It was the drug-related deaths of two teenagers in a nine week period which prompted the Metropolitan Police demands that Islington Borough Council should revoke the license of Fabric in September 2016. However, the new licensing deal does depressingly little to reduce potential harm caused by drugs, in fact its draconian terms may increase the risks posed to consumers of illicit substances at the club.
The agreement reached by Fabric and Islington Council includes provisions such as enhanced searching procedures, a new firm overseeing security and a new ID scanning system in place at the club’s entrance. Nevertheless, the most troubling terms of this agreement are the life-time bans for those found in possession of drugs on the premises.
If any lesson should have been learnt from the tragic deaths of the two teenagers it is that harm reduction measures are critically needed to protect Britain’s clubbers. Instead the terms introduced under the new agreement will create an even more hazardous environment for Fabric attendees. The threat to issue life-time bans to anyone found in possession of drugs may be seen as a necessary deterrent by some; however it is a fundamentally naïve and downright dangerous proposition.
The notion that these measures will prevent drug use at the venue is quite frankly ludicrous. What they will achieve is an atmosphere where individuals, feeling worse for wear after taking an illicit substance, will be less likely to seek assistance in the club for fear of being barred indefinitely. Thus, this agreement cannot be seen as a viable, long term solution to drug-related casualties at the club.
The idea that drug use can be entirely prevented is a central concept of the failed and dying War on Drugs. Instead an overhaul of logic is needed to effectively deal with drug-culture in British nightclubs. This overhaul needn’t be as dramatic as altering the scheduling and classification of illicit substances – although Portugal has had considerable success in reducing drug-related deaths via blanket decriminalisation. Alternatively – and perhaps more feasibly – harm reduction could be achieved by via offering drug users a testing service.
Drug testing services enable to users to receive reports on the content of their chosen pills and powders, for instance it will identify the levels of MDMA in an ecstasy pill or whether it has any hazardous chemicals hidden inside, such as PMMA.
Such services operate in the Netherlands via the Drugs Information and Monitoring System (DIMS) which comprises nearly thirty test facilities in the country. This network of testing facilities also produces important reports on the quality of drugs in the Netherlands and alerts the public to any rogue batches of pills and powders. DIMS additionally works with a number of other stakeholders including the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and the European Early Warning System to develop a coordinated approach to alerting European citizens to potentially dangerous drugs consignments.
This approach, along with similar schemes in Belgium, Spain and Switzerland are grounded in the belief that prohibition is ineffective in reducing the harm caused by drugs and it is not possible to control all aspects of human behaviour. Crucially, in all of these countries drugs remain very much illegal, however testing facilities have been given room by authorities to operate, hence there is very little preventing UK authorities following a comparable path.
In fact such facilities already operate at UK festivals and events, many run by harm reduction charity The Loop. Furthermore, The Loop have been working in collaboration with FabricLive events in the months succeeding the club’s closure, but this agreement denies the opportunity for Fabric to develop the ‘gold standard’ for safe clubbing, as proposed by the club’s co-founder Cameron Leslie, due to its draconian stance on drug possession.
Until UK authorities end their obsession with appearing ‘tough’ on drugs tragic deaths at British nightclubs will continue to occur. This issue is symptomatic of the government’s insistence that ‘drugs are illegal because they are dangerous’ which prevents meaningful discussion from taking place. Ultimately, we must understand that we cannot continue to believe that human behaviour can be completely controlled and instead seek to reduce the harms posed by drugs. Ham reduction measures are incredibly simple to implement, but require a complete upheaval of the current logic.