A parliamentary committee has urged the UK government to expand on-site drug testing at festivals.
In a newly published report, the Home Affairs Committee criticises drug laws as “outdated and in need of reform” and calls for a new legislative and funding framework that enables “practical, risk-reducing interventions such as establishing a pilot drug consumption facility and drug testing at festivals”.
The committee points out that countries such as the United States, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Canada, Austria and Australia have established drug checking services for festival-goers.
“Drug-checking services can help reduce the harms caused by high strength or dangerous combinations of drugs, and provide advice on harm reduction to users,” it says. “The government should expand the availability of these services at music festivals and within the night-time economy, with a dedicated licensing scheme in place ahead of the 2024 festival season.”
UK promoters previously accused the Home Office of putting gig-goers “at risk” following an apparent U-turn on drug testing at festivals earlier this summer.
Manchester’s 80,000-cap Parklife festival was unable to test confiscated pills at the June event after drug testing nonprofit The Loop was informed it needed to apply for a special licence rather than relying on its agreement with the police. The licence costs upwards of £3,000 and can take three months to process.
Parklife had worked with police and The Loop to test confiscated drugs on site for the previous eight years. Attendees were previously able to submit drugs for testing to establish their content before consumption, with a “push notification” alert subsequently sent to them if the tests show the drugs are a serious threat to health.
“There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this”
The festival’s founder, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester Sacha Lord, argued that without the provision of drug checking, the risk of drug-related harms or overdose at festivals could increase.
However, a Home Office spokesperson moved to distance the government from the committee’s recommendations.
“There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this,’ says the spokesperson. “Our 10-year drugs strategy set out ambitious plans, backed with a record £3bn funding over three years, to tackle the supply of illicit drugs through relentless policing action and building a world-class system of treatment and recovery to turn people’s lives around and prevent crime.”
In 2016, Secret Garden Party became the first British camping festival to give attendees the chance to test the content of their drugs without fear of recrimination, with Kendal Calling following a week later. A drug harm-reduction campaign piloted by the Irish HSE (Health and Safety Executive) at last summer’s Electric Picnic was also rolled out across a number of other festivals in Ireland this summer.
In the wake of the latest report, Night Time Industries Association CEO Michael Kill is calling for urgent modernisation of the UK government’s drug policy.
“The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 has served its purpose, but the landscape has evolved dramatically since its enactment,” says Kill. “Our European neighbours have taken proactive measures to address drug-related challenges, prioritising harm reduction and public safety. It is high time for the UK to catch up and adopt a more pragmatic and modern approach.”
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