Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by the Dance Drugs Alliance (DDA)

    People involved in the UK's thriving club scene formed the Dance Drugs Alliance (DDA) as an independent voice within the club scene. Led by clubbers and free partiers, the DDA is a broad-based coalition of people who believe it is time to have an honest and open debate about dance drugs culture.

    The fact that drugs are being taken in a club setting reflects the central role of drugs in today's youth culture. We are no longer talking about a minority practice. Nearly half of all young people in the UK will have tried drugs by the age of 15. In the late 1990s nearly 10 million people had tried drugs, a jump from only 1 million in the 1960s.

    The influence of drugs is all around us, in advertising, popular music, lifestyle magazines and recreational activities. It is important to remember that in the midst of all the anti-drugs hype that people take drugs because they are pleasurable.

    The actual risks of taking recreational drugs are massively over-stated. Using cannabis is about as risky as being in a playground, the risks of taking heroin compare with base jumping, and risks associated with taking ecstasy equates to down hill skiing. Of course risks do exist but can it really be sensible to ask organised crime to look after the well being of our young people who are ever increasingly choosing to use drugs? It is notable that we legally manage and regulate the two most risky drugs: namely alcohol and tobacco.

    It is worth noting that there is significant pressure every weekend on Accident and Emergency Departments and the Police linked to youth culture. However, all the evidence shows that this relates to alcohol culture rather than the dance drugs scene. Rather than condemning dance drug users and the club scene, perhaps government should be seeking to understand and support the positive attributes of this form of nightlife culture.

    The Police Foundation Report highlighted that classifying ecstasy as a class "A" drug was quite inappropriate. We welcome Lady Runciman's contribution but we were very disappointed the Government failed to give serious consideration to her findings. The failure of government to allow any serious discussion about the effectiveness of prohibition itself highlights how current drugs policy is morally and politically driven rather than evidence based. The DDA asserts the right of all adults to make the informed choice to use mind-altering substances.

    We commend the Home Affairs Select Committee for opening a genuine debate on this drug taking in the UK. We would therefore strongly urge you to recommend the creation of a legal regulated market for drug taking. We commend to the committee the "Angel Declaration", which not just asserts the need for legalisation but begins to define a potential model for a legal regulated market.

    In the last half of our submission, we would like to address the current pressure being faced by the club scene. While ecstasy-related deaths are often reported as being linked to "killer pills", they most often relate to conditions in clubs or overheating and dehydration among individual clubbers. As such they are all easily avoidable.

    We would like to state for the record that the idea the club industry is soft on drugs is quite false. In fact the DDA has heard many complaints about the excessive level of door searches, which have included women's breasts and men's genitals being felt by security staff. Many clubs do not even offer us the basic privacy of locks on toilet doors.

    The reality remains that the criminal justice system cannot keep drugs out of prisons. It seems quite unfair that the police and licensing authorities are expecting outcomes from the club industry that the prison service have failed to achieve. Club owners and promoters are caught in an invidious position between the desire of clubbers to take ecstasy and the current clamp down.

    The problem is that added pressure on clubs does have an impact. However, this does not reduce the incidence of recreational drug taking, it just increases the potential for drug-related harm. Let us illustrate this:

    —  We are hearing worrying reports that dance safety initiatives are being turned away from clubs, as owners fear that this is tantamount to acknowledging that drug use does take place on their premises.

    —  One club representative has raised concerns that the current pressure on clubs may cause some to question the wisdom of calling ambulances when people do get into trouble. This is a problem in Ibiza where clubs often put casualties in taxies and send them back to their hotels to avoid legal problems for themselves.

    —  In some cases, this new focus on searching is allowing club owners to back away from in-house safety initiatives such as free water, effective chill out areas, proper air conditioning and on-site paramedics. In the current climate profit can be put before health and safety.

    —  Staff training and resources are being focussed on searching clubbers rather than identifying and helping those who get into trouble.

    —  Some clubbers are choosing to take their ecstasy before entering a club. This means people take higher one-off doses, which exacerbates both the immediate and long-term health risks.

    —  Many clubbers now feel they cannot approach club staff for help, as this will lead to them being evicted from the club.

    We now have an industry whose effectiveness is measured in terms of the numbers of pills seized rather than for actions taken to secure the safety and well being of their customers. In some cases unscrupulous club owners or promoters may compound the problem but these people go unchallenged in a climate of fear and secrecy. The vast majority of club owners and promoters do want to offer clubbers a safe and enjoyable night out. While we believe the drugs laws need a fundamental overhaul, there is an immediate need to immediately recover an effective balance between enforcement and public health in our commercial clubs.

September 2001

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