Drug-culture in nightclubs — what is the way forward?
Going to Fabric London club almost feels like being a criminal. Bouncers at the door scan your face and your ID, always asking themselves if you are a drug dealer or just a simple electronic music clubber. They also check you in to the most unusual places and, once inside, staff members go around with their torches looking for any suspicious activities. However, people do not really care about it simply because they are dancing and enjoying themselves at one of the best electronic music venues in the world.
On November 21st of this year, Fabric reached an agreement with Islington Council to reopen its doors under new strict conditions after their licence was suspended on the 7th of September following the death of an 18-year-old man. The legendary London nightclub will now apply 32 new measures in order to reach gold standards on zero drug tolerance. “I’m delighted that this agreement has been reached and that Fabric will now reopen,” said Sadiq Khan, mayor of London.
The decision of closing down the club shocked the nightlife community worldwide. The club received a lot of support by artists, club owners and fans that found very contradictory that Fabric was judge irresponsible when tackling drug issues within their premises. Drug Wise Director, Harry Shapiro said that, “there are some clubs out there who are very irresponsible regarding drug taking and dealing within their premises but Fabric has always been a model.”
As a result, the question that rose from this case was whether or not clubs such as Fabric promote a drug culture or if they have been unfairly blamed.
Most experts working on tackling drug issues in the UK agree that clubs cannot be fully responsible when illegal substances are found at their venues. “Blaming clubs for drug culture is, frankly, absurd. There has never been any culture in the history of the world that has been ‘drug free’,” said Mitchell Gomez, National Outreach Director at Dance Safe. He added, “If drugs cannot be kept out of jails a place in which people have no privacy rights whatsoever, it seems unlikely any amount of security could keep them out of clubs.”
Drug taking and dealing in electronic music venues is one of the main issues but there is a lack of understanding on where the problem is coming from. It appears that from the authorities point of view the issue comes from an absence of appropriate measures applied by nightclubs to effectively tackle the problem.
However, the last report published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that drug related deaths in England and Wales hit records levels in 2015 with 3,674 drug poisoning deaths. Even though these statistics do not show drug related deaths in nightclub, it sparks criticisms of the government’s approach to drugs.
Shapiro commented, “Government is not failing at all; the problem is that there is no way to stop drugs to get into the country.” Rather than that, Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst at Transform Drug Policy Foundation, suggests that “policy makers need to be more realistic on their approach to drugs and their starting point should be: people take drugs!”
Shapiro, Gomez, and Rolles agreed on a different approach to drug culture. The idea is that tackling this issue should be divided in two stages.
There have to be measures but not so many that clubbers go to even greater and sometimes dangerous lengths to get around the system.
“It is important to have a strong drug policy to prevent people from taking drugs,” affirmed Shapiro. This should take in consideration, body search at the door and inside surveillance to avoid drug dealing and consumption, as well as a strong anti-drug policy to stop drugs from entering the country.
But Rolles claims that there has to be a limit to it and that authorities cannot suggest solutions such as sniffing-dogs because “enhancing security measures will certainly increase the risk.” He added that, “it has been proven that most people who died from drug over-dose or end-up at the hospital for intoxication took their drugs before getting to the club.” This is due to the fact that some people are scared of the strong security measures at the door and decide to take their drugs before they get in the club.
It seems that increasing security in nightclubs does not increase safety. This is the reason why Shapiro and Rolles recommend promoting and empowering the second stage. Here, the authorities need to acknowledge the fact that people will take drugs and that creating a safe physical environment is key for a safer nightlife.
A report published by the London Drug Policy Forum has already given advice on what measures should be promoted in order to achieve a safer nightlife. Gomez clearly stated what this report showed, “we do know what can reduce the risks of use; education, free water, drug checking services and on-site medical services.”
Most electronic music clubs, including Fabric, have already upgraded their venues with free water to avoid drug dehydration, air-conditioning for overheating, on-site medical services and accessible information on drug use. However, looking back to the case of Fabric it appears that these measures are not enough, but what about drug checking services?
Drug-testing services are an instrument that is fully active in the Netherlands and helps the authorities to have an eye on the purity of drugs and accurately warm the population on new eventual deathly substances. “Drug testing is not the solution but it is a great idea,” said Shapiro.
Here in the UK, the Manchester nightclub ‘The Warehouse Project’ was one of the first ones to have drug-testing services on their premises. However, Rolles believes that this is not correct approach. “Instead of having these drug-testing pop-ups within clubs, it would be a better solution to have them outside.”
The issue with this concept is that the police needs to accept that people take drugs, which is somehow acknowledging that their anti-drugs measures are not entirely working. Both Rolles and Shapiro claimed, “The police has to be more understanding.”
The nightlife industry is very important for big cities like London. Clubs are a big source of revenue, and attract tourists; but they are also spaces for artistic expression. “Nightclubs like Fabric are very important for youth culture who are the future of our societies,” said Rolles. Drugs are definitely an issue but closing down clubs is not the solution. “Our society has to give them the credit they [clubs] deserve and if clubs are shut, they won’t solve problem as they’ll move to informal places and make illegal raves,” Rolles concluded.