Photo - Steve Rolles
Last week (20th - 23rd July 2017) I spent four days at Secret Garden Party raising awareness for Transform and Anyone’s Child, attracting new supporters and selling our T-shirts and mugs. For the fourth year running we were chosen as one of this year’s Secret Garden Party’s official charities. The festival team and the wonderful Fred Fellowes kindly gave us a tent in the drop area of the party to spread the good word. It was an experience I will not forget and there was a lot to take away, and here are 4 things I learned at the Secret Garden Party:
1. Prohibition isn’t working
As we were setting up, our first visitors came from the people running the waltzer next door. They instantly referred to what had happened on their ride earlier in the summer. A young person standing in the queue saw a sniffer dog coming down the line, they panicked that they would be caught with the ecstasy tablets in their pocket and the consequent criminal implications –there and then they took the lot. By the time they reached the front of the queue they were dead.
This needless tragedy really sums up the huge failings of our drug laws – demonstrating how fighting drugs through a criminal justice approach simply isn’t protecting people. Worse still this isn’t the first time this has happened. The high-profile case of Emily Lyon tragically echoes this story.
Last week the government released its new drug strategy for 2017. Its overall push is a continuation of an enforcement based approach to drugs – still with the aspiration of a drug free society. Working on our stall, what I saw is that we’re a long way from achieving this reality. Young people came in speaking about how they were planning or had already taken MDMA, LSD, Ketamine, 2CB and cannabis to name a few- the drugs strategy simply seems a million miles from reality.
Photo - Steve Rolles
3. Users want to know what’s in their drugs
To the other side of our stand was the Loop which provides drug safety testing. This was pioneered for the first time at last year’s Secret Garden Party. Running for the second year, it was clear that the word had got out and demand was high. Uptake for the first day was higher than the whole of last year’s festival. The reaction from those both taking and not taking drugs, was overwhelmingly positive. “People are going to be taking them anyway they might as well know what’s in them –so that they can be informed and keep safe”
Yet for me watching, I couldn’t help feeling how inadequate our drug policy really is. How confusing is it to educate our young people by saying come to a festival that has zero tolerance of drugs, so you’ll likely be checked on the door by a sniffer dog. However there’s an amnesty area inside where you can get your drugs tested – so if you are going to take them you’ll at least be informed of what they contain. How confusing is that? Is this really the best drug education that we can provide? It seems like a sticking plaster for a much larger problem.
Photo - Steve Rolles
4. Legal regulation is the Solution
As the festival season builds more people will be taking drugs, we are of course delighted to support the ongoing roll-out of the Loop’s services. It could save lives after all. Until drugs are legally controlled and regulated, testing and encouraging safer drug use is the least we can do.
We must however keep up our fight for the legal control and regulation of the drug market if we truly want to keep our communities safe. Only then will we take the market out of the hands of criminals, know the purity and strength of the drugs and where they came from to educate young people properly, we can also stop wasting billions of pounds of taxpayers money on pursuing a criminal justice driven approach that simply isn’t working. Whilst control and regulation doesn’t offer a panacea to the drug problem – it would help to minimise the harms of the drug market and it would stop the needless and rising death toll.
Author: Jane Slater, Head of Operations and Project Manager for Anyone's Child