THE BLOG

Why Hasn't The UK Changed Its Approach To Drugs?

19/09/2016 09:34
Alamy

Fabric doesn't have a drug problem - the UK does.

Two deaths at the club's doors is certainly tragic, but when the organisation has seen a grand total of six drug-related deaths in its 6.5million ravers and 17-year history, it's closure felt like something of an overreaction. Fabric is just another consequence of the Government's backward approach to drugs.

The UK has fought the war on drugs for nearly 50 years, making it the 16th longest war in the world. It's now widely accepted that the war has failed - global drug use continues to rise and prohibition marginalises those who need help while handing the trade to organised criminals.

Despite this weight of evidence and 2,000 deaths per year, we continue to criminalise drugs rather than treating it as a public health issue. So why does the UK insist on digging its heels in and sticking to the same flawed approach?

For a start, drug reform doesn't win elections. It hasn't risen on the political agenda because it's not something the public values and votes on. Drug policy itself doesn't even rank highly enough for pollsters to research, and just 4% of people questioned last year said that approach to crime would sway their vote.

Added to this is the unfortunate reality that the people most likely to benefit from increased drug safety and care are the ones who are least likely to vote. At the same time, middle-aged, professional voters are the least likely to publicly support reform because any pro-drug position implies some level of moral bankruptcy.

This brings us to the increasingly hysterical rhetoric that surrounds the drugs debate - the conversation lacks proportion and perspective. Yes, taking drugs is risky and people have died, but people take risks all the time. Horse riding increases your risk of death by about the same as ecstasy, but because there are more acceptable sources of pleasure than others stables remain open.

David Cameron argued that legalising and regulating drugs would send a message to children and young people that it's safe and OK. Yet this paternalistic approach does nothing to protect - it just assumes that teenagers are incapable of making informed decisions and since when did dealers start asking for ID?

In 2014, the Government had the opportunity to take an evidence-based approach to tackling the issue. The Home Office reported that tough penalties don't deter use, while making it a health issue as in Portugal offers greater benefits. Despite cross-party support for this, it just became more fuel for squabbling between the Tories and Lib Dems, with Cameron accusing them of seeing the suppliers getting off "scot-free".

Drugs policy is tangled up in politics. Moralising and point-scoring is preventing decision-makers from looking objectively at the evidence, which points towards a harm-reduction approach. Already we have seen the success of safety-testing in festivals and venues including the Warehouse Project. When the charity The Loop offered drug testing at the Secret Garden Party, around a quarter of people who brought in their drugs then asked them to be disposed of when they discovered they were something other than expected.

There's no point in denying that drugs are a part of club culture, but it's not the music or the venues that kill. The harm comes from society's refusal to have an open discussion about it. Criminalising drugs - rather than treating it as a public health issue - simply makes them more harmful. Attempts to stop supply have resulted in the increased use of more dangerous and toxic substitutes, while banning personal use only drives it further underground.

Closing Fabric was a knee-jerk short-sighted reaction to a lengthy and complex problem. With more venues and events offering safety-testing, we need these places to be allowed to continue to thrive in order to champion harm reduction.

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