Last week at about 2.30 in the afternoon I was meeting someone at a pub when two sketchy-looking dudes came into the front bar with their dog. Nothing unusual. There are sketchy-looking dudes with dogs all over the place, but generally they know the dog stays outside. Outside every pub there’s some devoted pooch patiently waiting for master to sink a few beers or drop the dog-food budget on pokies.
The two blokes just walked through the bar with no acknowledging of anyone there. The bartender says, ‘Excuse me, you can’t have dogs in here’. Sketchy cap-on-backwards dude just grunts: ‘Police dog’. My immediate thought was: how did those sketchy dudes get their hands on a police dog? Then the penny drops. Undercover cops.
The six of us standing in the bar look at each other curiously. Really? Shouldn’t they show some ID? Shouldn’t they have asked for permission from the pub to run a dog through the premises? Can cops just barge into someone’s business with a sniffer dog? Luckily that morning I had thought twice about shelving five grams of heroin in my arse and opted for the government-taxed and -regulated drug: a schooner of New.
How did anyone know they were actually cops? Anyone could say ‘police dog’. Didn’t even look like a police dog. Just looked like some mangy old black dog. That’s how good the cover was. The police dog looked as sketchy as the dudes holding the leash. I guess that was the giveaway. Sketchy dudes don’t generally have their sketchy dogs on a leash. They’re free-doggers. When they do have to tie their best friend to a pole it’s generally with something scavenged on the walk into town – maybe a cable tie or a piece of rope.
Yep. These blokes were clearly undercover cops. You don’t need to see formal ID. They’re rude. That’s ID enough. So who are you going to catch at 2.30pm in a pub? Was Mr Breaking Bad rumoured to be doing a drop-off? Did we make a 50-kilo seizure? Nope. Just a couple of people with a joint in their pocket.
Is charging someone with possession of a few grams of marijuana really worth the hassle? Maybe you’ll find someone with a bit of ice. Maybe some speed. Maybe a bit of smack. Small fry. Just small-time people with small-time habits. No big deals. No Mr Big.
Mr Big is probably ensconced in his palatial penthouse somewhere in Potts Point. Scour the streets for drug criminals and the most you’ll get are a few small-time users. I can bet their lives are probably hard enough without getting another demeanour added to their record. These people aren’t the cause of the drug problem. Half the population of our jails are people on drug or drug-related offences. It costs a fortune and it doesn’t work. People will still use drugs.
People will keep getting arrested for drugs. Illicit drug use, and drug-related crimes are not on the decrease. I don’t blame addicts. I don’t even blame dealers. People will always want to use drugs. It’s human nature. I blame the the government. And a population that still believes in that tired old ethos that underpins the War on Drugs mentality.
The non-drug-using community loves demonising drug users. It’s no longer socially acceptable to be racist or homophobic or sexist any more. The only group left to alienate, isolate and hate, our new lepers, are drug addicts. It’s pretty clear that prohibition is the root cause of the drug problem.
I had the privilege of listening to Dr Alex Wodak speak at a conference recently. He started the safe-injecting room at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital and has been an advocate of decriminalising and regulating drugs for decades now. His research is exhaustive and global.
Basically it can be summed up like this: Countries that decriminalise and regulate drugs have made a difference to the health of their populations. Countries that don’t haven’t. At some point, if not the cops themselves, I expect sniffer dogs to have some deep existential crisis, refusing to eat or drink or participate in operations, hiding in the back of the van howling, ‘What’s the point?!’ Because the current approach clearly isn’t working.