How to Avoid a Cannabis Possession Conviction in the United Kingdom: An Ex-Drugs Squad Officer’s Guidance
What does a police vehicle creeping into a car park in the dead of night, a couple of eagle-eyed officers on foot in a local park and a police dog with a hyper-sensitive nose in a train station all have in common? They’re all things that terrify cannabis users, whether they’re operating in the pursuit of recreational pleasure or medicinal benefit.
I often ponder if there is any way to come out on top in situations like that or, better yet, avoid them completely? And if it’s looking like you’re inevitably going to get caught, what is the best way to act in terms of damage limitation? I’m sure many want to know the answer to these things too so I spoke to Neil Woods, an undercover drugs detective sergeant for 14 years – from 1993 to 2007 – before he resigned in 2012 after becoming disillusioned with the force.
Simon: Hey Neil, hypothetical situation: I’m walking down the street with a small bag of cannabis in my pocket and the police pull over. They inform me that, for instance, there had been burglaries in the area and I fitted the description of the culprit. What would be the best way for me to conduct myself bearing in mind that I definitely don’t want to get caught with my stash?
Neil: The first thing is to be as calm as possible and be totally polite at all times. Then, still being polite, ask them exactly what they are looking for because if there’s been burglaries they should know exactly what they’re searching for.
If they tell somebody that they are about to search them they need to go through a series of things. Firstly they have to state the grounds for the search which have to be quite specific; like ‘you fit the description of someone climbing over a fence during what we think was a burglary’. So, if the grounds are stated, questioning them in a very polite manner is a good thing to do.
Then, they have to specify exactly what object they are looking for. They also have to identify themselves; say who they are, what their collar number is and which division they belong to. These are legal requirements. Also, at the end of the search they have to give you a notice which explains all the details – the things we’ve talked about have to be included on that form.
If the officers say, for example, ‘we believe a purse has been stolen and we would now like to search you’ and you’re thinking ‘right, I’ve got some cannabis on me’ they can only search you in places where that purse could reasonably be. So, if you had some cannabis in your sock they can’t search there because they already told you what object they are looking for.
So, would that be a defence in court?
It could be but you’ll find that people don’t contest it very often. Most of the time if people get caught with that it would be either a cannabis warning or a caution. But, yeah if they [the arresting officers] stopped you and said they were looking for a purse and found some cannabis in your sock it would an unlawful search.
How would you advise that someone should act in the interview if that scenario occurred?
The thing is to always get a solicitor. Also, don’t say anything. A very important part of the arrest is the caution – ‘You do not have to say anything but anything you do say could be used against you in a court of law…’. It very important to the arresting officer that they record your response to that, it’s very specific evidence that is always offered in court. So, it really is best never, ever to respond to that caution. You can never undo what you said so it’s best to be silent. It makes it a lot easier for the solicitor who is advising you if you don’t respond to the caution too.
In your experience do the police sometimes make up ‘reasonable suspicion’ because they’ve profiled someone and just think that they might have some drugs?
It does happen. The classic one is saying ‘you smell of cannabis’, especially when a car is being searched. It would be very difficult to argue in court that they [the police] were acting unlawful then. It is true that there are police out there abusing their powers by saying that there is a smell if they just want to search someone. There is nothing you can do to counter it really other than being polite; there is a lot you can do with just being polite and appearing cooperative. That is very often the best way to reduce the interest of a police officer.
Yeah, the old ‘I smell weed’ is a classic. Another scenario that seems to occur quite often: Several, let’s say four, people are in a car and a bag of cannabis has been found at the scene. At first nobody admits to it but the police officer says that he/she will arrest everyone unless someone comes forward. Could they really do that?
Another classic police tactic, yeah. If everybody said ‘no, it’s not mine’ it’s up to the police to prove it. Twenty years ago the evidence would’ve been sent to forensics to see if anyone had any DNA on it, which would have proved it. But now, with the cuts to the budget, they’d never send it off – the forensic budget manger would never approve it. If they can’t prove who owned it they’ve got no case. If everybody knew that, more people would probably do it; it’s a pretty safe tactic.
What about if you admitted having some cannabis but it was merely because you found it on the floor and were on your way to the local police station to hand it in?
Yeah, it’s quite common for people to say that. But people don’t tend to take it all the way to court and, when they do, courts tend not to believe that. The system is weighted well against people in drugs offences – especially if they’re from a disadvantaged background. They get tempted to just admit it.
*NOTE: This article is for entertainment purposes only. Neither the author nor the publisher condones or promotes the use of illegal substances.
You can follow Dave Woods on Twitter @wudzee0
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