After the Tragic Deaths at Fabric it's Time to Put Drug Safety Before Censure
There's one question that crosses the mind of every nervous teenager about to dabble with party drugs, such as MDMA, for the first time - what if I die? In the true spirit of youthful rebellion, the vast majority throw caution to the wind and have the night of their lives. Followed, inevitably, by the crushing comedown.
Authorities need to acknowledge and accept that many young people are going to experiment with drugs. Shutting down popular nightclubs that are actively making efforts to tackle drug use isn't the answer. Our woefully misguided approach to drugs education could be putting the very people it’s trying to protect in serious danger.
This week the Twittersphere exploded in furious outrage as it was announced that London nightclub Fabric is to close its doors for good. The popular venue's licensing was revoked following the exceptionally tragic deaths of two 18 year-old men earlier this year.
Many were hugely disappointed by this ruling. An online petition, started to defend the club after it was temporarily closed, has - at the time of writing - accumulated over 152,000 signatures and even gained the support of London Mayor Sadiq Kahn. People have also taken to Twitter, criticising the closure under #SaveFabric.
The story might be more complicated than first understood. The Independent reported that Fabric's closure could have been a well-planned contrivance by the local council, which using the deaths as an excuse and the police as pawns.
Beyond the decision, it's important to look at the principles behind the licensing review. Is it fair to blame a club for drugs smuggled in by punters or is it question of individual responsibility?
Closing Fabric won't make the problem go away. People wanting drugs won't magically vanish
As public venues, clubs have a duty to check people on the door, whilst also using security inside to look out for anyone causing trouble, dealing drugs or in need of assistance. That's as far as it goes. There are restrictions on their ability to check people. That's the price of avoiding overly invasive searches. Imagine if everyone had to have a full cavity search before going into a club. Hardly anyone’s idea of a good time.
We all have the free will to make our own decisions as autonomous, sound-minded and legally responsible adults. The loss of life at Fabric is unspeakably tragic, but we cannot place the moral or legal responsibility on the club.
Closing Fabric won't make the problem go away. People wanting drugs won't magically vanish. Youthful fascination and desire to experiment with drugs won't disappear. Heavy-handedness makes the situation more dangerous: people will just take drugs in venues with fewer regulations and less experience dealing with the issue.
A speech made by Cameron Leslie, Fabric co-founder, makes clear how committed they were to tackling the drug problem. He said: "Prior to us opening in 1999 I said to the Met Police, what sort of venue do you want us to be... do you want us to be a progressive, open and honest venue, something you can be proud of? This is what the Met wanted of us and for the best part of 12 years we were their darling. Our joint procedures were showcased to other forces around the UK and to problem licensees within London."
The way this situation has been managed has to be brought into question too. An example of just how out of touch and laughably ineffective the licensing committee is this: during the review, they actually considered the idea of limiting the music's BPMs (beats per minute) to reduce drug use. No, seriously, I'm not joking. How embarrassing is that? This tweet perfectly mocks the suggestion.
These case-specific issues aside, this scandal has highlighted a major problem: drugs education in this country.
It's been abundantly clear for decades that old school, authoritarian drugs education doesn't work. They tried it in the 60s, and look how that panned out. However, if we first concede that some young people will want to take drugs, the solution becomes obvious: present all the facts from an impartial perspective, place the focus on safety, and allow them to make their own, fully informed decisions.
if our priority is going to be safety, then we have to abandon the moralising
We need a complete overhaul of attitudes towards drug education. Safety, not disputing whether or not it should happen, has to become the primary concern. There is a distinct lack of trustworthy information. If you provide young people with experience-based advice from a trusted, non-judgemental source it would significantly reduce the risk of overdoses.
Going further we should inform teenagers how to take drugs safely and educate them about the effects.
One of the Fabric deaths was caused by the victim buying and taking another pill in addition to the three he'd already smuggled in as "he felt his were not working". Young people need to know how to stay safe, what sensations to expect, and more pivotally, how long effects take to kick in.
This may seem radical, but is based on a concern for safety and a rejection of the cowardly, small-minded ostrich response: choosing to avoid the problem rather than face up to it.
There is a major difference between advocating drug use and providing in-depth education. It is not - and should not be - about glamorising drugs. However, if our priority is going to be safety, then we have to abandon the moralising, authoritarian tactics and adopt a progressive, realistic and morally-responsible approach.
About the author
Despite sharing the company of Rimbaud, Voltaire and co. for the third year in a row, Alec's real passion lies in writing. When the French degree permits it, he can be found scribbling away for a variety of publications, including The Spectator's Coffee House blog, Spiked-Online and - oh, how could he forget? - Disclaimer Mag!
A self-professed bon vivant, Alec is currently busy sunning himself in the South of France, whilst gleefully perusing the bountiful array of vin on offer. He's also been known to dabble in unscrupulous cheese-pairing.
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