After the deaths of two young people at the Mutiny festival in Portsmouth, apparently from taking a ‘dangerous high-strength or bad-batch substance on site’, the predictable calls for more drug-testing facilities at festivals have begun.
Following years of refusal to enforce the law, is it any wonder these tragedies continue to occur? The message that testing sends, of course, is that the establishment has given up: these non-judgemental safe spaces normalise drug use. Make no mistake, drug use, especially among the young, has become normalised. What else could drive otherwise law-abiding young people to take such a drastic risk that could wreck their lives and the lives of their families?
People who ordinarily would never dream of breaking any other law see the use of drugs as just part of a night out. That the ‘people will take them anyway and therefore we won’t bother enforcing the law’ approach may have a direct relationship with increases in drug use at festivals seems to be lost on, or wilfully ignored by, advocates of greater liberalisation.
This is not to say that personal responsibility should not be taken into account. Patronising attitudes (sometimes apparent on both sides of the drug debate) that treat young people as if they were passive entities lacking any agency or self-control will not help.
But the belief that young people are predisposed to
self-destructive behaviour seems to be firmly held by the liberalisers, as evidenced by their surrender to the ‘well, they’re doing it anyway’ narrative. I for one do not believe this to be the case and have a greater level of respect for people, young or otherwise, as rational autonomous beings.
To run immediately to the harm prevention model seriously neglects why drugs are becoming an increasingly prevalent part of a night out. Why do young people find that an experience cannot be enjoyed on its own merits? Why is there such a sharp increase in mental health problems among 18-to-24-year-olds? Why is it that so many youths find themselves in a state of destructive flux that can be stabilised or numbed only by escaping reality and stupefying their minds? Can we do better than simple harm reduction? How about ‘harm elimination’ by addressing these questions and ensuring drug use is strongly discouraged before it even starts?
Drug-taking has become a big part of festival culture, particularly at EDM (Electronic Dance Music) events, at which the music consisting of unhinged and deranged sounds is perfectly complemented by mind-altering substances. It should be a given that these gatherings will be awash with drugs pushed by a delinquent selfish minority. Any security that is not rigorous amounts to negligence on the part of the organisers and renders their events fundamentally exploitative. One could quite plausibly assume that any serious attempts to crack down on drugs at festivals could decrease the numbers attending and hurt the bottom line of the organisers.
Here is a novel idea: Might organisers promote drug-free festivals? Not events where the prohibition of drugs is stated in small print on the back of your ticket and then not seriously enforced, but rather a festival that is explicitly drug-free and so advertised on promotional
material. This would require a serious and expensive attempt by organisers and security companies to stop drugs entering the grounds of a festival. There would be other problems, not least that such a measure would bar a significant number of musicians who have championed drug use for decades. So I won’t hold my breath.
The mother of one those who died, 18-year-old Georgia Jones, had the message that she hoped her daughter’s death would stop others from ‘taking anything ever’, which after all is the only guaranteed harm reduction measure.
How shameful it is that the law and some festival organisers refuse to pursue this goal.