TRUE OPINION: When even the lawyers and judges making money from the justice system and its ever-revolving door of drug offenders no longer strongly believe in the laws they are meant to be prosecuting, is it time to start getting real and dealing with the absurdity that is the prohibition of drugs, wonders True Crime News Weekly columnist Miles Hunt.
I walked out of the court and spoke to the young man I’d just represented. He had been charged with possession of six grams of cannabis and had been convicted and fined.
“Sorry, you got a conviction,” I said, feeling a little down for the young man as I’d hoped an early guilty plea might save him from the stigma being deemed a criminal.
He had long sandy hair, like a typical surfer, although he doesn’t surf. I wondered if the dogs picked him up at the train station because he looked like the type.
Sure he had a small bag of weed on him but the sniffer dogs are wrong 68% of the time. That was the figure given by the Police Minister when David Shoebridge MP asked the Police Minister in the NSW Parliament. They call it a ‘false positive’. It shows that the Sniffer Dogs are either totally random or aren’t so good at their jobs. Or perhaps there is a more sinister option – they are working on cues; getting a sense from their ‘handler’ that this is the sort of person they want to search and then going for it. Classic dog behaviour – sense the feelings of your owner, act in way most likely to be rewarded, get the reward (a pat or some food), repeat.
I appreciate these dogs are cute: little black dogs with wet noses and a nice coat. Sadly, it is more reminiscent of East Germany or Stalinist Russia than Pet Barn. They are the innocent enforcers of a most brutal and thuggish policy – sending in the dogs at music festivals and around train stations, hounding the youths, and taking them out the back for a humiliating strip search – “Bend down sir, squat, now cough, we want to make sure you don’t have a pill up your arse with which you intend to get high”.
That’s bad enough, but it is the absurdity of the drug laws themselves that is the most galling. We wouldn’t need sniffer dogs – they could be re-homed as pets – nor would there be any arrests for possession of cannabis, if it were decriminalised or legalised.
Cannabis remains the biggest issue with the courts – about 80% of charges for possession are for cannabis. What a waste of time and resources: police spending their days arresting youngsters, the courts remain chock-full of those charged, the Magistrates say the same thing day in day out, hardly believing it themselves, handing down punishments to the convicted knowing in their hearts that this is all a big waste of time and somewhat unjust as they drink their red wine over dinner.
Even the lawyers, who make a living from it, admit it’s all wrong – the criminal law division of the Bar Society has written open letters asking for changes to the law; changes that could put them out of business.
Our drug laws are absurd. It is time for a change. Time to try something new.
What is the hold up to changing these archaic laws? Our laws are stuck in the past. A time when it was supposed that cannabis was a gateway drug to heroin or madness, or it was smoked by the wrong people – Mexicans and then later Hippies.
I don’t think the authorities that made those laws ever really believed the lies. When the fight to ban cannabis in the US took off, they suppressed the many reports that contradicted their world view, and paid the least credible doctors and experts for a view that supported what they wanted – that Marijuana was the devils plant.
It’s funny. Because if I were going to pick one plant that was handed down to humans by a benevolent God, it would be Cannabis – medicine properties for the sick, spiritual properties for the lost, healthy seeds for the hungry, warm and reliable clothes for the cold and naked, and biodegradable plastics that may just save the turtles and dolphins from drowning in an ocean of plastic.
Like all of us, Cannabis has its flaws. I have reached moments of near insanity on hash cookies – where I thought I was in The Matrix or The Truman Show. It was damn horrible and I stayed off the edibles after that. But it has its positive effects too – a nice joint to relax and unwind, or reconnect to nature. Like alcohol there is the good – social interaction, affection – with the bad – stupidity, accidents, and assaults. It is far more complex than South Park guidance counsellor Mr Mackey’s famous phrase, “Drugs are bad m’kay”. They deserve better than a straight-out ban. They need a well thought-out regulatory framework that minimises the dangers and maximises the positive experiences.
It is not the only dangerous activity out there. Driving, riding horses, rock fishing, paragliding, rugby, scuba-diving are all potentially very dangerous, deadly even, but collectively we have accepted those risks. We say, “You want to jump out of a plane, then do so at your own risk, but there are rules and regulations about when you can jump, who you jump with, and how often you need to jump with someone before you can do it alone”. They attempt to make jumping out of a plane as safe as possible.
The same code should be employed with drugs. Educate people about the dangers, regulate the sale and strength of each dose, provide access to treatment and counselling – simple safeguards to protect the user from the worst dangers and reduce the harms associated with drug use. Then well, if something goes wrong, well then the choice was yours and we did our best to keep you safe.
It is interesting that about 90% of drug use is accepted as non-problematic, yet the 10% of use which is problematic – addiction, harm – is the reason for criminalisation and the continued absurdity of the laws.
And it is absurd to ban cannabis and other drugs. It pushes those drugs underground, sold by dealers who don’t pay tax, and don’t bother with property disputes and the law but shoot and maim to make their point. It allows contamination of some illicit drugs as they can be made with strange poisonous additives and cheap mixtures in bath tubs and Winnebagos, and no system or labels for the user to check the ingredients and the strength of what is being ingested. And this is where the true risk lies. The real danger – like encouraging people to jump out of planes with home-made parachutes. Pill testing is a simple buckle that could be harnessed at places where young people and drug use occurs such as music festivals and raves, but it remains a bridge too far for most, for now.
I don’t want to start a conspiracy theory, but it is as if the Authorities prefer to make it more dangerous than it needs to be as some sort of macabre deterrence – let a few die to ward off the others.
Come on, we can be better than that.
Drugs aren’t going away. According to the National Drug Survey, drug use goes up each year (obviously there are some rises and falls in the use of individual drugs with cultural popularity, availability, and risk) but in generalised terms the proportion of people that have used or are using psychoactive substances steadily increases as the years go by.
And why not? Human have been taking drugs and psychoactive plants since the dawn of time.
A common theory about human evolution suggests that the brains of Homo Sapiens doubled in size tens of thousands of years ago because they found magic mushrooms – the stoned ape theory they call it. Imagine that – we are only who we are intellectually and creatively because of drugs. If you have ever listed to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or read Alice in Wonderland you might tend to agree. Ironically we got so smart we banned the very things that got us there.