The recent raid on a VIP suite at Randwick Racecourse and the arrest of a high-profile sporting celebrity and his wife for cocaine possession generated a familiar round of media reports blaring, “Sydney is awash with cocaine”. So what’s new? Sydney has been snorting the illicit substance ever since the early ‘20s when returning troops from World War I enthusiastically introduced it to the party scene.
Up until 1927 possession of the drug was not a criminal offence but since then there’s been a never-ending game of cat and mouse between suppliers, users and the powers that be. The Randwick raid perhaps demonstrates that some egalitarianism has embraced the fight to stamp out this ‘evil’ with all levels of society now put on notice. It used to be just rock stars who were busted along with teenagers out for a bit of fun on a Saturday night. Now it seems the long arm of the law has extended to tap the shoulder of those familiar faces that fill the social pages of the Sunday rags.
The only real thing that changes with Sydney’s love affair with ‘blow’ is the price and the quality. Despite high volume seizures by Customs and the Federal Police, supply has remained pretty much constant over the past thirty or forty years and during that time the drug has gained a real social respectability unlike the more stigmatised heroin and ice. Distribution by a web of local dealers is now highly sophisticated and thanks to the mobile phone, door-to-door delivery is now the norm – no more trawling the mean streets of Kings Cross for a clandestine deal.
Whether the targeting of Eastern Suburbs high-flyers continues or was just a one-off, the sporadic prosecution of those unlucky enough to be caught in possession is bound to continue as the very token war on drugs drags out. No more is the farce more evident than on the streets of Kings Cross where weekend partygoers are often ambushed by sniffer dogs at Kings Cross station or randomly searched in nightclubs and bars. Meanwhile, a never-ending stream of punters enters the Supervised Injecting Centre all clutching their supply of heroin or speed ready to shoot up. Obviously it would be pointless for police to stand at the entrance and bust these patrons and nobody’s suggesting they should, but where is the rationale with these constant lucky-dip police busts?
In the U.S. where even a minor drug possession can lead to imprisonment, President Obama has indicated that he is prepared to use his pardon power to grant clemency to “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of people who have been jailed for nonviolent drug crimes, i.e. possession of small amounts of heroin, crack or cocaine. Whilst we seldom jail people here for minor drug possession, we do put them through the court system and record a criminal conviction with a system of enforcement that is entirely random in its application.
Maybe a much better tactic would be to spend the money wasted on petty prosecution and deploying the drug squad to Randwick Racecourse, on an education campaign emphasising the nasty things that drugs like cocaine can do to your body – especially if you become a regular user. Back in the 1920s, when the quality of imported cocaine was particularly potent and its use both heavy and widespread, there are reports of people presenting to their local doctor with complaints of a hole in their nasal passage and in extreme cases the collapse of their nose altogether. The same thing, although relatively rare, is apparently still happening today. Not a good look if you are planning a day in the VIP suite at Royal Randwick!