We Must Allow Drug Testing at Festivals and Clubs – Here’s Why

Author : Karl Aguilar
March 02, 2017

We Must Allow Drug Testing at Festivals and Clubs – Here’s Why

We here at 6AM Group have long talked about the ineffectiveness of the current “zero tolerance” policy against drugs. As the figures have shown thus far, it has only served to exacerbate the drug problem in the United States and other countries. Being involved in the nightlife and electronic music scene for a long time, we have had the unfortunate chance to witness this stark reality many times.

Unfortunately, and despite improvements, the U.S. government has ignored the failure of this policy by continuing  to forward the same approach in the way it passes legislation and enforces it on a federal level. At best, the zero tolerance policy is merely a “stop gap” measure that does not address the root of the issue. Worse, it is actually detrimental to the people who are supposed to be given help and support in the first place.

This raises a question: is there a better way to deal with the drug problem in the electronic music scene? We believe there is one: allow drug testing.

Effective, Lifesaving Education

First things first, let’s get the misconception out of the way. Not all drugs are created equal. There are the “safe” drugs like marijuana as well as the more lethal ones like crack cocaine and heroin, among others. Unfortunately, not everyone knows there is such a distinction and, in some cases, this leads at times to avoidable fatalities.

image courtesy of Counterpunch

As such, is important to educate people about these types of drugs. Not the ineffective “zero-tolerance” education implemented in those D.A.R.E. programs in schools, but a more “direct” approach. Setting up a facility in clubs and festivals for drug testing where people can freely approach to see how safe or dangerous is the substance they may have is an example of such education. Learning firsthand the different effects each drug provides or which ones are fatal in an environment they are somewhat comfortable in not only raises awareness about drugs, but also allows for the lessons to be ingrained deeper in one’s mind than any classroom lesson offered by today’s federal programs.

A Need for a Positive Approach

The problem with the government’s current approach on the drug problem lies in the fact that it fosters unwarranted fear on the part of the user. In many cases, the fear of being jailed for taking drugs does not encourage the user to stop. Rather, it provides the excuse to continue taking drugs, this time in secret, and it compounds the problem even further. So if the purpose of the “war on drugs” is to save the user, doesn’t this approach defeat the purpose of saving the and individual?

If striking fear is not working in the context of this problem, maybe fostering positive encouragement will. An environment where one can test for drugs willingly, without the fear of being arrested or prosecuted, and does not in any way deter people from enjoying themselves can provide such positive reinforcement that will encourage them to do what is proper and be able to avoid those that would cause greater harm. Ultimately, the goal to save lives is realized in a more effective approach like this one.

It’s not there are no examples backing up this approach. In fact, we have reported a number of instances that this positive approach worked. More recently officials such as a prominent British Police Chief have come out with the belief that this approach helps curb the drug problem, especially in clubs and events. It is now time for the government to seriously reconsiders its current policies and think of more effective ways to deal with the drug problem.

Encouraging voluntary drug testing may not be the magic pill that will solve the drug problem for good, nor do we think this is an applicable solution in all cases.  However, we believe we must seriously consider this approach in dealing with the drug problem in our scene.

Destigmatize Drug Testing

The stark truth is that people have been and are consuming drugs everywhere. It is irresponsible to assume Zero-Tolerance and criminalization will completely curtail consumption. Consequently, criminalization has caused a massive incarceration problem in our country, despite most of the drug offense arrests being non-violent offenders.

It is important to understand that local United States official are perennially under the influence and burden of the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act, a law similar to the previously proposed RAVE Act that has been criticized for disincentivizing venues from implementing harm reduction measures for fear of prosecution. As covered in the legislation, it is illegal for people to knowingly open, lease, rent, or maintain − whether permanently or temporarily − any place for the purpose of using, distributing or manufacturing any controlled substance. It also made it unlawful for a manager, employee or owner, to profit from, or make available for use, any place for the purpose of storing, distributing, manufacturing, or using a controlled substance. Similar bills have been passed at a local level throughout the United States, adding to the burden that promoters and venue owners already feel.

What this essentially means is that any venue or festival housing drug education or harm reduction initiatives such as DanceSafe can be targeted for “allowing” drugs to be used or distributed. Due to the penalties involved it has become not only easier but practically imperative for club owners and festival promoters to operate a Zero-Tolerance approach to avoid prosecution by local, state and federal officials.


As evidence strongly proves, drug consumption should be destigmatized through open conversations about what and how much to consume. It should be treated as a public health issue and not a criminal one.

It may be virtually impossible to do this until local and federal laws such as the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Acts are repealed, but in order to combat drug culture and related deaths we must focus local, state and federal campaigns on education and harm-reduction initiatives.