Secret Spectroscopy

A safety initiative at Cambridgeshire’s well-known “Secret Garden Party” music and whatever festival saw the local police collaborating with an organisation called The Loop to test festivalgoers illicit drugs and make sure they were staying safe.

The Loop team had a 25 grand FTIR spectrometer to do the testing and if it showed up contaminants they’d advise users to ditch their product and get back to enjoying the music and dancing instead. The Guardian described the initiative as pioneering, which it was in the UK, although similar services have been running in Austria, Switzerland and The Netherlands for years (the UK lags way behind on drug policies, what a surprise). Although The Vice reports that only 250 drug samples were tested. There were some nasties that showed up in the spectra a lot of sugar used to cut MDMA, antimalarials that had been sold as cocaine, and some pills that were actually just cement.

The Loop is a team of experienced drug workers collaborating with analytical chemists. If someone offered up a sample of their drugs for testing, the team would hang on to that sample after testing and the users were offered an amnesty so they could hand over the rest without charge or they could opt to keep them but given some advice on drug abuse. It was all about safety and not policing.

Loop team member Henry Fisher had this to say in The Independent:

What has been demonstrated in a small corner of a field this weekend is something more fundamental: treat people who want to use drugs with respect, and they will respond to the advice given to them sensibly. If such enlightened thinking were applied more widely to UK drug policy, the returns in reduced drug deaths and hospitalisations would be vast. That really would be cause for a serious party.

Paradoxically, the festival’s website FAQ stated this: “Please be aware that The Secret Garden Party does not tolerate illegal drug use. Anyone caught using or distributing illegal drugs will be severely reprimanded. Drug detection dogs will be working on the gates in order to stop any illegal drugs entering the site. There will be a police presence inside the event, please respect them. Drugs are ILLEGAL.”

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