Staff Columnist

Banning fake pee? In this economy?

New criminal penalties for Iowans who dupe drug tests are unlikely to be effective

(Kyndell Harkness/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)
(Kyndell Harkness/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

Iowa’s backslide on drug policy continued this week, with an eye on fake pee.

A bill recently approved by the Iowa Legislature would make it a crime to defraud an employer’s drug test by using synthetic urine or someone else’s urine. House File 283 was passed this week with mostly Republican votes in the Iowa House and Senate.

Iowa’s ban on fake pee has all the markings of a bad drug war policy. It’s punitive, difficult to enforce, unlikely to address the real underlying problems and likely to exacerbate other problems.

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People have been using borrowed pee to flout drug tests for as long as people have been taking drug tests. Nowadays that’s largely been replaced by synthetic urine designed to test clean, and state governments are playing catch-up.

The stuff is easy to find and purchase at truck stops, smoke shops and on the internet, with product names such as “Piss Perfect” and “UPass.” Some companies even sell fake penis attachments, meant for monitored drug tests.

Pending the governor’s signature, Iowa’s new law provides a simple misdemeanor for first offenses and a serious misdemeanor for subsequent offenses, the latter of which is punishable by up to a year in jail. It applies both to people who use synthetic urine and those who manufacture or sell it for the purpose of defrauding a test.

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This legislation needlessly inserts the government into a private interaction between workers and employers. Businesses already have the authority to fire employees who fail, fake or refuse to take drug tests. Iowa has too many criminal penalties for drug-related crimes, not too few.

People who fail drug tests — and people who seek to evade them — are not necessarily workplace hazards. Marijuana, for example, is legal in several states and can be detected in urine weeks after use. Weekend tokers might show up to work sober and clear-eyed on Monday morning, and yet they still might be caught up in their workplace drug testing scheme.

An analysis from the Legislative Services Agency found the impact of the bill could not be fully determined in part because “it is unknown how many drug tests are currently defrauded through synthetic urine.” That is, of course, the nature of fraud.

Even after the bill goes into effect, it seems likely that most pee fakers will continue to go undetected. The government has little ability to snuff out products that are already widely available, as we observed with the state’s attempt to crack down on over-the-counter CBD products in the last few years.

If the new law deters people from using synthetic urine, some may instead resort to potentially risky detoxifying solutions or exercise routines meant to “sweat it out.” Others may forego gainful employment or move to a state with more sensible drug laws. Few, I suspect, will stop taking drugs.

It’s a bad idea for a state that’s already struggling to attract and retain qualified workers. We might as well put “Potheads go home” signs on the Iowa borders to keep out the 11 percent of Americans who use illicit drugs.

“We don’t have people pouring into the state seeking jobs, we just don’t have it. I wish we did,” State Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, said in opposing the bill.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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