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Byron Shire
January 22, 2022

War on drugs

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Full marks to Jason Patrix for writing about ‘Sniffer Dog Madness’ in The Echo last week.

If you missed it, Jason related a story about police with sniffer dogs invading a Mullumbimby pub and subjecting patrons trying to enjoy a mid-afternoon schooner to a thorough sniffing. Mandy Nolan related a similar event in a recent Soapbox column. 

So what is it with this current iteration of the war on drugs? Drivers are subject to ‘random’ drug tests which detect residual traces of illicit substances without reference to impairment and those enjoying legal drugs on licensed premises are intimidated and scrutinised for illicit substances.

It’s weird, given the abject failure of the current war on drugs and its historical precedents. And it’s especially weird when one considers the focus in this area on cannabis eradication and the fact that America, which generally seems to inspire our policymakers, is moving towards legalisation for both medicinal and recreational purposes (albeit in a hesitant, piecemeal manner).

After reading Mandy’s riff on drug prohibition I delved into the official data and discovered that these local anecdotes are consistent with what is happening across Australia.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s latest Illicit Drug Data Report is essentially a boast about how many people are arrested for drug offences. An organisation ostensibly concerned with ‘a safer Australia that is better connected, informed and capable of responding to crime and criminal justice issues’ seems to think that arresting drug users is the means to such an end.

In the 2014–15 reporting year there were 133,926 illicit drug arrests nationally, of which 66,309 related to cannabis. And here’s the good bit. The Commission’s arrest statistics helpfully distinguish between ‘providers’ and ‘consumers’. Eighty-four per cent of all drug arrests were ‘consumers’ – defined as those ‘possessing or administering drugs for their own use’. Of those arrested for cannabis, 88 per cent were users.

This is patently ridiculous. While Jason Patrix sees this as money talking I prefer sociologist Loic Waquant’s slightly richer explanation. He suggests that such ‘diligent and belligerent’ law-and-order programs are the response of political elites attempting to reassert the authority of the state and their own legitimacy, which have both suffered since the abandonment of the mission of social and economic protection.

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  1. Well said Dave ! The spit test on motorists and others has nothing to do with drug eradication and everything to do with social control , now that the Churches can no longer exert it. Also pertinent is the fact many have pointed out the saliva test is for dope that ordinary people use and not for the cocaine that is the preserve of rich people like that head honcho of Ch. 7 . Grrrrr….


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