In a recent development, Sacha Lord, the visionary behind Manchester’s esteemed Parklife festival, has taken a strong stance against the government’s recent reversal on on-site drug testing at festivals. Lord has expressed his concerns in a letter addressed to Home Secretary Suella Braverman, sparking a spirited debate within the festival community.
At the centre of this debate is The Loop, a trusted drug checking charity dedicated to prioritising the well-being of festival-goers. Unfortunately, The Loop was informed that they needed to obtain a special license only 48 hours before they were scheduled to conduct drug testing at Parklife Festival.
On June 8, the Home Office issued an announcement stating that on-site drug testing at festivals would require a Controlled Drugs License. Furthermore, testing was expected to occur at specific permanent premises instead of temporary setups like pop-up tents or festival sites. This sudden shift has left The Loop grappling with a lengthy licensing process, which can take up to 16 weeks to complete. Consequently, they were unable to provide their critical services at this year’s festival, marking the first absence in the last decade.
The significance of drug checking services cannot be overstated, as they consistently enhance the safety and welfare of festival-goers. These services empower attendees to make informed choices about the substances they encounter, without fear of legal repercussions or judgment. Previously, The Loop’s front-of-house testing services allowed festival-goers to submit their own drugs for analysis and receive personalised results.
While personalised drug checking is no longer available, the effectiveness of back-of-house testing remains strong. If an unidentified or dangerously potent substance is detected, immediate push notifications are sent to all festival-goers, cautioning them to avoid such substances. These operations are conducted on a cross-agency basis, enabling the exchange of critical information about dangerous substances among neighbouring festivals, police services, and medical professionals. This knowledge equips medical personnel with crucial insights into the chemical composition of drugs, enhancing their ability to provide effective treatment during drug-related incidents.
The invaluable contributions of The Loop were evident last year when their testing efforts uncovered dangerously potent ecstasy pills at Parklife and Secret Garden Party. These incidents highlight the urgent need for comprehensive drug testing protocols, not only at larger festivals with the resources to hire private testing companies but also at independent festivals that rely on organisations like The Loop. These organisations depend on agreements with local police and councils to continue their vital testing services.
In response to the Home Office’s actions, the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) and Sacha Lord have initiated legal proceedings by seeking a judicial review. Their joint request urges an immediate reversal of the June announcement and the restoration of previously agreed-upon arrangements. If the government fails to respond by July 7, legal action is a potential course of action.
The letter to the Home Secretary emphasises that despite the Home Office’s denial, they are well aware that on-site drug testing has been taking place at festivals across the country since 2014. Additionally, it references the government’s commitment, as stated in the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee report on the future of UK music festivals in August 2021, to “continue to support back-of-house testing on substances that have been seized as this can provide useful intelligence and enable other partners to implement harm reduction measures.”
Michael Kill, CEO of NTIA, passionately asserts that the Home Office must reverse its decision for 2023 and recognise the true impact of withdrawing a practice that has operated safely for over a decade. He highlights the pivotal role of back-of-house drug testing in the overall harm reduction strategy, stressing that without this vital service, lives are put at risk and valuable drug intelligence for police and medical support services will be lost for the remainder of the 2023 festival season.
Sacha Lord adds that the Home Office must prioritise the safety of festival-goers and reinstate the existing Memorandum of Understanding without delay. The industry is fully committed to ensuring public safety, but if the Home Office continues to withhold support, a comprehensive investigation and consultation will be demanded.
Written by: HMR
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