What are your rights if the police ever stop you for a random drug swab?
First and foremost, you’re allowed to refuse
The Met Police has once again caused a wave of controversy this week after they Tweeted a video of officers stopping members of the public for a random drug swab. They also carried out full body searches and on-the-spot interviews.
“Taskforce officers were out recently doing drug swabs in Shoreditch as part of a wider operation to ensure the night time economy is a safe place for all”, the Tweet read. “[It] was filmed during a ‘week of action’ supporting women’s safety between Monday 6th and Sunday 12th December 2021” the Met clarified later on in the thread.
The release of the clip was met with a wave of backlash as it ironically coincided with reports that the mayor of London is planning to decriminalise drugs for under 25s in the capital.
Taskforce Officers were out recently doing drug swabs in Shoreditch as part of a wider operation to ensure the night time economy is a safe place for all pic.twitter.com/UtMbayPwpt
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) January 2, 2022
“This achieved nothing except remind a few more people that the police have a fundamentally antagonistic relationship to them”, one person said. “Genuinely very very hard to imagine a more disgusting use of [‘women’s safety’] than the Met deploying it to justify their racist harassment of pedestrians”, said another.
Some people argued that trace amounts of drugs such as cocaine could be picked up from surfaces (like a club toilet or sink) and that randomly swabbing people’s hands isn’t an effective way to weed out individuals actually taking the gear.
So, what happens if you’re the one getting randomly selected for the swab? While police presence can be intimidating, knowing your rights has become more important than ever. Here’s exactly what you can and can’t do while being swabbed for drugs:
You’re allowed to refuse
While club security has every right to randomly swab people before letting them in, “the police have no power to compel you to undergo a swab”, according to Met watchdog Netpol.
The police should be able to reasonably justify their belief that you may be in possession – especially if they’re planning to body search you as well. Refusing a random drug swab simply isn’t a good enough reason for them to escalate things.
You aren’t legally obliged to take a drug test unless you’re driving
Unless you’ve driven under the influence or are planning to – there’s no law that says you must be arrested if you take drugs. Netpol state that “even if a swab comes back positive, this alone isn’t grounds for a search or arrest”.
Always ask the officer if you’re being detained
Once stopped for a random drug swab, the first thing you should always do is ask “am I being detained?”. If the answer is “no”, you’re free to go.
You don’t have to hand over your personal details
A random stop and search doesn’t mean you readily have to show ID or hand over any other personal details, like your name and phone number. You should also always ask for a stop and search receipt from the police – you still won’t need to surrender your personal details for this.
Now we know exactly what the police are able to do during a random stop and search, what about when you’ve been caught in possession red-handed? Here’s a brief rundown of the legal trouble you could find yourself in:
Different drugs carry different penalties
When we were younger, we all just assumed simply snorting coke once could earn you five years in prison. That’s definitely not the case – and it’s important to distinguish between each class of drug. Some could see you spending seven years inside, while others carry no penalty at all.
Possession of Class A drugs (acid, cocaine, heroin, crystal meth) could put you away for a maximum of seven years – while dealing and production carries a life penalty and/or an unlimited fine. You could get up to five years for possession of Class B (ketamine, Ritalin, weed) as well as 14 years for supply and production. Class C (anabolic steroids, diazepam and other drugs typically associated with spiking) carries a sentence of 14 years for dealing.
What’s the difference between possession and intent to supply?
Giving anyone any amount of drugs – whether you’re making them pay for it or not – counts as intent to supply, according to the slightly outdated Misuse Of Drugs Act 1971. You could technically get in serious trouble even if you’re just sharing a joint with friends. Prison sentences are also a lot less lenient for the intent to supply, and you could accidentally land yourself eight years or more.
Does having drugs in your system count as possession?
Unless you’re in a public place, operating machinery or driving, having drugs in your system does *not* count as possession. There’s no law for drug consumption – just because you have coke in your system doesn’t mean you have any more in your possession, and if you can prove that, you haven’t committed a crime.
It’s also worth noting that if you become ill while under the influence, you should never avoid calling an ambulance because you think you might get into trouble. Remember – consuming drugs won’t get you arrested.
Related stories recommended by this writer:
- Take The Tab’s drugs survey 2021
- Sadiq Khan reportedly plans to decriminalise drugs for under 25s in London
- ‘I just don’t trust the vaccine’: Meet the students who are choosing not to get jabbed
Featured image by Unsplash before edits.