The news of fabric’s temporary closure this weekend has the sad air of inevitability. Two young lads have died drug related deaths in the last 9 weeks and whichever way you look at it, that’s two too many. Before we get into the whys and why nots, it has to be remembered that this isn’t just about an abstract statistic. Each one of those 18 year olds was someone’s kid, someone’s best mate, someone’s boyfriend, someone’s brother. Their deaths at such a young age will have left a void in the lives of those close to them. The worst of it is this; that pointless loss of life will almost certainly happen again. Unless Britain has a realistic conversation about drug use, we are condemned to perpetually repeat tragedies that have been occurring for decades.
There are basic steps that a club like fabric can take that might have mitigated against these recent deaths. The most obvious one would be to introduce drug testing kits. E related deaths are on the increase (the ONS has it at moving from 8 in 2010 to 50 in 2014), and this has been attributed to a spike in purity of the goods on offer. In such circumstances, any sensible legislative solution would be to accept a couple of pretty self-evident truths
- People take drugs, and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
- Drugs are getting stronger
- If people aren’t aware of the strength of their drugs they run the risk of causing themselves harm.
This is a fairly easy series of logical steps to lead you to introducing drug testing kits- it’s certainly proved enough for other European countries, including Austria, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. But our current licensing laws do not allow venues to introduce drug testing kits; to do so is seen as encouraging drug use. By this logic, why do we bother putting alcohol percentages on booze? Why not have a lucky dip system, where every pint tastes the same, but some contain piss weak lager, some moonshine, and some arsenic?
There is, of course, absolutely no point in comparing illegal drugs to the legalised drug of alcohol because, as commenters have been fond of saying, Britain debates in post-truth politics. The idea that post-truth is a new development is grimly funny – the UK drugs policy has been divorced from any truth for almost a century. Notoriously, in 2009 the scientist David Nutt made the mistake of taking his job of government advisor on drugs seriously, and investigated the relative dangers of several intoxicants. When he published his findings in an academic pamphlet, noting that alcohol or tobacco were more harmful than LSD, ecstasy or cannabis, and that ‘riding a horse was more dangerous than taking ecstasy’, he was summarily fired. When a couple of kids have just died- presumably from taking MDMA – the horse riding analogy might seem a bit far-fetched. It becomes less so when you consider that if the legislation against both had parity, these kids would have been riding the horse blind without reigns or a saddle.
There are other elements involved in the closure of Fabric. It’s little secret that Islington Council have been trying to shut the venue for some years now. Last year they tried to insist the club implement sniffer dogs and ID scanners, a move that would have made the club seem more like the border point of a war torn country than a space to have a dance. Fabric won the appeal against that move in 2015. It seems more likely that the council will push it through now, with all the loss in trade that draconian ruling will bring. The fact is, should Fabric experience anymore drug deaths it will be shut down. And unless there is a shift in approach to recreational drug use, it seems extremely unlikely that a death won’t occur. So, if in a year’s time we find ourselves hearing of similar tragic deaths, and Fabric is forced to close its doors for good, what will happen to the people who fill it week in week out? Well, some of them, the Europeans and the kids from outside London, simply won’t bother travelling here, sucking money from the capital. A fair proportion of the crowd will simply search out another large London club and carry on as they were- it’s not as if Fabric is an unusually druggy venue; to claim it is is simply a lie. A sizable minority of the crowd will find themselves feeling the same as an increasing amount of ravers; they’ll be pissed off with the way they’re being treated as a criminal element simply for doing something that has been the norm across all strata of British society for time immemorial. These people are more likely to find themselves seeking out the blossoming illegal raves on the edges of the city, and the chance of them dying whilst out raving – something the closure of Fabric would presumably be designed to prevent – will rise, even if only by a touch.
So yes, we’d argue that drug testing should be allowed in clubs. There’s no case against doing so that stands up to scrutiny – except the argument of the brewery chains that it would impinge on their profits. Seeing as our current punitive, prohibitive legislation is proving completely inadequate it’s clearly time for a change. The current state of British politics make that unlikely to happen; the Tories led by Theresa May are conservative authoritarians, Labour are a naval gazing shit-state, and the Lib Dems – who might be up for it – are non-existent. This is unfortunate. Right now we need someone to speak up- as we have done for years. The whole pernicious narrative of ‘the war on drugs’ needs to be swept aside, so we can have some kind of appraisal of the role intoxicants play in society (as other countries have), and how to make that as safe as possible (as other countries have). Until then clubs will continue to shut their doors and parents will continue to mourn their kids.