Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by Daniel Silverstone, The University of Portsmouth

  1.  I have just completed a PhD at the London School of Economics and Political Science under the supervision of Professor David Downes. This piece of work included two empirical studies. Firstly, a year long ethnography in an inner city London night-club, where I worked as part of the security team. Secondly, a longitudinal study of a group of six young middle class ecstasy users, which was supplemented by further one-off interviews with three other similar groups, which amounted to 20 interviews in all.

  1.1  The first point I would like to make about working in a security team in a big inner city London night-club is that a large amount of drugs were readily available and were being dealt and consumed on the premises. There was a clear structure present. The most consistent and robust market was the internal drug market, which provided for the people employed at the club. This included the bar staff, the security team, the DJs and the owners and it was predominately based around cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana. Then there was a public market for dance drugs, mainly ecstasy, which was managed by the security team but actually involved local dealers from outside of the club. [10] They would be subject to searches and their activities were sometimes interrupted by the security team. Outside the club, there were street dealers who predominately dealt in ecstasy but also crack cocaine and heroin and they were more likely to be policed by the public police.

  1.2  The widespread availability and consumption of drugs with impunity inside the club was mirrored by the groups of ecstasy takers I interviewed who obtained their supplies elsewhere. They all had a history of cannabis use and were lately involved with a variety of drugs and had used ecstasy between 20 and 3,000 times. As a relatively privileged group of drug users, they felt that due to their class they were inconspicuous and had nothing to fear from police interference. Though the quality of their drug supply varied they had little trouble obtaining their drugs for long periods of time.[11]

  1.3  The club itself though saturated with drugs was a surprisingly peaceful place to work. In spite of the area being known as somewhere where guns were available and despite the consistent threat of violence its actual realisation was rare. The instances of violent or public order offences among customers were also low. This is in direct contrast with the amount of violence which recent research has uncovered as endemic to venues where young people drink. [12] It also differed from the less well-researched but obviously violent street drug market outside. [13] It was also the case that despite the fact that ecstasy has a reputation as a drug that kills, both my work in the club and my interviews confirmed the opposite. That is considering that ecstasy is often taken in large quantities and frequently mixed with other drugs it rarely causes fatal injury.[14]

  1.4  In conclusion, the current drug laws do not seem to have a significant impact on the availability or the consumption of drugs in clubs. The unfortunate combination of mass drug taking and strict laws[15] criminalises a large group of people, who as previously argued pose little threat to themselves or to others. It also among other things creates problems for those who are enforcing these laws. Both the police service and the security agencies are forced to compromise, which means in practice letting some drug taking go on as long as it is discreet. [16] The problems with these informal arrangements, which result in the acceptance of criminal activity, are the predictable ones of further criminal activity and corruption.

  1.5  Furthermore there is also the possibility of a divide being created, where in venues such as night-clubs, drug taking is being tolerated where as in other areas of public space, drug takers (who take drugs which have been given the same classification) are being policed and the drug laws are being enforced.[17]This scenario is clearly inequitable and may create resentment among populations where the law is still enforced.

  1.6  Certainly the decriminalisation of marijuana and a reduction in classification for the drug ecstasy would make the law less anomalous. This argument could be made on the grounds of the relative dangers of the drug to those who take it or in recognition that their consumption is not accompanied by the kinds of disorder or criminal behaviour seen with crack, heroin, or indeed alcohol.

September 2001

10   The existence of a drug market in night-clubs and the complicity of doormen in them has been noted before. Morris, S "Clubs Drugs and Doorman", Crime Detection and Prevention Series Paper 86, 1998. Back

11   This is again consistent with the growing number of larger surveys on ecstasy users, for example, Release Drugs and Dance Survey, London: Release, 1997 and most recently by Measham, F, Aldridge, J & Parker, H "Dancing on Drugs" Free Association Books, 2001. Back

12   Deehan, A "Alcohol and Crime-Taking Stock" Pg 9 "Half of the facial injuries sustained by persons between 15 and 25 years of age were the result of assaults, nearly half were in or near bars and 40 per cent were severe enough to necessitate specialist surgery". Crime Reduction Paper Series Paper 3, 1999. Back

13   Street Drug Markets are notoriously violent but as such are difficult to gather evidence about. However, the Police Research Series Paper 134 (2000) by May, T, Harocopos, & Hough, M "For Love or Money: Pimps and the management of sex work" makes clear the serious nature of the criminals involved. Back

14   The Institute for the Study of Drug Dependency calculated the drug's mortality rate at 0.0002 per cent in 1997 and the drug in these terms as safer than aspirin. My own work confirmed this. Back

15   In particular the combination of ecstasy being classified as a Class A drug and the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Public Entertainment Licences (Drug Misuse) Act making a club liable to being closed if there is a "serious problem relating to the supply or use of controlled drugs at the place or nearby which is controlled by the holder of the licence". Back

16   The existence of these sorts of arrangements was one of the more striking conclusions from my ethnography and a sense of the problems drugs squads can be gained from Collison, M "Police, Drugs and Community". London Free Association, 1995. Back

17   For example it is becoming clear that one unifying factor of those who are stopped and searched by the police is their use of public space. See Mooney, J & Young, J "Policing Ethnic Minorities: Stop and Search in North London, pg 82". "The police trawl in those areas where they can make some level of arrest, some possibility of a result . . .." In Marlow, A& Loveday, B "After Machherson" Russel House Publishing.2000. Also see, FitzGerald,M "Final Report into Stop and Search" "The people who get searched by Metropolitan Police Officers are not a representative cross section of the population of London. They are drawn from the population which is present on the street in the places and time when the police are most likely to undertake searches" (pg 7). Metropolitan Police Online, 1999. Back

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