New licence requirement for festival drug checking facilities “puts people at risk” 

New licence requirement for festival drug checking facilities “puts people at risk” 

A move by the Home Office requiring drug-checking service providers at UK festivals to apply for a special licence has alarmed promoters and organisers as the summer season begins, according to a report by The Guardian

The story first broke after The Loop — Britain’s most prominent drug-checking service provider — was told it could not conduct testing at Manchester’s Parklife festival last weekend. The event has had a service in place since 2015, and stopping this has been branded a dangerous u-turn on established harm reduction strategies, which now “puts people at risk.” 

When working with individual events, The Loop sets up a controlled area where ticket-holders can present substances for analysis by trained testers. Any concerns that arise from the results of these tests, or tests of confiscated drugs — for example, unusually high strength or dangerous impurities — trigger a push notification to mobile phones with a warning about what has been found. As a result of the last minute decision from the Home Office, this was not possible at Parklife. Staff were still on site at the festival however, offering advice and information to punters. 

Applications for the newly requested licence to perform “back-of-house” onsite testing could take up to three months to process and cost over £3,000 according to festival organisers, meaning it is too late for many outdoor events this year to apply, while others simply would not be able to afford to. Adding to complications, regulators also expect to check premises weeks in advance, which is difficult, if not impossible, for outdoor dates.

“Anyone interested in undertaking lawful activities involving the possession, supply or production of controlled drugs, including those who wish to provide drug testing services, need to apply for a Home Office licence,” a spokesperson for the UK Government department told The Guardian. “Festival organisers in consultation with local partners are responsible for decisions relating to drug testing at festivals. We will continue an open dialogue with prospective licensees throughout the festival season.”

Responding to the situation, Greater Manchester Police acknowledged that “testing of drugs at music festivals remains an important tool in building our intelligence around specific drugs and helping to keep people safe”.

Elsewhere, others have been more vocal. Among those expressing concern were Sacha Lord, director of The Warehouse Project and Parklife, and Greater Manchester’s Night Time Economy Advisor, who said: “Drug testing onsite has been an essential part of the work we do with the support of Greater Manchester police to keep festivalgoers safe. This move is a disappointing, senseless U-turn of government policy that puts people at risk”.

Carly Heath, Bristol’s Night Time Economy Advisor, also voiced concerns in a series of Tweets, writing: “This U-Turn goes against the accepted advisories of the select committee… and has been made with not enough time for any festivals this summer to be able to get though the 3 month licensing process.”

Last year, Bristol became the first in the UK to be given permission for a regular drug-checking service at a fixed location, run by The Loop. 

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