“Drugs are prohibited on these premises. Anyone found taking drugs will be reported to the police,” reads a sign in my local pub. Bit rich, considering the premises exist for the distribution and consumption of one of the most dangerous drugs the world has ever known: alcohol.
Last week, police in Winchester in Hampshire conducted an anti-drugs operation at a pub. Officers stood on the door of a Wetherspoons and insisted that punters be tested for traces of drugs if they wanted to enter. No test meant that the prospective customer would not be able to come in and sample any of ‘Spoons’ unique offerings: no wildly cheap pints, no allegedly microwaved food and no elderly boozers cradling a pint of John Smiths, staring silently into the abyss as if being transported to the gallows.
“Last night officers from Winchester City NPT conducted a joint operation with Police Licensing,” the police force wrote on Facebook. “Officers used a rapid scan machine in order to test individuals for traces of drugs, this was a condition of entry to the venue for last night.” They added: “Those who were found to have a higher trace of drugs on them were then searched by our officers.”
A rapid scan machine can detect in seconds minuscule traces of drugs – such as cocaine, heroin and speed – on someone’s person. In total, 145 people were tested at the pub, ironically called The Old Gaolhouse. According to the Hampshire Chronicle, 17 people tested positive for cocaine and were refused entry, and one person was caught in possession of the drug.
One problem with this – apart from the fact we live in the UK, not North Korea and this is a pub, not a prison – is that people who do not use illegal drugs might still have traces of illegal drugs on them. In 2011, research found that “11 per cent of banknotes were contaminated with cocaine”. In 2018 research reported that traces of cocaine or heroin were found on the fingertips of “13 per cent of people who said they did not take the drugs”. (I put the points contained in this article to Hampshire Constabulary, but they preferred not to comment.)
“It’s just another piece within the police repertoire of harassing people who use drugs and for no real reason,” André Gomes, Communications Lead at human right charity Release, tells THE FACE. “They’re saying that they tested over 145 people for traces of cocaine, which just seems like such a nuisance of a practice, really. Particularly if people are testing positive, but that gives the police absolutely no indication of whether that person has consumed it or they shook hands with someone that had consumed it. Or simply happened to walk through a cloud of cocaine – as ridiculous as that sounds.”
He adds: “It’s a process that doesn’t have a lot of utility when it comes to actually addressing the supposed purposes of police surveillance.”
So, what should you do if you are confronted by the police at a Spoons door, insisting that you be tested for traces of drugs but, well, you don’t fancy that much?
Firstly, remain polite. Explain that you do not consent to any type of test and that you will leave instead. It’s as simple as that – say no more and walk away. The more you talk, the more the police could claim to have “reasonable suspicion” to search you under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (passed in 1984, which Orwell would’ve liked). I asked a solicitor who specialises in drug cases if refusing the test at the door of a pub could constitute “reasonable suspicion” for a search.
“I wouldn’t have thought so,” he told me, while declining to be named. “If the police had the power to test or search you, they would not ask you for permission in the first place.”
“Though customers could not enter the pub unless they agreed to be tested, they were not forced to submit to a test,” a spokesperson for Wetherspoons told THE FACE. “The majority, however, voluntarily agreed to do so. There are no plans to use the [drug testing] machine on a regular basis but we hope that the initiative will deter people from trying to enter the city’s pubs whilst in possession of, or under the influence of, illegal drugs.”
To which one might reasonably say: even if you are “clean”, would you want to drink in a pub that will only let you enter if you’ve passed a rapid scan test? It’s less “mine host” than “mine hostile”.
If you want to know more about your rights when it comes to drug searches, head to the Release website by clicking here.