GHB test kit, including Neutrogena and Tom's of Maine. "We are testing more products and videotaping those tests. Products from Johnson & Johnson and Palmolive are testing positive, so we'll go to the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrances Association, show them these products are testing positive, and then work through them to explore options for addressing the situation with these field drug test kits. Ideally, we could force a product recall, but we need at least a disclaimer if this product is going to continue to be sold. If they don't know soap tests positive, what else don't they know?"
He is also calling for law enforcement to quit using the Narcopouch 928. "Police departments across the country should stop using that immediately," he said.
Bolles rose to fame in the late 1970s as a member of the LA punk band the Germs, whose influence was widespread in the scene and who are credited with popularizing the Mohawk haircut. The band broke up in 1980 after lead singer Darby Crash killed himself. The surviving members reunited two years ago and will tour this summer.
Bolles has not washed his hands of the case yet, either. "The lawyers and David and I have been consulting about our best legal strategy," he said. "We haven't decided which direction to go yet. But what happened to me shouldn't happen to anybody else."