Clubs Close !!
Your freedom is under threat. ….. again!
The club scene in Britain is massive these days and is one of the main reasons London is trendy again. British music is world famous and the club scene is vital to its creativity, what is played in the clubs today often becomes tomorrows mainstream.
The future of this vibrant cultural asset is under threat. The threat comes from the governments policy toward illegal drugs. Club goers are often treated like criminals, subject to stop and search by police and door staff in clubs. Police stop and search measures have in the recent past lead to civil unrest and violence, such as the riots in Brixton and Bristol in the early 1980’s.
Door searches in clubs can often involve intimate searches verging on assult. Often they involve door staff looking through wallets and private documents. Clubbers are often forced to remove articles of clothing such as shoes and socks. These searches are carried out in an effort to stop illegal drug use in clubs.The effect of police searches is public distrust, the effect of door searches is to encourage users to take “enough” drugs before they enter the club. Basic harm minimisation information advises users to take small amounts of their drug untill they have had enough, therefore door searches encourage dangerous drug use.
Once inside, clubbers are often expected to pay high prices for everything often including water, which is something which should be provided free and in sufficient quantities.Drugs are often available, even in clubs with strict door searches (sometimes confiscated drugs sold by the door security). There is no quality check on the drugs available. Without testing as happens in Holland, users are being exposed to a high and avoidable risk.
Rather than this oppresive “police state” approach, an alternative approach migh be considered: An end to searches for drugs, searches for offensive weapons to be carried out with metal detectors in the first instance. Proper and factual drug information to be available. “Safe houses”, where drugs may be tested as exist in Holland, to be encouraged in all clubs. Analysis results of seized drugs to be available.
CLUBS TO SHUT SHOCK ..!
You’re on your way to your favourite club.
There’s a notice on the door.
“Sorry, this clubs has been closed by the council because the police suspect drug dealing / taking was taking place on the premises”.
As the general election draws near, the government are fighting our nation’s “declining morality” with the puritan revolution they hope will make clubs clean up, clampdown on the punter, or shut up shop.
Recently, Brighton Borough Council refused to grant the licence for this years ‘Festival of Freedom’. The decision was made in the light of newly released government guidelines concerning dance events, which the police waved in the air at the meeting, to back up their objections. Yes, the event could go ahead if the police could have strip searching facilities, floodlights, CCTV cameras, and a LARGE police presence. Festival of freedom gulag stylee??
With the popular panic concerning dance drug Ecstasy, two sets of government proposals to regulate festivals, parties and clubs have emerged. One is a programme of guidelines supported by the Home Office titled: “Dance till dawn – safely. A code of practice on health and safety at dance venues”.
The other is the “Public Entertainments Licensing (Drugs Misuse) Act” successfully piloted through parliament by Barry Legg, conservative MP for Milton Keynes SW.
The “Dance till dawn’ paper is a series of guidelines and recommendations for local authorities to consider when granting public entertainment licences. Organisations like Release, Lifeline, Festival Welfare Services, The Scottish Drugs Forum and Megadog, had some input into the guidelines which have many positive elements. Like the provision of free drinking water, ventilation and chill-out areas. However, about 20 percent of the guidelines are so bad, they make the rest unworkable. These include increased stringent searches, anti-drug notices, strict security, exclusion of convicted drugs offenders (ermm … how!), installation of cameras, the tapes of which will be routinely inspected by the police.
Originally the guidelines stated, (and generating some amusement!) that there should be a requirement for periods of quiet during an event. It is now suggested that clubs face losing their licence if DJ’s play tunes that are too fast. These guidelines say they have a duty to play slower pieces if dancers are getting “over-excited or exhausted” …!! and they could be criminally liable if they don’t.
Can you imagine a scenario with a DJ having his/her “repetitive beats” measured by a device like a lorry drivers tachometer? The decibels and BPM rate being recorded against the length of time played for. Science fiction or what??
To have these strict searches and security for all dance events requires a lot of money, which many groups and promoters will be unable to afford. Further, it will affect festivals such as Hackney Homeless and the Deptford Urban Free, just as it has the Brighton Freedom Festival. If they were to proceed, they will how have to compete financially with the heavy demands of the new licence requirements.
Andy Lovatt and Justin O’Connor from Manchester Metropolitan University – Institute for Popular Culture reckon:
“If we are not careful, nightlife will turn out to be no different from the bland consumerist playground of chainstores and fast-food outlets, which populate the daytime economy”.
Legg’s new Act, was originally launched at a press conference with Leah Bett’s parents by his side. It is now law. It provides councils with the power to shut down clubs immediately if the police SUSPECT that drug taking and dealing is happening. It was previously the case that clubs could stay open pending appeal. At the time, Legg stated that: ‘ … my bill will allow local authorities to clamp down on clubs that are involved in encouraging the use and dealing of controlled drugs’. This act became law by riding on the bandwaggon of the moral crusade against Ecstasy users, compounded by the unfortunate, but unrelated, death of Leah Bett’s.
There are inherent contradictions and likely ‘side effects’ of both Legg’s Public Entertainments Licensing (Drugs Misuse) Act and the guidelines – as they stand now. Is the provision of drug advice in festivals an admission that the organisers are aware of “drug misuse” at the event? And, would a festival thus be liable to immediate closure? Further, will increasingly desperate competition mean that rival clubs may ‘snitch’ to the authorities knowing that they will be immediately closed? What proof will the local authorities need in order to close a venue or party? Will vague ‘suspicion’ be enough? Will pupil sizes be measured …??
This effort at a puritanical revolution will not stop people taking drugs and/or partying. The likely consequences are that the scene will head further underground. The Criminal Justice Act (CJA) outlawed the ‘free festival or party’ , thus forcing people into clubs. Those that still wanted to meet one another.
Taken together, these measures will sanitise, sterilise or close clubs, making the attainment of licences for many dance clubs impossible.
Clubs, parties and festivals are the few areas in our culture we can express freely out creativity, where barriers of race, class, tribe, sexuality are transcended. Yet this freedom of expression continues to be squashed.
“Heavy regulation and surveillance could stifle the creative potention of nightlife: to sanitise dance culture is to destroy its anarchic, hedonistic essence” – Mixmag.
We thought, perhaps, that the CJA was the final nail in the coffin, yet the government have found another tactic – moral panic.
During the debate on the bill, David Evans PM (Welwyn Hatfield) said:
We have recently heard much about the crime-fighting concept of zero tolerance. Zero tolerance cannot be applied selectively. All minor offences must be punished. Being found in possession of a quantity of drugs should be treated as a serious offence, irrespective of whether it is a small quantity or a first-time offence. If individuals fear being caught with drugs, they are less likely to purchase them, thus hitting the dealers. However, the system currently in operation does not punish possession–that is wrong. I propose a system of zero tolerance for drug abusers, which would mean that those found in possession of an illegal substance would be given an automatic gaol sentence. If I thought that it was remotely possible, I would advocate the death penalty for those in possession of drugs. That works in Singapore and Malaysia, so why not here?
This is what were up against.
These ‘alien’ requirements are another attempt to ‘clean us up’. We need to enlist the support of club owners and dance organisers, for it is also their jobs and their lifestyle that are on the line.
Legg Bill now an ACT
I am sorry to announce that the Public Entertainment Licences (Drug Misuse) Bill – Barry Legg has passed it’s remaining stages in the commons with MP’s approving Lords amendments. As I previously posted, the only significant change was around the word `near’ , with respect to drug dealing.
I have not yet seen final draft of what queeny signed on the 21 March ’97, but as I currently understand it EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE BILL STANDS.
BILLS IN RUSH TO BECOME LAW
PA 20 Mar 97 21:43 GMT S7366
By Andrew Evans, Lords Staff, PA News
Peers then passed the Bill, which now returns to the Commons for confirmation of Lords amendments in time for the Bill to receive Royal Assent before prorogation on Friday 21 March 97.
…………….. a wave of legislation being rushed through Parliament this week in time to become law before prorogation tomorrow, ahead of the General Election. Meanwhile, MPs approved Lords amendments to the Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Bill, which is now also set to reach the statute book. Following a Home Office concession last night, the amendments water down the backbench Bill’s proposals to allow councils to close down night clubs where there is a serious drugs problem.
The measure originally would have covered any serious drugs problem “at or near” the club, but under the amendments it will now only apply where the nearby place was “controlled by” the club’s licenceholder.
If your interested to `gen-up’ on the progress of all this, here are the relevant links:
House of Commons Hansard Debates for 17 Jan 1997 (pt 1) – Legg Bill
Lords Hansard text for 6 Feb 1997 (970206-14)
Lords Hansard text for 4 Mar 1997 (970304-21)
Lords Hansard text for 10 Mar 1997 (970310-22)
Lords Hansard text for 19 Mar 1997 (970319-26)
Lords Hansard text for 20 Mar 1997 (970320-39)
GET INFORMED – GET ORGANISED.
Also, check out: Dance till dawn – safely. A code of practice on health and safety at dance venues”. is available from the London Drug Policy Forum 0171 332 3084 /3484
And thats not all:
JUDGES BACK TOUGH CURBS ON PEACEFUL PROTEST RIGHTS
People attending a wide range of peaceful gatherings, including environmental protesters and ramblers’ groups, can be arrested for doing nothing more than walking down the road, following a High Court judgement yesterday. Under the offence of trespassory assembly, police can ban groups of 20 or more meeting in a particular area if they fear “serious disruption to the life of the community”, even if the meeting is non-obstructive and non-violent. Campaigners fear the law could be used to target outdoor activities such as rambling and parties, as well as demonstrations.
Panic reigns. Fear overwhelms logical thought. Pointless acitivity replaces reason, and sensible advice is no longer heard.
Sometimes whole nations are affected. A threat appears – a religious cult, a rare disease, aliens who take you up into their saucers – and rationality flies out of the window. Parents lock up their children lest they be abducted. No one eats beef, or eggs, or whatever is causing the panic. Previously sensible people see flashbacks of the aliens’ green eyes.
In the middle of a panic what’s needed is for everyone to calm down. And that’s just the treatment Britian requires for the current panic over the drug ecstasy. Following the heart-rending deaths of several teenagers who were apparently trying ecstasy for the first time, it has become impossible to express any sensible opinion on the drug. Either you condemn ecstasy use out of hand, or you risk being seen as in favour of killing children.
Amid the hysteria, confused new legislation is being hurried through Parliament. The idea is to allow clubs to be closed down immediately if there is a suspicion that ecstasy is being sold in them. As the drug is easily concealed, the law can do no more than punish clubs for failing to achieve the impossible. Unjust and ineffective legislation is a classic symptom of national panic.
The real problem in dealing with ecstasy is the huge gap in the perception of those who take it and those who do not. And the real scandal is our lack of understanding of its long-term risks.
Ecstasy (or MDMA, as it is known chemically) inhibits the uptake of serotonin, and so amplifies the signals it transmits between nerve cells. The result is raised heartbeat, an emotional “high” and increased energy levels.
In Britain, it si estimated that at least half a million people have taken ecstasy and that around a million tablets are consumed each week. The benefits are seen by users as a state of euphoria, closeness to fellow humans, and the ability to dance all night. Users consider the short-term risks to be small, a preception that available statistics tend to bear out.
Over the past ten years, six people a year are thought to have died as a result of taking ecstasy in Britain. This number appears samll compared to the hundreds of thousands who die each year from long-term alcohol and tabacco abuse. It is dwarfed by the 1000 people who die each year in traffic accidents caused by drivers under 21 years of age, and the 600 or so who are killed by drunk drivers. Even pursuits such as mountain climbing, skiing and horse riding kill more people.
Six deaths a year from ecstasy are six too many, but it seems pretty clear that the short-term dangers are not as great as media and many public figures portray them. Ecstasy takers know this, and become understandably cynical about warnings issued by those in authority. Trust disappears – another victim of panic. It would be far better to present an honest assessment of the risks and benefits of illegal drugs and maintain the trust without which any influence over young people is impossible.
The search for truth is also at risk in times of panic. Little has been done to investigate the long-term dangers of ecstasy use, not least because in Europe it has been more difficult than it should be to get funding to carry out research.
The information is badly needed so that a full and honest picture of the effects and dangers can be presented to users and would-be users. The evidence so far suggests that, at very high doses, ecstasy can damage the brain cells that produce serotonin, and they never fully recover (New Scientist, Science, 2 September 1995, p 14). Unfortunately, we don’t know if the same is true at the doses taken by ordinary users, and we don’t know what the effect of such damage might be. Alcohol also damages brain cells. The worst prognosis is that irreversible injury will show up as today’s ecstasy users get older.
These are questions that need to be settled. Recreational drug taking is an emotional issue, but we have to accept that ecstasy use is wide-spread and deal with it rationally. Attempts to curtail the supply of the drug have failed. So we must learn as much as we can about its effects, and present that information honestly.
[Editorial, New Scientist, 25 January 1997, p 3]